What, no friends?

After three years abroad, Rob Garratt realises his long distance friendships may be on the slide

Last word, The Knowledge

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...

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