PREFERRING your own company is perfectly normal – far more so than the idea of ‘best friends’, writes Jim Duffy
If I write the names you will probably all recognise them: Chandler, Joey, Rachel, Monica, Ross and Phoebe. And the one thing they have in common? They were Friends. A hugely successful US TV programme that made tens of millions of dollars and I bet you have the boxset or know someone who does. The whole show revolved around the personalities of the characters – the relationships that formed, the good times and the bad times. I don’t want you singing it all day in your head, but… I’ll be there for you… sorry!
I recall at school having friends was a big thing. There was always the most popular guy or girl in the class who had a decent circle of friends and it almost became a competition to break into. They were never alone in the playground, other kids always wanted to sit beside them on the school bus and the dining hall, and they got lots of cards at birthdays and Christmas – and, of course, did very well at Valentine’s Day.
Alas, I was not one of those lucky creatures. I had one or two close friends at school. We were not, what the main group would call, “weirdos”, but we knew we were not part of the inner circle. But to be fair, it didn’t really bother us. For me, I kinda liked my own company unless I had something to say or prove.
To this day, I still don’t get the concept of friends and, indeed, best friends. The inference here is that I don’t have any friends or, indeed, a best friend. Too right! I couldn’t think of anything worse. Many of you may think this is weird, atypical or even a bit extreme, but for many people out there, they are more than happy with their own company…aren’t we? Yes, a significant group in the population like being alone with their own thoughts. They like not having to think about what is going on in others’ lives which, just like the sitcom, is trivial, frivolous, full of dumb emotion and pretty exhausting.
On Wednesday I attended an event at Westminster. It was the launch of Become an Angel. In short, by doubling the amount of angel investors in small businesses in the UK, we could add £1 billion to the economy. An angel investor, usually, but not always, forms part of a syndicate that pulls their respective cash pots and sticks it into an early stage company to seed it and get it starting to grow – Google “angel investing’”and it will all become clear.
Anyway, coming to London is an interesting experience as there are people everywhere. London is not a city, it feels like a country of its own. But, I always love travelling on the underground – with all my friends…my kinda chums. As I sat on the Tube from Westminster on the District line, the carriage was full. I looked around and just loved the company I was in: no-one was looking at me; no-one was expecting me to chit chat; no-one was asking questions about how I was feeling; and no-one was talking to me about their own relationship problems. I was surrounded by people deep in their own thoughts, staring past me and not expecting me to listen to them.
As the journey continued to Mansion House, I really got to enjoy the company of my new friends – they were just so understanding of me. There was no bond, no need to give of myself and they knew that I was looking for nothing in return. As I exited the carriage to head to the DLR, I said goodbye to my friends with metaphysical handshakes. It was time to head home – no strings, no arguments and no having to worry about them.
As my own best friend, I am happy with my own company. It has taken me years to fully understand this. I don’t want to be, or see myself as, the character Melvin Udall in the movie As Good as It Gets – who is obsessed with his own company – but I no longer feel stigmatised by wanting to be alone. The great thing is, I have learned that I have so many friends out there just like me, in places like Edinburgh, Brighton and Bristol. They are becoming more relevant and more noticeable; happy to be alone, happy to eat alone, happy to travel alone, happy to walk alone – but knowing that they are not lonely…a big difference.
There is a huge distinction to make here. We are not loners, outliers or folk who have problems making relationships. Far from it, we have healthy careers, positive relationships at work and like a good night out with folks every now and then. We like to laugh and text others funny jokes. However, we simply choose solitude and one’s own counsel and company more often.
So to all my friends out there today and this weekend, have a fabulous time on your own. I’ll know you when I see you…
• Jim Duffy is chief executive optimist of Entrepreneurial Spark, the world’s largest free business accelerator for start-up and scaleup businesses