In a word – IDFK.
(Is that considered a word? Language doesn’t seem to mean much anymore, but that’s a topic for another post…)
I started this series about friendship because I’m trying to heal and everything I’ve read about trauma points to social connection as a major factor in resilience and a whole host of other positive attributes. Indeed, it appears that the number one predictor of mortality may just be social connectivity. Instead of starting out with the question of “How can I make more friends and strengthen the friendships I do have?” I looked at the question of “How have I lost friendships over the years?” This turned out to be an interesting exercise and I thought it would be helpful, and it was, but it was also a much easier road to go down. Now, however, it’s time to look at that first question.
As I’ve said in previous posts, I struggled with making friends my entire life, mostly out of fear, some of which was justified, but most of which was not. To make friends we need to be open, which makes us vulnerable, which means there is the real possibility of getting hurt, even by the people that you think are least likely to do it.
What are friends and what is friendship? Like any other relationship, there is an exchange of goods, in this case intangible ones. I am friends with someone because I get something out of that relationship, and may remain friends with me because they get something in return. Of course, all relationships are complicated, but at the simplest level, if there is not this exchange of goods, there is no reason to remain friends.
Being almost 40 years old, I am of the last generation that really knew life without the Internet, and I think it is safe to say that the Internet completely changed how we think about friends and friendship, starting with MySpace and the idea of your “Top 8 Friends,” and was magnified by Facebook and Instagram. Friendship almost became a tangible item in the capitalistic marketplace. Self-worth became identified with the number of “friends” that you could point to on social media. Honestly, there is a very palpable feeling that if you’re not on social media you aren’t even a whole person anymore. It goes without saying that social media is responsible for a whole array of negative impacts, and I believe this is high on the list. While I continue to use it, I do believe that social media is toxic on some level for everyone, and extremely toxic for a good number of people.
I don’t have many close friends anymore, but of those that I do, the majority are not on social media at all or very intermittently. One reason I haven’t completely given up my own is because I use it to try to promote my writing and because I have acquaintances all over the world due to all the different places that I’ve lived and it is the only way have to communicate with many of them.
Look at your closest friends, why are they your closest friends? What do you get from that relationship and what do you give to that relationship? What do they get from your participation in the relationship that keeps them coming back as your friend? Friendship is not always a positive thing – I’ve had a number of “friends” that brought out the worst in me, us feeding off of the negative qualities of the other, while both thinking it was a positive thing. Negative energy begets negative energy. On some level it’s nice to be able to commiserate with someone over the ills of the world, but there is a fine line between that and indulgence in all the negativities without putting forth the effort to replace them with anything positive. I think that’s where true friendship comes in – someone you can complain to and listen to their complaints, but once they are out, working together to replace those negative things with positive ones. If a friend does that for you, they are ones to keep around. The ones that you just bitch with so that you can feel superior to other people – cut them out, cut them out immediately. Nothing good comes from that. It only reinforces the worst parts of your character, parts that we all have, but parts that need to be fed like any other emotion. Remove the food and it dies.
In this post I could list a whole bunch of places you can meet people as an adult, both online and in the real world, but I’m sure there are many, many of those posts out there, written better than I could. I’ve read those posts and they honestly haven’t helped me much. Everything these days seems to be about specialization and that comes down to friendship too. I’ve lived in a number of places and I’ve tried to use MeetUp groups as one way to make friends, but more often than not they are so hyper specific that someone like me, who has a ton of varied interests, doesn’t have an easy in to any of them. On every level, life in the United States these days is about extremes. Of course this can be most clearly seen in our politics, but it goes for everything else as well. There is this idea of “purity” in all things and as an example, one Meetup group I did join was a Vegan group. Despite the fact that I had been a vegan for more years than any of them, I was ultimately ostracized because I did not think it was a worthwhile use of my time to protest the circus or spend hours and hours watching documentaries about animals being mistreated. I was looking for friends, and we shared an interest, but I was not “pure” enough to remain in the group. That’s just one example but I’ve experienced it in all sorts of arenas – music, writing, really any interest whatsoever and that extremism makes it very hard to make friends. Since I was a child I was interested in the idea of being a “Renaissance man,” and that is something that has essentially died out, at least in this country from us what I have seen. I like to dabble, I always have, because there are so many interesting things in this world and I don’t understand how people can limit themselves to such small spheres.
In the end, friendship, it seems, and making friends, comes down to one simple thing – being open, listening to people, and being willing to entertain opinions that don’t 100% line up with your own. There is not one other person in the world who thinks exactly about things as I do, and if I keep looking for some sort of purity like that, I’m never going to find it. All these people living in their own echo chambers, making themselves feel superior, becoming more and more extreme in order to fight off anything that could puncture the soap bubble of their manufactured identity. I want to be friends with people of all stripes – race, religion, creed, political orientation – that’s how we learn about the world and ourselves and make connections and ultimately understand each other better, leading to more peaceful exchanges, leading to a more peaceful world, and isn’t that the end we all want? No one is born into this world with an extreme agenda of any kind, no one is born hating someone else, these are all things that we pick up, which means they are all things that we can put down, and we can see our own innate humanness and if we can connect with another human on that same level, then anything is possible. We can be happy, we can be joyful, we can celebrate each other and move the world in a positive direction.
Let’s start right now: Hi, my name is Greg, how are you?