K. and I know too many people, although probably few for our demographic, who confuse an extended (possibly busman’s) holiday with actual emigration. I blame gap yars. A recent post by she-of-simian-fingers juxtaposes this half-seriously with child rearing, eliciting in turn a half-pred answer from the Botley Massive. Also half-serious, I assume, as self-fulfilment alone does not make so-called emigrées return after what’s essentially spring break.
(There should be a law that, if none of your friends have changed their facial hair and/or head-hair colour by the time you send round an exclamation-dotted invitation to your back-in-the-UK party, you have to fuck off again for twice the length of time you’ve just clocked up. And don’t you dare bring us back yet another round of dream-catchers as souvenirs.)
With friends who don’t have children younger than (say) two, I generally have conversations about pretty much anything, with shared points of reference even if an only nugatory overlap of preference: music, books, gigs, culture, food, scandals, events in the news, politics, shared friends, technology and various uncategorizable squee. The only conversations I’ve managed to have with people who do have offspring at that age revolve around, er, raising children.
I understand why, and I do actually want to oblige, because it’s such a clearly important aspect of that person’s life. I find I can do so for perhaps the first half-dozen encounters. But I don’t have two years’ worth of interested-sounding questions to as- er, opinions to volunteer about it, any more than I have two years’ worth of conversation stored up about making scale models out of matchsticks, Now That’s What I Call Hurdy-Gurdy or the benefits of voting UKIP. It’s like suddenly you and the friend belong to different and coincidentally disjoint hobbyist societies, for that two-year window, and it’s hard not to drift apart during that time.
Some friendships do survive a period of separation, of course. They’re strong enough to, say, weather a good six months of refusal to communicate (sorry, j4). But generally if people were to emigrate, or—worse—move to Cambridge, then a couple of years of unshared experience and communication lack is more than enough to kick over the traces of a merely casual or genial friendship.
Monkeyhands and I don’t have very much social patience in this area, I agree, and we’re trying to get better at it (with the awkwardness of someone on the autistic spectrum learning neurolinguistic programming, I admit). But what social contract are we expected to fulfil here: what are its obligations, and what are its recompenses?