Lucy Foley: 'Why I'll never stop believing in friendship at first sight'

By Lucy Foley , Red (UK) I’m not so sure about love at first sight. I’m pretty sure that, in this context, ‘love’ is really a euphemism for...

By Lucy Foley, Red (UK)

I’m not so sure about love at first sight. I’m pretty sure that, in this context, ‘love’ is really a euphemism for lust — but you can’t admit to that in a wedding speech without looking a bit, well, basic. Or perhaps it’s just that I haven’t experienced it myself.

The first time I met my husband I thought he was arrogant and he literally thought I smelled — my university halls of residence was built on a sulphur mine, so all us Freshers had an unsaintly pong about us.

But friendship at first sight? That’s something I believe in. There was Vee, who I was put next to in art class in year 7. We took one look at each other, started talking and haven’t really stopped since. And Heather, whose room I blundered into when I’d first arrived at university and took in in awe this elegant woman surrounded by scented candles and a babble of voices from Radio 4. I, meanwhile, didn’t manage to put a cover on my duvet for much of the first term, and never in three years really unpacked my suitcase.

There's Anna, who I met at my first job in publishing during a training programme, and who never seemed to stop smiling. One of the first things she told me was that she had only just realised, getting her new glasses prescription, that everyone could see her screen from the end of the office corridor and must know that she spent most of her day stalking ex-boyfriends on Facebook. In that moment, I knew I loved her.

With all of the above, the attraction was almost instantaneous. Yes, the friendship solidified and deepened after that initial catalyst, but there was that something there from the off, that essential first glimmer, that thing that makes you want to get to know more about someone.

You don’t have to look far to find representations of this phenomenon in popular culture. In Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend the promise of a lifelong friendship crystallises in seconds, when the two girls dare each other to climb a staircase up to a spooky apartment: 'At the fourth flight Lila did something unexpected. She stopped to wait for me and when I reached her she gave me her hand. This gesture changed everything between us forever.' 

I love Netflix’s brilliant female-wrestling comedy GLOW because it puts female friendship front and centre. In the first episode we see how quickly bonds are formed between a cast of oddballs brought together by their desire to perform, becoming friendships that will deepen and strengthen over the course of the series. 

And the film-of-the-book A Simple Favour shows us (with admittedly dark consequences) how the rule of 'opposites attract' can apply in friendship as in romance, when Anna Kendrick’s prim domestic goddess becomes instantly infatuated with Blake Lively’s Martini-drinking slummy mummy. 

I asked Robin Dunbar, Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at Oxford University, if friendship at first sight exists. He explained that 'we rely on social cues that help us identify similarity when assessing friendships. We gravitate towards people that we believe might think like ourselves'. 

Jo Hemmings, relationship expert and consultant psychologist on ITV’s Good Morning Britain and This Morning says 'it’s chemistry — that unique-to-us blend of subconscious attraction that we feel when we fancy someone works in much the same, but non-sexual way when we meet someone we know we would just get on so well with. It might be a combo of style, looks, humour, warmth, kindness, fun … there is an overwhelming sense that you would just click with this person.'

It’s also important to acknowledge the exceptions that prove the rule. I’m sure we’ve all had experiences in which an initial lack of chemistry— even a sense of hostility — has eventually transformed into friendship.

If you’re more introverted, or in a difficult place at the time, it’s possible you aren’t going to be beaming out those early friendship signals. That’s why it's always worth giving someone a second chance. Some of my friendships are based not on that 'similarity' that is apparently important for that first spark, but on the exciting differences between us that have led to new experiences and have challenged, for the better, the way I see the world. 

There’s also the fact that a spark can be just that — and nothing more. I believe that the key is how we act upon first impressions, whether we pursue that attraction and form a lasting relationship. As Professor Dunbar explains, we can’t know if that possibility of friendship is real 'until we begin the laborious business of finding out about one another'.

I know those who have their long-established friendships and say they don’t have time to make any more. But I love the freshness, the excitement, the broadening of horizons that comes with making a new friend.

Old friendships are crucial, and should be nurtured, but they can also have their limitations.

My murder mystery, The Guest List, is about when old friendships go really wrong. But murderous intent aside, old friends can hold onto an out of date version of you, when you feel you’ve grown up. Or they might be wonderfully comfortable, but don’t challenge you in the way a new relationship might. And as lives change and friends move away, or have children, we might not see as much of them as we once did.

Studies show that the older you get, the fewer friends you have. But they also show that friendships help us deal with stress, make better lifestyle choices, and allow us to rebound from health issues more quickly. Our friendships literally make us better, healthier people. So, nurture those old friendships I say, with their wonderful history and comfort. But always keep an eye out for that spark. You never know when Cupid’s platonic cousin might strike.


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item United Kingdom: Lucy Foley: 'Why I'll never stop believing in friendship at first sight'
Lucy Foley: 'Why I'll never stop believing in friendship at first sight' United Kingdom
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