Saturday, 21 March 2009

Friendship is...

If love is never having to say you're sorry (which I actually don't believe), then perhaps friendship is not having to say anything at all. I think of this because one of my favourite ways to spend time with friends and loved ones is in companionable silence.

The day we left America, Our Gracious Hostess and I sat at her dining room table drinking herbal tea, she looking up scrapbooking websites and me writing my diary. We hadn't seen each other for a long time and didn't know when we would see each other next - it could be years - but there was no need to babble on.

It reminded me of those times during our childhood when we sat quietly for hours flipping through magazines, painting our nails, drawing pictures, reading books... Occasionally we would look up and share a snippet of information, but most of the time we just worked quietly together.

There is a type of person who you know so well that there is no need for words. A look, a smile, a sigh or a gesture says it all. When I was a child I would often take a book into my brother or sisters' room and just sit on the floor or propped on the bed reading while they did their homework or listened to their records. It wasn't that I wanted to say anything, but I did want company. My cat is really good at this. He comes and sits near me, flicking an ear every now and then to let me know he's aware of my presence, but he doesn't say a lot. I like it.

Often we fill this silence with empty chatter - almost overcome by a need to say something, to prove our wit or our existence. We are almost afraid of silence as though it is somehow impolitie to be with someone and not talk to them. But when you have grown up with someone or shared so many experiences, there is no need for phatic communication.

I'm not good at small talk and I hate 'networking' or going to parties where I don't know anyone (this picture is not typical of what happens to me at such events) and I have to pretend I'm interested in what they've got to say. Sometimes I am, but often (especially it involves their children - which it invariably does with women over the age of 30 - or their salary to mortgage ratio) I'm not, and I can't bear the whole 'smile, nod, interject' routine.

This becomes even harder as I get older, and I fear I don't make new friends as well as I might. I miss being around my old friends and family - people who know where I went to school and what's my favourite colour and the terrible relationship mistakes I made. They know all that and accept it, so we don't have to go over it all again.

We can talk about things we really want to talk about, have pointless conversations, such as the definition of a sit-com; why religion and politics mix in America but not Britain; how easy is it to live without seasons; or we can simply say nothing at all.

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