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It's a shame, I think, that there's no etiquette for making - or not making - new friends,
the way there is for starting - or not starting - new relationships.
Specifically, there's no way of saying to someone you meet and get on with
and who turns out to have all the right opinions about stag nights and oversized burgers
and the correct use of the word 'lol',
something like: 'Look, I like you; and had we met ten years ago,
we might well have become great friends,
but right now, I'm afraid, I don't have a spot free.
I'm maxed out on friends.
Sorry, and best of luck with your friend-making in the future'.
With potential love interests of course, you can signal: 'you're nice, but I'm taken',
but it's very hard to convey to a prospective new friend the message:
'There are too many people I feel guilty about not seeing enough
to start seeing you in any of the slots I ought to be seeing them.'
Not, of course, that even if you do forego a new friendship for this reason
you then do actually arrange to see any of the old friends you feel guilty about not seeing.
Because there's generally a good reason you're guiltily not seeing them,
such as them living a long way away, or having gone a bit weird.
Or thinking you've gone a bit weird, which is weird of them.
No, you just carry on not having the time to see them,
and hoping that they at least feel as guilty about it as you do.
This, of course, is something else that is done better in romantic relationships,
where there is a recognised mechanism, however painful, for saying:
'I've enjoyed our time together, but I think we should see other people'.
That's because it's accepted that there is a finite number of people
you can be going out with - traditionally one.
But the number of friends you can have may be larger but is just as finite.
The old friends you have nothing now in common with but try to keep up with out of duty
are getting in the way of new friends.
They're standing in the path of your future happiness; as you may be for them.
You're in a mini-failed marriage hell from which there's no etiquette of release.
It's impossible to write in the Christmas card
(which is now your only contact with that person whom random chance decreed
would live next door to you at an age
when you were both primed by evolution and society to wish to bond with strangers),
it's impossible to write to them:
'Hi Jill! Merry Christmas! We really must meet up in the new year!
Or... must we?
Because I've been thinking: we've had a good run as friends,
but why are we giving ourselves such a hard time adhering to the myth of each others' uniqueness,
when in fact we're uncomfortably aware
we both get the things we used to enjoy about one another's company elsewhere these days.
Plus, you now live in Argyll with three children and an unpleasant husband,
and, of course, you've gone a bit weird.
Tell you what, let's call it quits.
Love to the kids - but not the husband - David.
Kiss kiss kiss.
Crossed out.
Handshake handshake handshake.'
I know that sounds cold-blooded, but surely it's better then both continuing
to carry a burden of guilt about the absence of something neither of you particularly wants.
In this populous, communicative modern world,
it's easier to find people with whom you might get on than ever before.
With such brilliant friend-making technology,
shouldn't we allow ourselves to make more friends,
even if that necessitates losing old ones?
Maybe we should update our mores, and treat friendship like a seating plan.
Like that convention at some dinners, when between main course and pudding,
every other person gets up and moves two seats along, so everyone has new people to talk to.
Perhaps that should happen with friends.
You get to forty: everyone moves friendship groups.
That way, we all get to know and be close to more people over the course of a lifetime;
and no-one has to go to Argyll if they don't want to.
And crucially, it's no-one's fault, no-one's decision - it's just what happens.
Halfway through a football match you change ends -
halfway through a lifetime, you change friends.