Friendship is strange. When you're a kid and you start school, you think you'll be friends with everyone. Then slowly you start to realise that it doesn't work quite like that, you're not equally close to everyone. In fact some people are much more popular than you, everyone wants to be their friend and you're not sure why them and not you.
Then there are some people that never seem to have many friends, the loners who are always on the edge and you're never quite sure why either.
I think if you're lucky you fall somewhere in between the two. I'd say generally that's where I've always been, not the most popular; but not alone. I've had lovely people in my life, they've come and gone; but they were a part of my childhood.
Things get more complicated once you reach high school, the cliques become more obvious, and the divide between popular and unpopular grows. Parents no longer make their kids invite everyone to their birthday parties, you start to gauge your popularity by who you spend time with and who invites you to do things away from school.
There's so much politics that goes on, it can be a lot to handle, especially once the teen-angst kicks in. It becomes a big story - who's friends with who, and if you fall out with one person it can be enough to get you ostracised by everyone they know. It's like dominoes or Russian Roulette, your whole social standing can rise or fall depending on what one person thinks of you. Just the thought of that makes my head hurt!
I thought it would get easier with being an adult, that you left school and you left all the politics behind with the homework and the exams. I believed that it became easier to talk to people, to meet those with similar interests; but I think it's actually harder. Even more so if you're at home a lot, whether that's because you run your own business, you're a stay at home mum, you're unemployed or you're ill or disabled. There are so many things that isolate people today that mean you just don't meet the same number of people and you aren't forced to spend prolonged periods of time with them to build the relationships.
Of course there's social media, I think that is hugely important; but it's hard to build close relationships with people you only chat to briefly, share the odd photo or comment on their status. At least that's what I've found so far. There are people I want to get to know better; but it's a challenge when you both have limited time and energy.
Sometimes making friends seems as complicated as getting a date. There really should be an equivalent to internet dating; but to make friends. Actually there is in America ... GirlFriend Circles by the lovely Shasta Nelson; but we don't really have anything quite like that in the UK, especially not if you're disabled or have a slightly different lifestyle.
I miss the time when a love of Barbies and My Little Pony meant you would be best friends for life. It may not have been true, I'm not really friends with anyone I knew when I was young; but it felt true which I think was the most important part.
Now you bring with you friendship baggage, just like relationship baggage. As an adult you've learnt to filter yourself, to be careful what you say, to be the person you think you should be, the person that you think others want to see and that sucks. It's exhausting and incredibly lonely, when you can't allow yourself to just relax and be you. I know I'm guilty of this; but I'm working at not doing it. I want to just be me, all of me.
As with dating you can get hurt, you can trust someone, let them in and still get let down; but then it's your choice: give up, shut down and filter yourself once more, pretend to be someone you're not. Or be brave, pick yourself up again and trust that the right friends are waiting out there, people who are going to see you and like you for who you are, not what you do, or achieve or how you are perceived. It may be the holy grail of friendship; but it's a quest that I'm not giving up on. Just like finding true love; but that's a whole other story...
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Claire Wade is the winner of the Good Housekeeping Novel Competition and author of The Choice. She was bed bound for six years with severe ME, trapped in a body that wouldn't do what she wanted. She now writes about women who want to break free from the constraints of their lives, a subject she's deeply familiar with.