Andrea McLean: “We Are Born Needing The Support of Others”

Our new columnist and Loose Women presenter tells us why it might be time to switch up your friendship group

So no one told you life was gonna be this way. Your life’s a joke, you’re broke, your love life’s D.O.A…’

Hey, the global pandemic shows little sign of abating but at least you’ve got plenty of friends, right?

For those of us who (technically) became grown-ups in the 90s, Friends was the series that sparked our adult aspirations. From coveting Rachel’s hair to Monica’s apartment, we wanted to be them. Didn’t we? Looking back, I think what we really wanted was to have a friendship group as solid as theirs; a gang always there for each other – through the highs and the lows – no matter what.

But wanting to be part of a pack, and feeling like you belong, is far older than Friends. It’s a tribal thing – we are born needing the support of others, and that desire to be championed by loved ones never really goes away, no matter how independent we like to think we are. However, as we grow and our lives change, often our chosen tribe does too.

That hell-raising best buddy you went skinny-dipping with in Thailand? Yeah, you might not have as much in common now that you’re a mum who’s exhausted by the idea of staying up past 10pm. If there is a true emotional bond there, a dip-in-and-out friendship may suffice, so that you can both exchange some fun ‘do you remember that time when…’ stories over the occasional dinner. Meanwhile, the woman you have coffee with while your kids play in the park can unexpectedly become your closest ally – even if you never venture far beyond what her three-year-old likes best for tea. The truth is humans adapt. There is no onesize- fits-all when it comes to friendship.

The length of your relationships don’t count for much, either. I know one woman who is stuck in a ‘friendship’ purely because they grew up together.

As kids, their parents were pals, so they naturally became playmates. But fast-forward 30-odd years and she can’t bear another afternoon spent listening to her ‘friend’ complain about her boring life. Still, she stays in touch, grits her teeth and keeps it going. Why? Because she can’t quite muster the energy to break up with her, either.

Because it is like a break-up. Recognising that someone isn’t fulfilling their end of the friendship bargain and has to go is tough. Whether they’re flaky, boring, too much, too little, too late – it’s the same as pulling the plug on a once-awesome romance that now has all the thrill of left-over pizza – it’s just not doing it for you anymore. Yes, you can overlook their selfishness and they can overlook your obsession with Sci-Fi shows but, at its core, the connection is gone. And if spending time with them just doesn’t have the same appeal as it used to, your friendship has probably run its course.

The way I see it is this – people come and go in life and, sometimes, spending time apart, or a shift in circumstances, makes no difference whatsoever when it comes to how much we like each other as humans – no matter what, we feel infinitely better when they are around. But at other times, it can feel like being with a polite stranger who doesn’t seem to ‘get’ you any more. When that happens, maybe it’s best to open your eyes and your heart to finding new friends? Life is long, but it’s also too short to spend it with people who aren’t lighting your fire anymore. Set each other free and, who knows, it could end up being the break that reunites you some day – just like Ross and Rachel.

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