Ben Jackson
WhatsApp chat

How WhatsApp saved me from losing touch with my childhood friends

WhatsApp chat

Losing touch with my old friends didn’t happen all at once, but gradually over four years.

I’ve been told it’s inevitable, a fact of life – that as you progress through your twenties, you drift apart from those who you spent every day with back in school. It will happen, you just have to wait.

For me, I lost contact with my old friendship group because other priorities took over. I moved to London for university in 2011 and the focus was on settling in and making new friends. Then a teenage relationship ended after my first year. I threw myself into the student newspaper and soon became editor. Anyone who’s worked in student media will confirm that it takes over your life. Later, my time was spent fretting about finding a job in journalism, not to mention essays and a dissertation.

By graduation, I was resigned to the fact that I’d lost touch with my small group of friends from school. And as I was about to start my journalism master’s degree, I held out no hope of ever rekindling those lost connections. Yes, it was sad, but it was unavoidable.

I used to joke that I was terrible at staying in touch with people, but one day it was no longer a joke.

During my master’s, when every waking hour was geared towards getting a job in journalism (seriously), I did something that later left me shocked. An old friend moved to London for a new job and texted me to meet up for a drink. I didn’t reply immediately. That was normal for me at the time. My days were filled with lectures, job applications and trying to get stories from my patch in Islington. I didn’t have time or the head space to arrange a social life (that was a problem in itself and I’m still trying to navigate that). Weeks later, I remembered I hadn’t responded to my mate, so I tried to schedule drinks. But by then, he’d moved back up north because the job didn’t work out.

I was too late to be there for my friend. I felt awful.

I remember first moving to London myself, and how scary it was. But that was nothing compared to what my friend went through. I was only moving into halls, where everyone is dealing with the same challenge of settling into university. It must be so much harder for someone in their mid-twenties moving to a city where they hardly know anyone. I wasn’t there for my mate. Maybe I could have made a difference?

About six months ago, I started a WhatsApp chat with my old friendship group from school, including the mate I let down. Communicating on WhatsApp is effortless, which helps lazy busy people.

We talk about football mainly. We make up niche trivia questions and I’m sure we all sneakily use Google to answer them. We share bad jokes and riddles. We talk about the people we used to know back in school. And old video games. Fun stuff, the sort of thing that gives you a light escape.

Since the inception of the chat, we actually met up. We organised a weekend meetup in Birmingham and have plans for another in London this summer. We also saw each other at one of the chat members’ stag do and wedding.

I thought those relationships were beyond saving, but they were in fact waiting for something to bring them back.

WhatsApp, with its easy intimacy, is helping me and my mates stay connected as we go through our lives.

But this isn’t really about WhatsApp. It could easily have been another chat app. And WhatsApp shouldn’t be given all the credit here. The underlying friendships have to be strong enough to begin with.

I put the question to them in the chat: ‘How do you think WhatsApp has impacted on our friendship group? We didn’t really stay in touch before this chat.’

Chris replied, ‘I think it’s the best invention since the N64’ before sharing a selfie with a pint on his head (a running joke in the chat).

Mark said: ‘I say that a lot to people at work. I may be Amish in my outlook, but thank f**k for WhatsApp!’

PS for those of you who looked closely at the header image, don’t ask why the chat is currently named after me…

Cross-posted with Medium

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Ben Jackson

Editor of The Jackson Review