Ten years ago tonight I met BestMate for the first time. There was no inkling that he was BestMate at the time, nor that he'd ever turn out to be, but that's the way things happened. It took a while, as these things do. But here we are ten years later, and the friendship's strong as ever. How surprised am I?
My life's not been big on friendships. I got through primary school with some good friends, though not really best. My first best friend at secondary school semi-faded away, while the next best friend turned out not to be. At university I fell in with a decent crowd of nearly-soulmates, most of whom I then completely lost touch with. I spent the next ten years entirely without anyone you could describe as a close friend, getting on with life without the need to socialise much. When things got a bit tough I found strong emotional support where I might not have expected it. And then out of the blue, in April 2001, BestMate turned up.
Before very long, my evenings and weekends changed. Rather than staying in and watching my telly, I could go round and watch his. Instead of me sitting at home on that new internet thing, we'd go out and drink beer in a variety of interesting places around town. I had someone to talk to about stuff, and he had someone to talk to about stuff too. You probably think nothing of having a friend on call, because normal people always have friends, but for me this was an inertia-busting transformation.
I saw a side of life I'd almost certainly have missed out on otherwise, not least because some things are so much better done in two-or-mores than ones. I wouldn't have dreamed of spending a week in New York by myself, or dining solo at a top Londonrestaurant, but friendship took me there. Records show that by February 2003 I was spending far more nights out than nights in, which is pretty much unheard of in my introverted world, but that's what ganging up with an extrovert does for you.
Some people collect friends like Panini stickers. BestMate has a complete albumful. He knows everyone and everyone knows him, so he can't have been lacking a posse of friends in his life. That's useful for me because I get exposed to a broad cross-section of society whenever we go out, who otherwise I'd just stand in the corner and observe. But I'm still not really good friends with any of his really good friends, because I simply don't connect like that. He's climbing the walls if he doesn't see any of his friends in a 48 hour period, whereas I can go a fortnight with no ill effects.
Our friendship was sorely tested when he suddenly upped sticks and went to live on the west coast of America. Suddenly I couldn't pop round for a cup of tea, let alone hand deliver his birthday card, so things moved onto a different level. The internet allowed us to maintain conversation, helped by the fact that late evening over there was breakfastime over here, and I was the only UK friend awake and online. Had this been ten years earlier, I don't think being long-distance penpals would have worked quite as well.
This transatlantic hiatus lasted fouryears, during which time I got to re-experience what not having a best friend in my physical environment was like. Quieter, simpler, and more opportunity to concentrate on blogging rather than socialising to fill my spare time. But we still picked up again afterwards where we'd left off, pretty much, and it's great to have that listening ear back round the corner. I'm never going to compete with BestMate's OtherHalf for his time and attention, but that doesn't stop us sharing an understanding or a bottle of wine or a trio of cinema tickets or whatever.
He puts up with the fact I count things. He puts up with the fact that I go round to his far more often than I invite him round to mine. He puts up with all the things we don't have in common as well as all the things we do. He puts up with me never answering my mobile because it never normally rings so I'm not paying attention. He even puts up with me turning down his offer of a night out because I have my jamjar on the go. He understands, and, trust me, that's rare.
I'm still not quite sure how I ended up with a BestMate, nor do I believe I could ever recreate the situation where it might happen again. To be honest, the whole set-up only works because he's the one who says "why don't we?" and I say yes. But the last ten years have been hugely enriched by me knowing him, so I simply wanted to express my amazement and appreciation. Thanks, and another beery celebratory night out tonight, eh?