She wasn’t the first person to say it, she wasn’t even the second, but someone was listening when Marlene Dietrich said “It’s the friends that you can call at 4am that matter.” Knowing that the Blue Angel had a rather rapacious habit of calling on many people at four o’clock in the morning – particularly if they were young, libidinous and male – perhaps it’s not so surprising that she was so open about her insecurities. Friendship is a tricky business. A very tricky business indeed. Like a love affair, say, the new REM album or anything you’re unlucky enough to find on Channel 5, a friendship won’t stand up to scrutiny. While it’s true that we can spend our lives discussing life, death, sex, work, politics, God and the inexplicable penchant that estate agents have for square-toed shoes, what we rarely talk about is our relationships with each other. And if we do, we’re doomed. Cynics might say this is largely because most friendships have such tenuous foundations that any close analysis would cause them to crumble, while the truth of the matter is that after a while explanations become unnecessary. Received wisdom dictates that a friendship is based on two defining principles. Firstly, to like and dislike the same things. Secondly, and more pertinently, a friend is someone who knows all about you, yet still likes you. Well, maybe. True friendships are based on far more delicate and abstruse things than that, as shared interests and a modicum of loyalty are the linchpins of any relationship. An acquaintance once said to me, without any obvious ulterior motive, that your friends might not necessarily be the best people suited for the job, they just happened to get there first. Perhaps, but then people do move in and out of our lives with alarming speed, through no fault of their own, or indeed ours. I think perhaps it wrong to have such high expectations of friendship. Often they just fade, and sometimes with good reason. Feeling aggravated that people have manoeuvred themselves out of your life is as selfish and myopic as not realising that you’ve done the same thing to other people on more occasions than you can hope to remember.
They say that a friendship should be nurtured, but a good friendship, an honest friendship, is one that can be left to simmer. A good friendship – and the good ones always have their own particular shorthand – takes time. One of the crushingly disappointing things about growing up is discovering that friendships, while they can certainly be cultivated, can never, ever be forced. Nudge it and it might nudge back. Push it and it falls over. Have low expectations, I say. Be realistic. Expect nothing and love in hope. Who knows, you might be surprised. As for Marlene, she was right, of course. But in her day they didn’t have answering machines.
Photography Kevin Davies