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Friendship... Who Really Matters, Who Never Did, Who Always Will

27/08/2014 14:04 BST | Updated 27/10/2014 09:59 GMT

A couple of weeks ago I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon with friends. Our toddler was safely tucked away with his grandparents and we were foot loose and fancy free. It started off with lunch at our local pub and continued all the way through the day, with drinks in the pub garden (quite a lot of them) and, most importantly, conversation, fun and relaxation with a small group of people I know really well and who I love. It struck me that day how lucky I am. Around that table were two of my oldest friends, both of whom I knew as a teenager and yet we still make time for each other and play a regular part in each other's lives, despite that mine has changed beyond recognition in the intervening time. We really know each other, and the ease of communication, the bank of shared (and often hilariously ridiculous) memories and the special closeness that can only build over time is one of my life's real pleasures.

Since that afternoon I have given quite a bit of thought to the pattern of friendships as we get older, and their importance in our lives. In my early 20s, friendship was everything to me. I had a couple of very close girlfriends and they were like my family. In fact, for several hard years following my mother's death, they were my family. I did everything with my friends; spoke to them about every detail of my life, tediously analysed relationships, laughed (a lot), cried (a lot), danced, drank, got up to far too much mischief, chilled out, freaked out and everything in between - all of this was played out within the warm embrace of real and true close friendship. I really remember these years, and I feel increasingly nostalgic about them as they were so special. Perhaps I should have been putting my time and energy into achieving great things, building a meaningful career and generally being an impressive person but no, I was destined to be a bit of a disaster, but it didn't matter because I had real friends, who loved me. Sure, there were arguments but we always recovered and, I have to say, I never thought those days would end. Sadly, and perhaps inevitably, they did.

Now, as a proper grown up - whatever that means - I can see that the flurry of youth brings with it deep uncertainty and glorious freedom in equal measure. Good friends are like rocks throughout this process and we cling to them for comfort and security, whilst benefitting from all the fun of new-found adulthood in the safety of warm and familiar company. But, of course, as life changes, so do friendships. The changes can be painful and abrupt. I met my (now) husband in a whirlwind in my mid-20s and although it pains and slightly shames me to say it, the combination of falling in love quickly and finding a man who actually looked after me, instead of dating me and fuelling my already obvious insecurities, before mucking me around for a number of months of heartache, meant that I rather suddenly abandoned some of my key friendships in favour of my Knight in Shining Armour. Or rather, and stupidly, the need for those friendships abandoned me in that period of time. Oh if only I had known how much I would regret the foolishness of hasty actions... A close friend is a relationship all of its own. It might provide a lot of warmth and love, but it requires nurturing and attention in return; without due care and attention the friendship will wither and die. I see all this now, as a real grown up, and with the benefit of hindsight. Maybe it was inevitable - as a young woman my attention span was only so big, and I needed to apply it all to my new relationship, my new 'rock,' and my friendships changed in the process. I have been left feeling, in recent years, that I let a couple of people down back then, and in quite a big way.

Now, a full decade later and with a young family, a home, a job and a college course looming to juggle, I can really see how important friendship is. These days my idea of a good time with a friend looks rather different - there are no long conversations over buckets of wine, in truth there are more snatches of conversation over sips of cold tea, while toddlers and babies do their best to steal the few coherent thoughts that fly fleetingly into my brain. Nonetheless, there are now a few friends who I love and need more than ever and this time, I can see them clear as day. They have my full attention. They are people to share my life with, and to care deeply about in return. They are not people to be taken for granted.

After years of soul searching, wondering where my life is going, judging myself by other people's ideas and standards, panicking that I'm not getting life right, that I'm not successful enough, funny enough, attractive enough... now I can see through all the fog and noise and see what's really important. Central to my happiness and success are my relationships and friendships are as important as family, at times even more so. Now is the time to make sure that I learn from my lessons in the past, and don't take the few special friends I have in my life for granted again. It's taken me a while to learn some fairly basic truths, but hey, better late than never:

Where would you be without friends? The people to pick you up when you need lifting? We come from homes far from perfect, so you end up almost parent and sibling to your friends - your own chosen family. There's nothing like a really loyal, dependable, good friend. Nothing.

Jennifer Aniston