Stories of unlikely friendships

Four stories of how chance meetings and unusual pairings evolved into something to be treasured

What is it that brings two seemingly fundamentally different people together? Fate, circumstances, the natural human desire to connect with one another? It could be said that, whatever it is, it’s made harder in an age of bubbles – social, political, and ideological – where we’re surrounded in both our virtual and real worlds by people who look and act similarly to ourselves.

But what happens when we reach across the lines to connect with people who wouldn’t usually make it into our inner circles? Here, we speak to four people who took fleeting moments of connection, and turned them into lifelong friendships.

Sophia and Regina

Sophia met Regina in 2017, when she was on her way to Germany for a work trip. They were sitting in the same aisle on the plane, both travelling solo. When Sophia complimented Regina’s scarf, something clicked and they discovered that they had a lot in common – both having parents who had lived with the effects of Alzheimer’s.

“We exchanged numbers during the plane trip,” Sophia says. “In these situations, sometimes people may be polite and take your contact details, and you don’t hear from them. This was not the case for us, as we met up the next day.”

After that, no matter where they were in the world, Sophia and Regina made an effort to stay in touch. “On one trip, I stayed with her for three months,” Sophia says. “[Regina] opened up her house for me as I needed some respite. I felt so much more confident after that trip, like a new version of me had been born.

“The sad thing is, she passed away last year. I felt devastated, losing such a good friend. I couldn’t attend her funeral due to the Covid restrictions, but wrote a letter – and when I was going through the motions of grieving, I made a vow to her that I will be brave like her, and continue to go on adventures.”

Sylvia and Alice

“In January 2002, I had just moved to Edinburgh and invited my new neighbours round for a cuppa. Alice, the elderly lady on the top floor couldn’t make it, but saw me a few days later. I introduced myself: ‘Hello, I’m Sylvia. I’m from Germany, I’ve just moved to my beloved Britain, so good to meet you.’ She looked at me and said, “Germany? Well, there are some nice people.’”

Born in 1924, Alice was more than 40 years older than Sylvia. But, as they continued to bump into each other in the stairwell and on the bus, a very special friendship began to develop.

“When she decided to move into sheltered housing, I lost a neighbour, but not a friend,” Sylvia says. “I still visited her, sometimes I was able to persuade her to let me get her shopping for her. When I got a sports car, she joined me for a spin – not easy to get in and out of a low car, especially in your 90s!”

Three years ago, Syliva moved from Edinburgh to Kent, but she and Alice still talk weekly.

“Alice is a great role model, she’s kind but feisty, very funny, very independent, and happy with herself and her life – her stories definitely tell of a life well-lived. I said in my speech at her 80th birthday: ‘Technically, you could be my granny, or you could be my mum – but to me, you are a very dear and inspirational friend.”

Steps to connect

Sometimes, it can feel as though opportunities to connect with others are rare, but technology is there to give us a helping hand…

Bumble BFF: The well-known dating app has a mode dedicated to finding friends. Create a profile introducing yourself, and ‘match’ with like-minded people in your area.

Meetup: Available as an app and a website, Meetup lists social groups close to you, where you can get together to do activities or simply to stay social. From book clubs to walking groups, gaming communities and more, there’s something for everyone.

Nextdoor: The Nextdoor app brings communities together to share news, find services, and socialise. Get to know the people who live near you, and connect over common interests.

Peanut: Peanut is an app that helps women who are at the same stage in life to connect with each other – from fertility to pregnancy, motherhood, and menopause. Find people who just get it, and unlock the power of friendship and peer support.

Sarah and Dave

Sarah says: “I first met Dave via his Instagram account @soberdave. Since losing my dad to alcohol use disorder in 2017, I have been on a mission to quash the stigmas attached to the illness and encourage people to seek the support they deserve. I had recently done a TEDx talk titled ‘Alcoholism – The deadly truth about its stigma’, and I was on a desperate mission to spread my message far and wide,” Sarah explains. “I sent the link to the talk to Dave, and asked him to share it with his followers.”

“On the rare occasion that I was relaxing at home, I got Sarah’s message,” Dave recalls. “I had the chance to watch Sarah’s talk, which had a massive impact on me. I remember thinking I could have been in Sarah’s dad’s position, it could have been me who died from my alcohol addiction.”

After her initial message, Dave invited Sarah on to his podcast ‘One for the Road’, where she shared her family’s story in a safe, supportive space.
“I was riddled with guilt, and Dave helped to put things into perspective for me. By sharing his perspective (also my dad’s perspective), he gave me another chance to understand my dad’s illness, which reaffirmed that it wasn’t my fault.”

From there, their friendship flourished, as they introduced each other to their families and went on to give talks in schools – each sharing their different but united perspectives.

“Being friends with Dave has given me the opportunity to ask questions that I didn’t get the chance to ask my dad, and has helped me find some closure, which I will be eternally grateful for,” Sarah explains. Dave agrees, sharing that it feels special to have Sarah be a part of his life.

“There comes sadness and joy from our friendship – out of a tragic situation our friendship has blossomed,” Dave says. “I feel connected to Sarah’s dad, Steve, and I feel as though he has picked me to help Sarah get the message out there. I could have been in his position, and I feel a deep connection because of that.”

“I’m often asked whether I find our friendship difficult or painful, given my dad didn’t survive his addiction,” Sarah reflects. “But I simply reply with ‘no, not at all’. My dad battled his addiction valiantly, but his death also led me to be the person I am today, and I believe I am a better version of myself.”

Estelle and Sally

When asked what their first impressions of each other were, Sally says Estelle was “tiny and friendly”, and Estelle says, “Sally had a posh accent.”

The pair met in 2007, when Sally was looking for a beauty therapist to visit her mum who had terminal cancer, and found Sally’s details in the Yellow Pages.

“Estelle got my friendship after she was so good with my mum,” Sally says. “She really made her feel special. We met for coffee before and afterwards, and she’s been popping around ever since. She’s been there for me during my pregnancy, mum’s death, and all the ups and downs of life.”

“We were pregnant at the same time,” adds Estelle, “So we had a shared experience, which brought us closer together. I was in an unhappy relationship, and Sally supported me while I was with him, and afterwards. When I moved two streets away, I would run down (often in my pjs) to spend time together in the evenings.”

As the pair see it, the fundamental key to their friendship has been unconditionally accepting each other for who they really are, and being there as a pillar of support through some of the toughest things life can throw at you.

“I know that I can call Sally at any time night or day (which I have done a few times) and she will be there for me,” Estelle says, and Sally agrees.

“I am,” Sally says. “And I know that even if I rang her at stupid-o-clock at night, she would be here like a shot.”

Good friendships can sometimes take us by surprise, coming out of nowhere, or developing slowly over time, to turn into something incredibly meaningful. We don’t necessarily know how valuable they are until we take time to really reflect on their meaning, nor do we often consider the ways that they open up our worlds – we’re too busy actually living in them. But what these stories tell us is that friendships can come to us in unlikely and unusual ways, and yet fulfil the most natural of human needs: to connect.

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