From best friends to LinkedIn connections

This week, I received a LinkedIn connection request from a familiar face. He’s older, yes, but he looks much the same.

We met 15 years ago, at a friend’s party. We clicked instantly, as though we were best friends waiting to happen. There was never any sexual chemistry and never any question that we’d try the relationship thing. We just got on incredibly well, we had a similar sense of humour, and we shared our hopes and dreams.

We went to movies together, we hung out in my bedroom and gave each other platonic back massages (yes, this is possible when you don’t have a crush on someone). For months we saw each other at least once a week, sometimes more often.

And then he met a girl. A lovely girl. He proposed within three months and they got married in a Greek Orthodox ceremony that was especially memorable because the bride fainted in the middle of it and was out cold for five minutes.

Not long after he met the lovely girl, I met the man who would be my husband, and that pretty much finished it. My friend and his wife moved to the UK where he makes lots of money and they are successful and happy, in a story so very different from my own failed marriage. I last saw them in 2002, when I stayed with them for a week.

We tried Facebook and the odd email, but they had their lives and I had mine, and in a world where it is impossible to escape from your past, we managed to lose touch. Until last week. We haven’t exchanged messages yet. We’re just … connected.

This is the arc of friendship. From platonic soulmates who shared everything to LinkedIn connections who might never have known one another in real life.

It is hard not to feel sad about this, and to feel afraid that if I find another friendship that is as meaningful, I will lose it the way I lost him.

And so it has come to pass. That LinkedIn request has a strange symmetry with another friendship, one that threatens to go the same way. Recently I made another good (straight, male) friend. We met at a car launch of all things and hit it off immediately. He took me to The Baron on Main after my TEDxJohannesburg talk where my mic failed and I ended up in a hideous sobbing heap. He bought me a shot of Jagermeister and I twerked with middle-aged IT salesmen and then he dropped me at home. Only very good friends do that for you.

He has made the world less lonely this year, and that’s about the highest compliment I can pay anyone. What we have is far more enjoyable and meaningful than a relationship, because relationships crash and burn, and friendships last. More importantly, ours is a working friendship, too — I jokingly call him my work husband, and he calls me his work wife. So there is the happiness of clients at stake, and the sense of a future in which we get a shot at shaping the world according to our own dreams instead of being beholden to KPIs and bosses who receive instructions from accountants in London.

And now I can see that history is threatening to repeat itself and I want to weep, because I know what will happen. Friendship is precious, and delicate, and it turns so very easily from something that is meaningful and good into a distant memory.

A LinkedIn connection isn’t a friendship. It’s a reminder of what was lost.

Image – Gallo