Having just returned from a weekend surrounded by friends, now seems the right moment to reflect on how and why, as each year passes, I become more convinced that friendship is the most underestimated tonic.
Throughout my twenties, when many of my friends lived nearby in various flatshares, and our spare time was flexible and free, very little effort was required to spend time with my friends. Talk of weekend plans more often began with, “What are we doing this weekend?” rather than, “Are you free?” Days flowed into nights and days again as we crashed at each other’s houses. I didn’t really give it much thought back then, but these frequent doses of tonic did wonders for my mental wellbeing. It was then, in my early twenties, that I kept double booking since plans were, ‘lunch here’, ‘dinner there’, ‘bar in the evening’, and I resorted to using a little paper diary to plan better.
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One of the reasons I realize the impact that friendship had is that I’m experiencing withdrawal from this wonderful tonic. Now, in my thirties, the circle of friends living in close proximity has dropped – they’ve moved city, bought a house in the suburbs, had babies, or moved into all-encompassing jobs. Even a meeting of two or three of us requires work and planning, and if we want to get a group together, you can forget having everyone there. I still use the little paper diary, but this time, it’s to plan for three or five weeks ahead when we might be able to have a dinner (it’s so worth it though!).
And if I’m honest, there’s some grief that comes with realising that it will never be the same again. But I’m learning to accept that, and all the great that comes with it – careers, marriages, children, families, homes. And I try to make more of an effort these days to reach out and connect in a different way, to send potential meet-up dates, have a call, or just say “Thinking of you”.
But we did manage to get a group together recently (though not everyone could make it, of course). The love, the laughter, the silliness, the loudness, the acceptance, the power, of a group of friends who support and uplift each other. It was magical. When you’re with friends with whom you can just be you, other worries sink away. Self-doubt makes way for confidence. The laughter and silliness means work issues don’t seem so big. Difficult relationships aren’t such trouble. That if you want to talk, there’ll be someone who’ll listen carefully, and offer advice or hugs. If you want to be distracted, that’s just fine too.
Now I see what these frequent doses of ‘tonic’ did for my mental health in my twenties. The strength and calm that came with a guaranteed chat every day or two with a friend in a café, park or pub were stabilizing. Friendship is such a beautiful thing. Romantic relationships are important and beautiful too, but it’s so vital to have variety in your life, and friendship provides that. It’s another lens through which to see the world outside of your eyes. And when you find friends with whom you click and can be yourself, those bonds can become life-long friendships, which are essential to help us steer ourselves through the various storms that can occur throughout life.
And in our modern world, full of comparisons on Instagram and Snapchat posts, making time for real connections is more important than ever. Getting a ‘like’ from a friend is a hollow hit of dopamine compared to a hug or a chat, and it’s important that we prioritize real conversation and friendship. Because it really is such a delicious, incredible, invaluable tonic.