Where did all my friends go?

This is a question I've asked myself a lot the past few years. Each time the answer is different, depending on how honest I am being with myself. Truth is, I've created this situation based on the choices I've made through life. Whether that be something to regret or not, it's the most honest answer I have.

Growing up I never felt short of friends, taking comfort in the fact that I was considered one of the popular girls at school. As a teenager it was a hard pill to swallow when I realised that these "friends" were merely acquaintances, regardless of what they told me.

I did have a close group of friends, no more than four or five, who I loved dearly and no matter what we put each other through, at the end we would always be there for one another. I know the exact moment that these friendships changed forever, it was when I moved. 

Growing up in the same town as the people you forge your initial relationships with means that you, up until this point in life, have had similar experiences. Staying in that town was never my intention, I was always destined to spread my wings and we all knew it. July 2005 I made my first (of many) moves to the US, leaving behind this small group of girls who I loved dearly and would miss more than I could comprehend. During my 19 months away from home we kept in contact regularly and I was excited to return home once my visa had expired. Within 48 hours we were together, having a drink and catching up as though we had last seen each other in the flesh just last week.  

What I loved most about these girls is, no matter what, I knew they would show up for me. Fast-forward 10 years, this is no longer the case. 

Part of me took those relationships for granted; why would they change? We've always been in each other's lives and always would be. Nothing could break our bond. How naive of me to think that I could maintain that closeness and also leave at the drop of a hat. In the last 10 years I've moved, on average, once a year. Only once was within my home town, the rest of the time was spent getting as far away from the place that held many dark memories for me. I wanted to break free from the chains of my past and live life on my terms, I felt I could only do that by (literally) moving on.

I first noticed the change when I moved to South London. Promises of "we'll come see you all the time" were exchanged, and I off I went in my car packed full of my worldly possessions. Months later, no-one came to visit. After a while I begrudged being the only one to make the effort, returning "home" just to see everyone. Surely if I meant anything to these women they would have hopped on a train and come see me? Of this close group only one came to visit me, and even then she brought another person who, to be honest, I had grown jealous of their relationship. It was selfish, but I wanted her to come see me alone so we could talk properly, and instead of articulating this I created whirlwind of drama and we fell out. It was two years until we spoke again, and our relationship was irreversibly damaged.

This is a pattern I seem to have trouble breaking. Another very good friend of mine, who I lived with for a short time, fell victim to my selfishness. It was years later that we reconnected, by which point she had moved back to South Africa. I missed all the major events in her life, although now we are back on good terms and I love her dearly, I'm riddled with guilt over how our friendship was damaged during that period and distance prevented us from fully connecting again. She's back in the UK now, I hope to see her soon.

My last move to the US was vastly different from the first; there was no 'going away' party, no well-wishes, no tearful goodbyes at the airport departure gate. One year later and I was back in London, back with my other half. I barely spoke to any of my friends whilst in Chicago, and since being back we've seen each other only a handful of times.

I used to cry when they forgot my birthday (I never forgot theirs), or when it was always me who made the effort to call, or when I would return "home" and their full attention would be on their children. What had changed? 

The answer to that is everything, everything had changed! These women were now mothers, they had their own houses, their own families, their own lives. I'd chosen my path and they'd chosen theirs. It took me a long time to realise that my selfish life choices were no longer their priority, they had tiny humans to look after now and I wasn't part of that.

As sad as it makes me, our relationships are limited to sending birthday cards and giving the occasional 'like' on Facebook. 

During my time here in London I have met other friends, but none measure up to these original group of girls who shared my hopes and fears during my formative years. As quickly as these promising new friendships form, they dissipate. The most recent ended when I moved in February. For the first time in a long time I found someone I could talk to, be honest and open with, and I believed that I'd made a friend for life. A few cross words and numerous bad decisions (on both our parts) ruined this friendship beyond repair. I was back to square one. 

This most recent friend said some pretty terrible things, as did I. For the last few months I've been trying to convince myself that I'm angry with her still, when the reality is that I'm hurt. I'm hurt that she didn't value our friendship enough to want to repair it, even though I tried. She didn't have this unconditional friendship love for me that I had for her. In the end I felt used and scarred by our friendship. Our last exchange (via email) was particularly bitter, and I regret this because we enjoyed many good times, and it is such a shame that it ended up how it did. What I wanted was for us to get off our chest how we felt, hug it out, open a bottle of wine and forget about it. 

Many people think I'm an extrovert, but this is quite untrue. I'm very much an introvert, and when I connect with someone I give them my unconditional love and I'm fiercely loyal. I prefer to keep  a few 'real' friends by my side, rather than the illusion of many. It's ok to be alone, and I know it won't be long before I'm on the move again, the joy of new experiences has come at a cost and I've made my peace with that.

One piece of advice I want to give you is: if you find yourself feeling angry over the small things and shutting people out because you assume they'll always be there... don't! Life will change you in ways you cannot imagine, don't assume that others will stay by your side for the journey no matter what. 

As for my original girls, I still love them as much as I did back when we were 16 and getting ready for a night out in each others' bedrooms. The latest girl, my housemate and fellow wine drinker - I forgive you, but most of all I'm sorry... if I thought it would change things, if I thought you would care how hurt I am that our friendship crumbled, then I would reach out. 

I wish I could change how things have changed, but I cannot. I'm not even sure if any of them know how the demise of our relationship has affected me. All I can do is learn from it and be a better friend to those I meet in the future. 

Please believe me when I tell you that your friendships are the most important thing in life. Don't hold onto anger, forgiveness is the only way to heal and move forward. It's so easy to justify our angry behaviour, but there are always two sides to everything. Learn to let go of whatever it is that causes a rift, because it's just not worth it. Reach out to those you love, before the opportunity is no longer there and all you have left is your guilt that you didn't put things right.

For anyone I've ever been friends with, no matter what has passed, no matter where you are now, I'm wondering if you're ok... if you're lost you can look and you will find me, time after time.