A couple of weeks ago I went to one of a series of events called Uncomfortably alive. I went in large part because I wanted to meet the speaker, Sarah Perry.
She and I, to me at least, are bound together by my favourite ever review (written by one of my favourite ever people) and our meeting one day felt inevitable. So to help the inevitable along, I went to the event, which was an evening on friendship, and listened to her tell the completely fascinating story of Alfred Tennyson, William Gladstone, and their mutual friend Arthur Hallam, who died tragically young.
I won’t tell the story, because I wouldn’t do it as well as Sarah, and because I want to say just something small about the discussion that happened after her talk. Because Hallam and Gladstone, and then Hallam and Tennyson, where friends in a time where close same-sex relationships were unremarkable. Where people would write incredible poetry in praise of a friend, in a manner which today implies something more.
Although more is the wrong word, because it implies that friendship is in some way lacking.
Somewhere along the way, however, there arose a growing fear of being seen as gay, and closeness between people of the same gender, especially men, became taboo. I hope this is starting to end – surely as we become more accepting a society it has to, but we’re not there yet.
It’s not quite the same for women, although even there, strong and passionate female friendships involving just two people seem rare. We have groups, overlapping and merging as occasion requires, and it’s kind of wonderful, but also I think can lead to a strange kind of loneliness.
I’ve thought about this a lot over the last couple of years. For the first year I lived in London, I had an amazing friend here. We were both far from home, both working minimum wage jobs, both trying to muster the energy to create things. We would take each other out for wine and cheese when one of us had reached zero pounds, knowing that it would be the other’s turn soon.
We propped each other up for a year, and then she went back to New Zealand.
There have been times over the last couple of years when I’ve been very aware that most of my friendships here are very young. They are wonderful – I have a great, tumbling pile of incredible women who I met and immediately knew we would understand each other, they are all of The Race That Knows Joseph* and they make me laugh and they comfort me, but they have not known me long.
What’s pretty great about this, though, is that it makes me more intentional about my friendships. It’s easy to hide away in London, going anywhere is a huge effort, and you can go weeks without seeing people you consider your close friends, so I’m becoming more intentional about who I spend my time on.
So I miss my incredible friends in New Zealand and I’m amazed at my ability to find more of them here. I am lucky.
I don’t really have an ending or a huge point. I get quite excited about the amazing people I’ve managed to carve out relationships with, and I think that deserves a blog post.
*Read your L. M. Montgomery