In the Age of Casual Sex, Hooking Up is Easy. Making Lasting Platonic Friends is Not

POV

In the Age of Casual Sex, Hooking Up is Easy. Making Lasting Platonic Friends is Not

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

My first friendship was built on the trusty foundation of a mutual love for swings and see-saws.

On a balmy day in September, my first day of kindergarten, the break bell rang and the classrooms vomited out snotty-nosed four-year-olds. I spotted Soumya. She was standing alone, nervously tugging on the handkerchief pinned to the front of her frock. I asked her if she wanted to play on the see-saw. She agreed. Next day at break time she ran out early to save a swing for us. In the pecking order of kindergarten playground politics, swings are the most coveted of all rides. I realised I had made a friend.

School and college environments granted me a set of friends whom I grew up around – best friends, bus friends, colony friends, cousins, cousins’ friends – all with defined roles, weathering Mean Girls-esque cliques. College was the first sip of freedom which tasted a lot like cheap Magic Moments vodka in hostel rooms. One should never underestimate the power of a bond forged with alcohol-induced puke.

Meeting my old friends didn’t seem as emotionally nourishing as it used to.

But sometime last year I shifted cities for a job. Moving to a city you don’t have roots in, made me take stock of how I took my friend group for granted. When you are little, the first person who shares their scented markers with you is your bestie for life. I realised that adult friendships took a lot more work.

Initially, I was scared of admitting that I had to put myself out there and actively try to be social, being on team #NoNewFriends. But what happens when you begin to outgrow your besties?

Meeting my old friends didn’t seem as emotionally nourishing as it used to. While I love them to bits, often our interactions would become a laundry list of life updates and gossip sessions. When reminiscing about “the good old days” is the only place where your conversational Venn diagram intersects at, then you know you have a problem. Besides, they couldn’t understand that oddly specific pain of being stuck in a Mumbai traffic snarl on a Tuesday evening. While they couldn’t find my struggles relatable I’m sure I wasn’t keeping up with their shifting priorities either.

But I knew I had to put myself out there. My quest began by asking the girl in my yoga class on a “friend-date.”

Nothing had prepared me for this moment and I was wracked with anxiety. Everyone knows the rules of romantic dating but what are the rules to friend dates? Is there a friend-pickup line one ought to use? It’s easy for me to ignore a date’s bland personality, but how do I navigate the rules of friend-dates where nothing compensates for a bad personality, no matter how chiselled a jawline they have?

Why does the idea of rejection on a friend-date somehow feel more personal?

In the midst of our second helping of cheesecake, while my friend-date spoke about our yoga instructor’s charming smile, I wondered why I held so many unnecessary inhibitions for what is, in essence, a perfectly effortless catch-up?

Why does the idea of rejection on a friend-date somehow feel more personal? Perhaps it’s because rejection in a romantic context is easier to rationalise. It isn’t you per se, it could be other things — perhaps that person isn’t interested in a relationship right now, perhaps they already have a significant other, perhaps they just don’t like your face. But someone rejecting a casual offer to “get a drink” is the equivalent of that person holding up a big shiny neon sign that reads “I have no interest in getting to know you.”

However the gratitude I felt after that successful friend-date was more wholesome than most romantic encounters. Beginner’s luck, I guess, because my other attempts at socialising dissolved in mutual exchanges of “we should definitely meet up” texts.

The city doesn’t feel as cold as it initially did.

I often think about the movie Bridesmaids. Annie and Lillian’s friendship goes back decades, but part of the reason their friendship hits the rocks is that it is banking solely on nostalgia. Their childhood connection doesn’t fit well into responsible adult life. Your best friend from 10 years ago knows a version of you that doesn’t exist anymore. When Annie hits rock bottom, it isn’t Lillian, but her recent friend Megan who helps her out of it.

The case for adult friends, the friends we make as grown-ups, reflects the direction our lives are taking in adulthood. They are friends who choose to show up for you in spite of their work and family commitments and their own drained social batteries. People who create space for you in their schedules and are open to letting you into their lives. We all need Megans in our lives. We all need to be someone’s Megan in life too.

In time I’ve seen my inhibitions about making the “first move” reduce and consequently I’ve seen my little Bombay family of friends grow. Yes, on some days I still turn off the blue ticks on WhatsApp and vegetate in bed with a book, but the city doesn’t feel as cold as it initially did.

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