One of my oldest friends, Paul, in Sydney, sent me an invite to his 50th. Luckily I was able to go. But 50! I can remember going to friends' 21sts, 30ths, 40ths but this is the first 50th I've been asked to. And my own 50th is a few years off yet, but I am looking forward to it. I guess the oldest gay friend I have is in his 70s, and the youngest in his teens: I enjoy having that range of people and views in life.
But it made me think about how long we've known each other - it'll be about 30 years now. We met when we were both going to Auckland Uni, he was a couple of years ahead of me. He was flatting up the road from my family home, and I can't quite remember now how we met. All I know is he forms part of a core group of my dearest and oldest friends. When we meet up again it's always just so easy and warm and funny and joyful. He's a great guy. 30 years is along time to know someone, especially from our generation when so many of us died so young. We're lucky we're both still standing, and even still dancing at times.
Then he moved over to Sydney, as so many of us do, and has stayed there ever since. In fact a lot of my oldest friends live overseas, Australia, the UK, and the USA account for most of them, but I have others in Brasil, in Turkey, in Italy and France. It makes it it cheaper when you travel that's for sure. But old friends are about much more than just cheap beds when you're out around the world. There is something to having known someone for years and years, even when you don't see each other as often as you'd like, that makes life richer.
I know it's been said before, but gay men tend to create our own family groups, especially if we felt our own families weren't able to support us the way we thought we needed: it seems to be a common feature of gay life around the globe. And I think a lot of gay men have a talent for friendship, we're forced to really, because of the ways we socialise and how wider society views us. We seek out allies, we form networks - and we're damn good at it. You can tell how good the networks are by the way news moves through them, suddenly people are linking over crises or celebrations, word gets round.
It's not uncommon in our world to fuck, then to discover that you like the stranger in your bed and become friends, but in my experience once the friendship is real I find it nearly impossible to go back to a sexual relationship. I can't combine the two, though I know other guys who have no trouble doing so. For me the friendship becomes more important than the sex - you can always get sex, but you can't always get a good friend - so I tend to take my mates out of my sex life.
You don't always have to stay in close touch with old friends - often you reach a stage where the contact might be minimal on a day to day basis, but when you meet up again it's just like you saw each other yesterday. I guess for me that is the sign of a deep and easy friendship - the way it all just flows and picks up again. I can think of about a dozen people like that in my life, and I think I'm lucky to have that number. Of course the internet and cell phones have made it so much easier. Where we used to have to sit down and write a letter, or budget an international phone call, now I can send a text to mate in London, or check out their facebook page or drop a quick email and it is so much easier to stay connected.
Even here in Auckland I still often hang out with guys I've known since I was in my teens or 20s, as well as more recent friends. I'm glad I'm still making new friends too.
You know about their history over decades, you have shared experiences, some good, a few bad. You understand how they think, how they move, why they do certain things, and they know the same about you.
Make friends, treasure them, and you'll have something wonderful in your life.