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be a friend

in my last post i wrote about people's need for a network, but what i was really referencing was people's need for a friend. humans are social creatures - we literally need other human beings to survive. but in a world that is becoming increasingly dominated by individualism, finding a friend seems ever more challenging.

i moved to the UK in november. i've been with this football team since january. yet i still don't feel any closer to anyone in this country. i still don't feel like i have any friends.

i know that sounds dramatic, so let me break it down - what exactly do i mean when i say 'i don't have any friends'? i mean, i don't feel i have anyone i can call to talk to, to vent to, to cry to when i'm having a shit day. i don't feel i have people i can just message to grab a coffee with. loneliness isn't about being alone, it's about feeling alone. feeling emotionally alone. feeling like you have no one in your 'circle'. and yes - i have people back home. i have my partner, i have my family. i have other friends. but none of those relationships can substitute the need for friends in the country you're residing in. friends that are accessible, within a similar social circle, and within the same time zone. a partner can't fulfill all of your needs. nor can your family. and especially not when they're on the other side of the world, sleeping, when you're going through something.

these feelings aren't foreign to me. i remember feeling like this when i was in the US too. it wasn't until my final year that i finally found a teammate who i still consider my friend today. what was different about her compared to everyone else? well she was Norwegian, so she was an international too. but the main thing she did? she took an interest in my life as i did in hers. she made an effort.

so what does it mean to be a friend? it means being interested in their life. it means asking questions. it means making effort. i've just started working at a coffee shop and there's been one individual in particular who's taken a genuine interest in my life outside of the generic football / sport small talk. and it started because she mentioned drawing is what she wants to do for a career. and i asked what sort of drawings, she said she designs album covers for musicians, that sort of thing. i then asked if she could design my book cover for when i eventually write my book. she didn't leave the conversation there - she prodded. she explored. and she did so with a genuine curiosity and excitement.

despite having been here for nearly six months, i have yet to have anyone really ask me anything about my life outside of football. without that interest, without those questions being asked, no connection can be formed. no friendship established. because curiosity has to be mutual. conversations have to be mutual. vulnerabilities have to be mutual. one person can't be the only person learning about the other, which is something i've experienced here - the insulated nature of people's lives.

not only does friendship take effort and interest, but it also takes empathy and understanding. it's acknowledging that 'wow, this must be difficult for you'. it's realising what you have and potentially take for granted, is something that someone else does not have. is there any way for you to share what you have? e.g. if you still live at home, or go to visit your family, can you invite your teammate? can you offer them a home cooked meal? i don't know about others, but i don't think you ever get too old for home cooked meals.

the other point about being a friend is not ignoring someone. i completely understand that everyone has their own lives and not everyone is accessible 24/7 - i know that i'm not. and i also know that even though i don't always (or ever!) reply straight away, i will reply. especially if it's someone i care about and even more so if i know that they're going through something. one of the worst things i think people can do is ghost someone. and it's even more painful when the last message you sent them was about something you were struggling with - something you've been vulnerable about.

this happened to me recently with someone i considered a friend - someone who said they were here to listen to me vent about my struggles in the UK because they'd been there and they understood. i sent a voice note to them, basically holding back tears of how alone i feel in the UK. of how i'm struggling with the passing of a soccer coach from back home and have no one to talk to about it. i never got a reply to that message - which again, is okay - i get that people have shit going on in their own lives and sometimes don't have the emotional capacity to support someone else when they're struggling. so i sent a message asking if they were okay, if a phone call would work better to catch up and chat. and despite all of this happening nearly a month ago, i still haven't had a reply. yet i see them posting daily on social media.

so what is the effect of this? and how damaging can it really be? i think the worst part is this person is very well aware of how i've had significant people in my life literally go MIA when i've needed them the most. and still to this day without an explanation despite multiple attempts by me to get in contact. yet, this seems to be the pattern unfolding again. although this undoubtedly says more about them and potentially what they're going through, it still fucking hurts. it hurts to feel abandoned by those you're supposed to trust the most. by those whom you have been vulnerable with. with those who are supposed to be your friend.

people might dismiss this and say 'they're clearly not you're type of person' - but let's be real, many of us aren't inundated with a surplus of friends. it takes time to develop friendships. it takes courage to be vulnerable; to open yourself up to another. so to lose one, on the back of already losing many in your life in a similar fashion, it fucking hurts.

another aspect about being a friend is the exchange of information, especially if that information could benefit someone else. what i will never understand is when people hoard information. hoard contacts. hoard assistance. i'm unsure if others have experienced this, or perhaps it's a product of the football/soccer community, but i've found people to be particularly unhelpful. if i have a teammate interested in playing in australia, i'm giving them every contact i know. i'm explaining everything i know about the leagues, structure, payment, restrictions etc. and if they were interested in coming to adelaide, i'd help them find a place to stay. or at the very least, put them in contact with someone who could. a player from back home also travelled to the UK to trial over here and i shared with her all the email addresses i had found online to save her the hassle and time of doing that herself. in contrary, a former teammate who i've known for a long time was very well aware of my intentions to move to the UK. she was also aware of the GBE points required to play professionally. yet did she share this with me? absolutely not. part of being a friend, or simply a decent person, is adding value to others' lives with no expectation of that being reciprocated. it's doing for others perhaps what you had wished someone had done for you.

so what do i recommend? i think all of us need to be better at being better friends. and i'm not saying you're going to befriend everyone you come in contact with; that's not realistic. but i think the least we can do is take an interest in their lives. to ask questions. to be curious. there is no greater feeling than the feeling of being understood and seen. but i think so many of us are living in the worlds inside our heads because no one seems to be taking an interest to learn about them. so how can you take an interest in someone else's life? how can you make an effort? and if someone has the courage to be vulnerable with you, please, for the love of god, don't fucking ignore them. even if you have your own shit going on - just say that. "hey i really want to be there for you right now, but i've got quite a bit going on emotionally and i don't want to do a disservice in giving you half-assed replies. i'll touch base when i'm in a better place." the more communication, the better. "a lack of communication leaves too much room for imagination." don't be shit. be a better friend.

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