After three years abroad, Rob Garratt realises his long distance friendships may be on the slide.
I am not a man known for flights of lofty ambition or hopeless self-delusion. No, not me – I like to think I’m resolute and humble, my two feet planted firmly on the ground. Or put another way, I’m painfully well versed in my faults – I’ll happily expose my lack of sporting prowess, be first to admit my failings in the kitchen, and the last to volunteer for a pub quiz. I take pedantically British pride in apologising for the majority of my actions, so wary am I of error or imperfection.
But the one thing I always thought I was rather good at, is friendship. Not the life-and-soul-of-the-party, centre of attention, Facebook-tagging style – the real stuff. The listening, the sharing, the (cringe) caring. It took a cryptic theatrical reference for me to figure that, after three years in the Gulf, something had gone wrong somewhere. And when I say somewhere, I mean my mates back home.
It all started when I received an email describing my recent communication as ‘Beckettian’. While it wasn’t immediately clear what my better read friend might be trying to accuse me of, I sensed it wasn’t good. Wikipedia clarified the reference to playwright Samuel Beckett's writings, ‘noted for their bleak outlook and minimalism.’ Now, wrapped up in year-round sunshine, I’ve not been unduly bleak of late. Which means it must be the other thing I’m being called up on – namely, not keeping in touch.
Shaken by the ‘Beckettian’ remark, I fired off a few hey-how-you-doing? emails to closer friends. Within an hour I learned from a single three-line reply that one friend was in the USA ‘giving’ a paper (whatever that means – are all my friends better read than me, as well as being better friends?), that his partner had moved to Germany, and – perhaps most fascinatingly – his brother, who as far as I knew was a professional actor renowned for his Al Pacino impressions, had opened a ‘hot yoga’ studio in north London (a further email clarified that this is, essentially, just yoga performed in a hot room). All life changes that as a mate, I should probably have been aware of.
I found myself pacing the room, waiting for the emails to roll in with a mixture of anticipation of fresh gossip, and fear of how much else I might have missed – ‘what else is new?!’ excitement versus ‘how out of the loop am I?’ dread. In the next few hours I discovered at least four of my ‘close friends’ had landed new jobs or profitable promotions, while three had changed postcodes (remember them?). Under further scrutiny I ascertained two of my familiar female friends had not just fallen pregnant, but were already happy mothers.
But the sucker punch really landed home when I found out my ‘best mate’ was getting married. Only oddly, he didn’t mention anything about me being the best man. Perhaps, because I am not that man. Or should I say, those men? Because this lifelong pal – this former flatmate, colleague and bandmate – didn’t just choose a best man. He chose two. I shudder to think how far down his friendship league I’ve slid.
Not that I’m bitter. In Dubai, I make new friends every day – and I’m sure every one of them will be for life. As long as I start replying to their emails...