I've never really had a “gang.” You know the type I mean—Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica, and the rest of the Riverdale crew. The fivesome from How I Met Your Mother. The Friends sextet. The love-hate-drama relationships on Gossip Girl. The closest my life can say to resemble television is the interpersonal relationships on Girls, perhaps why I quit that show early in the first season.
Partly, it's because I switched schools so much—I know one group that is still best friends all the way from middle school onwards---partly it's because I categorised my friends into different groups and hung out with everyone separately. Call it an only child thing, I just didn't like the idea of everyone hanging out without me. Like a jealous lover, I guarded my friends, collected like precious beads, only bringing them together to show them off to each other, tacitly discouraging numbers being exchanged or any plans being made. For years, some of my friends would only meet each other at my annual birthday parties.
Then, over the last few years, something changed. Perhaps it was me, growing older, because gradually I no longer had the energy to make six or seven different plans with different people. I began to bring people together, ask everyone to hang out in a group, and when, as inevitably happens, two of my friends got on and became friends with each other, it didn't bother me like it used to. Instead, it felt sort of nice, even. Two people I like who like each other which means I can hang out with two of my friends and share that friendship too? It's ideal.
Then maybe also I began to slowly get over the fear that everyone was cooler than me and so once my facilitation of introducing cool people to each other was over, I'd be neatly cut out of the equation. (I blame this on a few school friendships, but that's a story for another day.) I admit, I still get a little anxiety when I am away (as I have been this past month) and my friends post photos of each other, looking like they're having a great time without me, instead of waiting—subdued, naturally—for my return to resume their lives.
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Re-reading Jane Austen, I'm struck with how much of the social life of her characters depends on introductions. In Austen's time, you could no more go up to a stranger and talk to him or her than you could display your legs in public. And so their gangs grew through common friends, people arriving in your small village with notes of recommendation, people stopping by to see the aunt of their sister's husband and many parties being thrown in their honour. Maybe in some ways, we're still a little Austen-y. We don't just “become friends” with the hundreds of people we cross paths with on the metro, on the roads, in a cafe, crossing the street. We need that stamp of approval from someone else—so-and-so is okay, maybe you'll like them. In the past, I have made “holiday friends,” but they lasted as long as the holiday, maybe a few extra weeks staying in touch online, before withering and falling off the friendship vine forever.
Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is the author of five books, most recently a YA novel about divorce called Split and a collection of short stories about love called Before, And Then After. The views expressed here are her own.
Last Updated 31, Mar 2018, 6:55 PM