There was a time you could pretend to be popular, at least for a while. You had a grace period during which your past was still a mystery, and who knows, might just be stuffed with mates from college and school and right back to kindergarten.
But not anymore. Social media has stripped us naked. And for some of us this brave new world is a bit of a lifestyle change. I can no longer lie, not even to myself, about how many mates I’ve got, or how many women I’ve ravished or how many parties I go to with my potentially beautiful friends. My Facebook tally is a meagre two hundred something and my twitter following would fill half a bus. I’m not fooling anyone.
It’s possible that I’m an asshole. I certainly have my moments. But I see plenty of assholes on Facebook and they’ve got plenty of friends. Assholes love to network, I’ve noticed, it’s right up there on their list of hobbies. And now, I guess it’s on mine too. Because I’ve got a book to promote so I need more “friends” whom I can persuade to buy the bloody thing so that I can get ahead in life. (I told you I was an asshole).
Anyway, now that I can’t lie about how many friends I’ve got, I’ve started lying about why I haven’t got any. The first one that comes to mind is that I’ve moved around a lot recently, herky jerky like a madman from LA to Bombay to Delhi to Stamford to LA, and it’s ever so hard to stay in touch with people that way.
(But doesn’t travel mean I should have more mates rather than less? Mates in different countries? Global mates? United Colors of Benetton?)
OK, perhaps it’s because I’m old. And I am. Old enough to have felt the knife twist and my dreams crumble and my faith in the goodness of people shrivel to a prune, which at my age, can significantly help with bowel movements. Old enough to know that it doesn’t help to exaggerate things, especially the bleak stuff, but also old enough not to care really. And surely social media is the domain of the young, the eager and the hopeful?
(But hold on – old people have had more time to accumulate friends so they ought to have more of them. That’s not me, that’s math. Talk to the Math! And anyway, this guy had like 200,000 friends and if you look at him, he doesn’t look much older than me, I don’t think. I’m not saying that in a chick way, where the only appropriate response is “oh no, you look like a virgin daisy of spring, what a fresh and fragrant flower you are!” I’m just saying I look younger than I feel. Like Benjamin Fucking Button. Except with significantly fewer mates.)
OK fine then – accepted. Here’s a new theory of matelessness – it’s all LA’s fault. That’s right. Don’t blame it on the good times, don’t blame it on the moonlight, just blame it on the sunshine – blame it on the city. Do that LA thing of looking it in the face, like your own reflection, and saying, “it’s not me, it’s you”.
Because LA can take it. Or leave it. LA’s a city where half the people you meet either leave or go weird and where good people whine about how “good people are hard to find”. Where we spend months and years of our waking lives in the sealed, privacy of our cars, watching the world through our windows until the privacy becomes us, we cocoon ourselves. And it’s hard to get to know people in cocoons.
I’m not the first person to observe that friends don’t just happen in LA as they can elsewhere. In Brooklyn, London or Bombay – cities with public transport and semi-regular rainfall – we’re forced to congregate. On platforms, in tube cars, under dripping awnings. There’s a collective spirit. But LA is disparate. To find friends here, you must seek them out, head into the wilderness with some sort of a plan. You must check your diary, pen it in and allow for traffic – all encounters in this city are googlemapped. And you must do that dance of “do you want to come here, or… OK, why don’t we meet half-way?” You can usually tell how your meet-for-coffee is going to go from the negotiation over who has to drive the furthest.
But above all, you must plan – this is LA’s lesson to us. You must plan for traffic and earthquakes, lunch and the apocalypse. Even the city’s driftwood, the lost souls who make this place so fucking poignant, many of them began as the grandest of planners – it’s just their plans went wrong. They arrived with bold visions of who they would become but then didn’t. And I can relate, because I made a plan too, when I moved back here in September. I was going to make more friends and get out more. Venture into the wild and poke around – embrace the new like/share/follow culture we live in.
A confession – I’m using the book as an excuse really. It sounds a bit desperate to admit out loud that I want more friends because, deep down, I’m a bit lonely – it sounds like I’m playing the fucking violin – so I use the book to pretend that actually I’m just promoting my business by “harnessing” social media and this is all about work. But it isn’t. I’m not going to lie. I’ve done plenty of that already.
I’ll tell you about my adventures as I go. I’ve only just got the ball rolling. So far I’ve weathered an expat breakfast for Brits in LA and a couple of random happy hours with strangers. It’s been a disaster, as you might expect, but I’ve got enough momentum to try try again. After all they can’t all be cunts out there. Statistically speaking, I mean. Talk to the Math.