This column first appeared in The Western Mail in May 2022
Llangrannog, Summer 1992, and the best human being I’ve ever known wandered into my life. Technically, she’d be quick to tell you, I wandered into hers.
We both have a vivid, shared memory of the fateful day our paths first crossed. It was at a Urdd-run summer camp designed to get kids from different primary schools socialising before we all went up to Big School TM together. Bored at lunch, I wandered away from my little friendship group to a table of girls I’d never spoken to before. I was in search of new chats and new horizons. These girls were from (dramatic whisper) Blackwood. They looked kind of cool. I felt that I wanted to be their friend and, in particular, one dark-haired girl who was sporting a splendid specimen of shellsuit.
My opening line (“Wanna see my party trick?” – a killer, I’m sure we can all agree) was met by silent bemusement. Never one to let a bit of social awkwardness stop me, I went on to show them my party trick, the details of which I’m keeping deliberately vague for the protection of all parties involved (mainly me).
But suffice it to say, I certainly made an impression on the dark-haired girl in the shellsuit. Today, with three children between us, she remains my best friend, sanity checker, counsellor, confidante and absolute favourite human being on earth. We couldn’t be more different in many ways, and I think that’s why we have lasted the course. There are a million reasons I love her, but ultimately it’s her power to surprise me. I love stark contradictions in people, and that’s one of the things I think drew me to the girl I’ll call Nyree because that’s her name, and I have her permission.
Sensible prefect material on the surface, she had no qualms about sneaking out to Newport’s finest Indie nightclubs at an age when we really shouldn’t have been. Both bookish and sporty, we also shared a rebellious streak we brought out in each other.
When I quit the path to university to pursue music journalism, much to my family’s horror, she went on to Aberystwyth and then France. Our paths should have diverged there. But they didn’t. We stayed in touch via old-fashioned letters, we both ended up working in PR in London, and our careers have followed similar twists and turns since. Whenever I’ve needed her, she has been there for me. I could never thank her enough. Sometimes I’ve wondered if she’s actually a saint disguised in Nike High-Tops.
Even now, she still has the power to surprise me. Like when she announced she had quit her powerful-but-ultimately-soul-destroying corporate job to study art therapy. Attagirl, Nye!
I recently made a birthday video for my partner, and one of his friends submitted a lovely clip where she mentioned they had been friends for thirty years. THIRTY YEARS! I thought, amazed. That’s a massive achievement, isn’t it? To sustain a relationship for that amount of time? And it’s then I realised that this summer, it will be thirty years since I wandered up to the cool girls’ table and wowed them with my inappropriateness. Three whole decades since Nyree Ann Hughes came into my galaxy and lit it up like a supernova. My longest ever relationship that isn’t blood-related. Now that has to be worth marking, right?
I immediately notified Nyree of the upcoming anniversary. After the standard GOD HOW DID WE GET SO OLD REALLY HOW THOUGH chat, we resolved to organise something lovely to mark the occasion. A road trip, a city break, a spa hotel, or a hiking weekend. Details TBC, but we will be together, there will be a celebration, and we WILL play Elastica.
It got me thinking about how rubbish we are at marking friendship milestones despite our love for a romantic anniversary. Entire sub-sectors of the multi-million-pound greeting card and gift industry are built around us marking key dates relating to our partners and spouses. We’re quick to get the cake and helium balloons out when marriages hit key milestones. So why don’t we celebrate our friendships in the same way? With divorce rates soaring, our friendships are more likely to last the course after all.
For me, the date I essentially horrified Nyree into being friends with me as an eleven-year-old girl is worth marking as much as any romantic anniversary.
“The idea of celebrating your friendship has grown steadily,” says Jan Yager, author of Friendshifts: The Power of Friendship and How it Shapes Our Lives. I can certainly see why. I’ve started plotting dates when other significant friendships began, so I can mark them in my diary and make a habit of celebrating ‘friendiversaries’. These are the people I’ve chosen to keep around me. Why wouldn’t I want to celebrate them and our journeys together? Also, any excuse for a party, right?
There will always be people that come and go from your life. So it’s worth taking the time to raise a glass to the special ones that last the distance.
Here’s to you Miss Hughes, plus all the friendiversaries to come.
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