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The Tribes

These Are Your Friends

Team mates, wingmen, partners-in-crime… Here’s our field-spotter’s guide to your amigos

At college and throughout our early twenties, it’s easy to maintain the conditions required for new friendships to flourish. We’re young. We’re free. We’re high on life. Making friends just happens.

Then there comes a certain point, somewhere around 30, that life begins to get in the way. We become slaves to our schedules. We no longer have the time to pursue dead ends. Making new friends becomes less about “quality” and more about “opportunity”. Our friendships begin to diversify, but not always in a good way. Soon the ties that bind us are as flimsy as we’ve been conspiring to get our boss sacked ever since we burned down a minibar together in Lille after EasyJet left us for dead. As for half of the friends we met in college, we’re struggling to remember exactly what it was we had in common with them in the first place.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Forewarned is forearmed, so as you head out into that analogue version of Facebook known as society, here are the types of friends one may typically encounter. 


Nobody knows for sure what he does in the off-season – or even where he is. The lights have been off in his apartment ever since Super Bowl weekend, which is about the last time you saw him. It’s been suggested that he follows a migratory path around the globe, imbibing different sporting cultures as he goes, leaving a cloud of Cheeto dust in his wake. His encyclopaedic knowledge of Australian Rules Football would certainly lend credence to this theory.

Now that the football season is back, though, you can look forward to four hours every weekend in his company, drinking watery beer, receiving retinal burn from the Jumbotron he’s had installed in his “man cave”, exchanging Fantasy Football strategies and generally doing everything in your power to avoid talking about your lives outside of this room. You wonder occasionally if this friendship isn’t just a little bit shallow. Other than a shared interest in sport – yours passing, his all-consuming – do the two of you actually have anything in common? Does he even know what you do for a living? It’s not a thought that crosses your mind very often, though, because… “Touchdown!! Did you see that?!”


This guy represents the ultimate convenience-based friendship – one built entirely around the fact that you spend dozens of hours together every week with absolutely no cost to your free time. But the environment that allowed this bond to flourish is also what will hold it back from ever achieving its true potential: no matter how many hours you rack up in each other’s company, you’ll always be colleagues first and friends second.

Which is a shame, because if you’d met in a different context, you like to think that you’d have become genuine friends. You have a similar sense of humour. Similar taste in music. You see through the office politics in the same way. You think of him as a kindred spirit – and you like to think that he thinks the same about you. Then it all got a bit weird when you duetted “I Got You Babe” on the karaoke machine at the company’s summer barbecue and couldn’t look each other in the eye on the following Monday.


The two of you used to run amok back in the day. Parties every weekend. Always the last ones on the dancefloor. The bouncers would throw you out at closing time – and then it was on to whatever afterparty would let you in. “Not in that state,” they’d say. “Take him to get some breakfast.” You’d get the first train home, go back to bed, wake up and do it all over again.

And then you grew up. You got a job with real responsibility. You met someone and it got serious. Finding yourself under increased pressure at work and at home, you cut back on those wild nights, relegating them to just a couple of “special” occasions a year – which are the times you still see him. You’d love to say that he’s still going strong – but “strong” isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind. His eyes are sunken, his complexion is wan and waxy. A sort of anti-Dorian Gray, he wears the effects of a thousand sinful nights on his face. You sometimes wonder if he’s ever going to settle down. For the sake of those two nights a year, though, you kind of hope that he doesn’t.


This friendship is built on the shakiest foundations of all. You didn’t choose this guy and he sure as hell didn’t choose you, so what are the chances that the two of you are going to develop a meaningful bond? The likelihood might be higher in the similar case of a partner’s friend’s partner: if your partners get on, then surely there’s a chance that you will, too? When it’s your kid’s friend’s dad, though, you’re effectively trying to form a friendship with someone based solely on the fact that your children happen to be the same age. It’s tenuous at best.

And don’t forget that blood’s thicker than water. Even if you discover that you do get on, the resulting friendship will always be vulnerable to your child’s whims – and children are capricious creatures. You might find, for instance, that Timmy’s dad is actually a great guy. You decide to organise a play date for your two kids, with the hidden motive of hanging out with each other. (“It will do our lads good to learn the finer points of darts.”) Your son, however, has since decided that Timmy is a psychopath and refuses to be seen with him. What are you going to do? Go behind your sons’ backs?


Things started off innocently enough. A cancellation here, a missed social occasion there. No big deal, you thought. You knew that he’d started seeing somebody recently, and you were content to put his absenteeism down to those passionate early stages of a new relationship. Let him have his happiness, you thought. It’ll fade. He’ll be back in the fold soon enough. But he never came back.

You aren’t mad at him. Any sentient man knows that the phrase “bros before hoes” isn’t just brash and degrading, it’s also a complete myth. Male friends want each other to be happy. They don’t resent each other for finding love. Having said that, this guy is taking some serious liberties here. You haven’t seen him for three months and counting. The WhatsApp group he’s a member of has fallen so silent that you renamed it “the echo chamber” – and he didn’t even appear to notice. And the last time you saw him, he was talking about proposing. The stag do had better be good, you think. It’s the last meaningful time you’re ever going to spend with this guy.


He’s the kind of guy that you simply wouldn’t be friends with if you met him now. It’s not that you have a problem with who he has become. But you’ve taken such markedly different paths that you’ve found that you no longer have anything in common. You realise, in hindsight, that your friendship was entirely dependent on context, and all you share together now is a historic bond.

That bond, however, is too strong to be ignored. It was developed over countless hours. As a result, it’s more resilient than anything you’re ever likely to find in adulthood. You can leave it for weeks or even months untouched and it won’t fray. You can revisit it whenever you like and it’ll be just the same as it ever was. It doesn’t matter how old you get: whenever you two hang out together, you’ll still feel like those two teenagers who spent all summer trying to land a kickflip in the driveway. In a way, this is the purest kind of adult friendship you can ever hope to achieve. From being context-dependent, it’s now entirely free of context. You have nothing in common. Your lives no longer overlap. And it doesn’t matter.