Nonkululeko Britton: Let’s hear it for those friends who can light up your darkest day with a call

True friends, the kind who make you feel like family, are worth holding on to, even as you follow your separate paths over the years. 

By Nonkululeko Britton

It was like a scene from a movie or a feel-good TV series, where a group of friends get together and chat about all sorts of things. Mostly, about men. What was different about this scene is that it was playing out in real life. My high school friend was getting married, and we were at her bridal shower.

The bride-to-be is one of those friends who is easy to be friends with. Our friendship was always sincere and nurturing. She was always patient with me. I was that friend with a new boy I was infatuated with, and frequently and had a poem or story to go with it.

She had the daunting task of reading through the soppy piece of writing, but was always supportive of what she always reminded me was a gift I had – the writing, not the boys.

Fast forward 20 years to her bridal shower. Most of those years were spent out of school, carving out what is now our adult lives. I can count the number of times we properly hung out over the years in one hand, one of those times being at my wedding.

We’ve never had one those scenes in the TV series, where we ate a tub of ice cream together while nursing a break-up. We somehow found moments to check up on each other over the phone, and moments to hold space for each other during the silence in-between.

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She recently called me, during one of my darkest days in business. Her call shone the light on the hard work that I couldn’t see in that dark moment. She called to say how proud she was of me and that I should keep going.

Over the years of managing a household and a job, then managing a household and a business, my number of friends dwindled. Friends who held on through the busy periods, the postponed lunch dates and the quick coffee sessions in between meetings, are very few. Let alone the friends I’ve transitioned with from the single years to married-with-children years.

While sitting at the bridal shower, catching up with a few old friends, a sense of ‘familia’ washed over me. I could be myself without being surrounded by a sea of judgement and scrutiny. I could even enjoy being with people who were not afraid to be themselves.

We’d laugh at each other, with each other. We’d sympathise with each other, while counting the losses over the years. Over the years, most of my interactions have been with work or business acquaintances, parents of my children’s friends and my close family. In each instance, there’s an active role I need to play, with some expectation of a grand performance.

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It feels to me that ‘adulting’ is a game of constant trade-offs. Along my ambitious path, I’ve traded leisure time, mostly spa treatments and solo movie dates, for investing time and money into growing my agribusiness.

I’ve traded catch-up time with friends for quality time with my husband, kids, and my parents. I don’t know how other adults fit in a social life in-between all the obligations that come with being an overachiever, but I’ve failed dismally.

I might fit in time to catch up with friends over social media, or follow what they’re doing and pick up the phone to wish them a happy birthday, but that’s it.

In the trade-offs, there’s always something that has to give, and there’s always a gap that widens. A deficiency that sets in. Something missing.

Right now, the thing I’m missing – quality time with friends I genuinely love – is the one thing I’ve pushed down the list of priorities. In the quest for a work-life balance, that quality time is gold.

So now I have a friendship filtering system, one that is organic and not as ruthless as it may seem. Some friendships have naturally fallen away, while others have gained prominence over the years. The ones I’ve still got, I’d love to water more often, starting with the bride-to-be.