Now, at the press of a button, we have at our disposal, a long list of contacts and acquaintances on our mobile phones. Or, there is the ever-expanding social network on Facebook or Twitter that we boast about. However, in this sea of acquaintances, how many can we discern as genuine friends? Less than what we can count on the fingers of one hand, I suppose.

Life however, sometimes becomes stranger than fiction and builds a few close friendships for us in ways that we could have never anticipated. There are some bonds which seem to evolve over the years and withstand the test of time.

The other day, my friend Smitha and I were reflecting on the curious twists and turns in our friendship over the last 14 years. We attended the same Management school but were in our own separate worlds during those two years. A coincidental meeting in Dubai after a couple of years brought our families close for a long time, only to later lead to a sudden disruption in our friendship. After a gap of four years, we unexpectedly met again at a college reunion, and this time, the friendship between us and our families seems to have returned with an intensity that is stronger than earlier.

It is strange how we sometimes develop meaningful bonds with people who seemed the least likely to be befriended by us, in the first place. Some of our most cherished friendships are created when we get thrown together through situations that are most coincidental.

My neighbour has recounted several times, how one of her best friends had, quite miraculously surfaced in front of her, several times, before they became close. They had met while she was in Jordan on holiday and she was surprised to bump into the same person in an office in Dubai and yet again, in a mall too, before they became a part of the same group of close knit friends.

With the advent of Facebook, it has certainly become easier to revive contact with people whom we have not been in touch with for years — childhood friends or college mates. Networking and connectivity have undoubtedly become important for landing that dream job, advancement in one’s career or for personal reasons and we are constantly caught up in the frenzy of being heard or seen on social media. However, though we spend a major part of our waking hours sending, forwarding or sharing messages and are constantly connecting with people from all over the globe we still yearn for and are still frequently at a loss to find a few close friends to whom we can turn to, at any time and be assured of a sincere opinion such as telling you “You don’t look slim in that dress” or ‘Don’t get into this. It’s not your area of strength”.

Undoubtedly, the one question we constantly find ourselves asking about our friends is “Will they be there when we really need them?” And especially, as expatriates living far away from our families the support of these good friendships and the kind of emotional security they provide cannot be stressed enough.

This was brought home to me in full measure when I was hospitalised for a week, just before a complex pregnancy, some years ago. My husband and I still recall with gratitude the reassuring warmth of a small group of close friends, during this particularly difficult phase in our lives. In the absence of our immediate family here, they ensured that I was kept cheerfully engaged with phone calls, visits and gifts including books such as ‘What to expect when you are expecting’ and bouquets of flowers to keep me refreshed. My husband too, was offered considerable emotional support and of course, a steady supply of fresh, home cooked food.

Looking back, it is these meaningful relationships with people who have stood by us through good times and bad, who celebrated with us during times of joy and empathised with us when we touched the depths of despair, that have created the precious memories that make some friends seem almost like family.

Gulf News