How to lose friends without really noticing

I SAW him in the street, walking past me with his head down, and I knew instantly that it was him, even though I hadn't seen him for a while, even though all I got was a flash of nose, glasses, chin. For about a second. And then he was obscured by someone's overcoat. He hadn't seen me.

This was the moment, then. He'd gone past now; I'd have to shout his name, and felt a twinge of awkwardness about doing it,: not because it might not be him after all, not because of the mild embarrassment of mistaking one person for another. B; but because it was him, and I hadn't seen him for years, and if I shouted his name, I would never be able, unprompted, to get in touch with him and get something organised. Which I had been intending to do. For years. Meeting someone you've lost touch with is nice, but it's the harshest possible reminder that this is someone you've lost touch with.


When you haven't seen someone for years, the first bit of your conversation is already scripted. for you; you have no choice in the matter. You have no choice. You talk about the fact that you recognise each other. You still have that capacity.

'It is you] I knew it] I . . . '

'My God, it must be . . . how are you? You're looking . . . '

'You look the same . . . '

The question, at this point, is: do you talk like this for a bit and then just go off? Or do you stop what you're doing and go to a cafe?

How often does this happen to you? It happens to me all the time. I get to know people, and then I get to know more people, and the original people fall by the wayside. All the time. It's terrible. It's a condition of modern life. People spend an increasing amount of time with friends they've only just met.

'Have you got a couple of minutes?'

'Well, my boss'll go mad, but . . . '

You reach a crisis point with people after a while; if you don't call them, your relationship with them will cross an invisible line, and they'll slip away into the crowded sub-world of people you no longer know, people you used to know. There's this friend of mine who I'm not going to call today, but, right now, I fully believe I'll call him tomorrow. He left a message on my answering machine telling me he'd had a baby, and I forgot about it, and that was three weeks ago. This is really embarrassing. I've been toying with the idea of not calling at all, of dropping the whole thing. That's how bad it is. For a week, I had this story ready about having been away for a week, and having only just got his message; the time for that excuse has now lapsed. Then I thought: I could call him, and say: 'Has your baby arrived?' And he'd say: 'I left you a message.' And I'd say: 'Oh, of course - it must have been on the tape that snarled up.' But I know the guy too well; he'd probably realise. Or do I?

'Coffee. No sugar.'

'Right.' We had walked across the road, not saying anything to each other, a sort of respectful silence, an acknowledgement that we had so much to say that we should wait until we sat down. The queue was short enough to continue this policy. He picked up the tray, and his briefcase; ridiculously, I said: 'Shall I . . . take the case?' We were both so respect, polite. wonder. The time for ribbing or joking had long gone. It really had been quite a while.

'How long is it?'

'Let me see . . . 1978. Fifteen years. Fifteen years . . . '

'Fifteen years. My God, we haven't seen each other for . . . '

'It can't be.'


I wonder when, during those 15 years, the moment of slippage actually occurred. When, exactly, would a phone call have stopped being a normal thing to do, and begun to be rather an odd thing to do? After three years? Five? Seven? And the terrible thing is that you reach this point with somebody every week of your life. You get past the point of no return. And then you meet them in the street, years later. These meetings haunt you, telling you how disorganised and hopeless you are.

'I was going to call you.'

'I was going to call you.'

'No, really I was. Do you remember Gavin Green?'

'Gavin Green? Wow. Do you still see Gavin Green?'

'Listen, Gavin Green is going out with this girl who used to know you.'


And then, after about two minutes, you stop all this chit-chat, which is really just an imitation of everyday talk, the kind of talk you do when you really do know someone. What you do next is you say: tell me about yourself.

Suddenly, you have a tiny bit of anxiety - will there be bad news? Have people died? When you reach your thirties, it becomes hard, for instance, to ask after people's parents. When you haven't seen someone for a few years, pets are dodgy ground.

'So: you first, then.'

'Okay. Well, after school, I went . . . '


I looked up. It was a girl I recognised, sitting at the next table. I had known her, but we lost touch sometime in the early Eighties. She kissed me, and sat down next to me.

'My God] It's . . . '

'Naomi] You look, you haven't changed at all]' I was in a difficult situation. This was the first time it had happened to me, this coincidence of lost friends.

'I haven't seen you for . . . God, ten 10 years]'

'This is Jonathan, by the way, who I haven't seen for 15 years . . . '

It was fine in the end. Naomi stayed at our table for a few minutes, and then went back to hers;. I heard all the news, from both people, which was like most distant news;: predominantly good, about marriage and children and wealth, or else really bad, like prison and death; the everyday grunge gets edited out. Then I put Jonathan's and Naomi's business cards in my wallet and walked out of the cafe. I promised myself I'd get in touch with both of them. Which I will, of course. I won't let it slip again. I really believe that.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste