I'm blessed with my pals - but am I being a good friend to them?
The other night I found myself in the bosom of a clutch of friends who, to be exact, all started out as 'friends of a friend'. We shared the same mutual friend, and he had introduced us all to each other back in the 1980s.
Over the decades and countless New Year's Day brunches and uproarious Friday-night dinner parties, we all clicked with one another and gradually became invested in each other's lives. We knew each other's histories - the dramas, the house moves and all the romances. We knew one another single, coupled up and divorced.
This little group wasn't guaranteed to see each other regularly, but whenever those hand-written invitations from our mutual friend plopped onto the hall mat, you just knew who would be there and that you would instantly pick up with the threads of each other's lives.
These parties were wonderful, because the people there were drawn from disparate worlds, all brought together by a catalyst, a man who had an unfailing belief in the value of friendships.
Richard died a fortnight ago. So now, facing the future without him, our little group vowed that we would stay in touch, even though he was gone. We'd plan twice-yearly get-togethers, we agreed, and we'd always be 'Richard's girls'.
Walking home that night, I started to think about the importance of friendship, and how its meaning can change over the years. As I thought about the friendships I've built over five colourful decades, I began to get annoyed with myself. How stupid had I been? I've been guilty of compartmentalising my friends and socialising in silos, which is exactly the opposite of what Richard had done.
Bad mistake! Huge! Do something about it fast girl, I reprimanded myself. But I'm not the only one: when I raised this topic of socialising in silos with a dear friend I've made through work, she admitted she was guilty of it too.
Maybe we're afraid of how our friends would interact with each other, she said. Would they even get on? Trying to unravel how things had got to this point, I gave myself brownie points for starting out well. My school pals and friends from my teenage years got to meet my college mates and that was driven by our youthful zeal to get out there and discover a whole new world.
First apartments called for parties and pots of chilli con carne, birthdays called for mimosas and I'd like to think I was a cupid, on occasion.
What of the friendships we make in our professional lives? How many of us are guilty of never introducing work pals to the friends we made through our kids or the ones we shared flats with, went on holidays with? You could throw an ex-boyfriend or two into the mix. And are all of these real friendships or something else?
I brought up the topic with one of my oldest school pals. She joked about how a real friend is the one who would help you bury the body. 'Bury the body'? I shrieked and we dissolved into laughter.
The more I thought about friendship the week, the more I realise how much I need to step up to the plate. Being an only child has made me too comfortable in my own company, so how blessed am I that there are those still in my life who are committed to meeting up.
Last week I was humbled by how pals offered to help when I needed to be collected from hospital. Being fiercely independent, I'd been thinking of getting a taxi, but the clinic's rules dictated otherwise. That episode got me thinking about how we classify friendships as we grow older because clearly they are not based on knowing each other 'for years'. What started out as acquaintances need to be re-assessed and re-valued as much, much more.
They say you can count your true friends on one hand, but I'm not sure. In midlife, we have the luxury of time to renew and refresh a whole range of friendships which really take on a new relevance in these empty-nester years.
Friendships in a digital age deserve more TLC. So I've made myself a promise: more face-to-face time and plenty of physical hugs, rather than just zapping grinning emojis at each other.