Lessons on making friends by learning how to not make them.
I grew up around the time where technology was on the brink of being spread out to the general public. Back then, the world felt simpler and closed off. You spoke to people within your own circle, you got news from the radio or TV. If you wanted to find a date (or a one-night stand) you went to a bar or pub.
Technology has opened up a huge world of possibilities, but also a series of problems. From misinformation to harming other people anonymously without any sign of punishment involved aside from angry comments, the list can go on for some time.
But one thing I’ve noticed especially is how we form connections and make friends.
When I was younger, friends to me were people you spent time with during break times and after school. If you spent enough time with them, it was assumed you’re friends.
But friendship is more complicated than that. That much is clear once the internet came along and research was being posted online and is continuously expanding ever since then.
Indeed, friendship is important but there is a growing concern based on that third bit of research. Ironically, part of the issue is the internet, specifically social media.
As I’ve been thinking back on my own relationships, there are only a small amount of people I can count as my friends. That said, I have no idea if these are the types of friends who would give me words of encouragement when I’m down, be a voice of reason when I’m contemplating something or that I’m wrong, or be a genuine friend. Not to mention give me the opportunity to do these same things in return. The only person I can say with confidence in doing that is family members — especially one of my cousins whom I live with.
But that’s kind of a given in the case of one having relatives you can get along with.
Outside of that circle is a whole other thing and I can’t say with confidence how to navigate it. So instead of me rambling on how to make friends in theory, here are some blunders that I’ve made or experienced that made friend relationships go sour.
Never Talking About Serious/Harder Issues Or Topics
One person that I’ve been getting along with well is my personal trainer. I enjoy hanging and working out with him. He encourages me to push myself during the sessions I have with him and there are a few things that I’ve been able to help out in his life too.
I feel the relationship that I have with him is more than me training and him coaching and guiding me.
Early this week we had a snap election for the province — the first voting session in Canada since the start of the pandemic — and today we talked a little about politics.
It’s that particular fact that I want to be bringing up — more specifically talking about touchier subjects. It’s a general consensus that we don’t talk about those kinds of topics.
Topics about abuse, divorce, sex, gender, and finances. The list goes on for topics that make people uneasy and even show hatred towards those who dare bring these topics up in the first place.
It’s this kind of discouragement that I think creates a rift in who is a genuine friend and who is a “friend” in your eyes.
While some of those details aren’t always necessary, being able to freely talk about those things can be helpful and insightful. It brings a level of familiarity and closeness as these are topics that many people can relate to.
I say this based on my own personal experiences. Back in high school the people I spent a lot of my time with focused more on escapism through video and card games rather than talking about other issues.
We all had our own sense of mental baggage in our own way I feel and everyone was awkward talking about it. So we never discussed those things. I feel that my life would be different if my friends and I back in high school genuinely talked about our emotions and attempted to understand them and one another from that.
Making A Big Deal About Differences Of Opinion
To expand on the previous point, matters will get worse when there is a difference of opinion on not only views but also actions.
The first time I lost a friend was due to a decision I made on which college I went to for my accounting career. My friend at the time wanted me to live with him in a new apartment he was moving to in a few months and go to school at a smaller and lesser-known college. I wanted to go to a more recognized college that would require me to move to a different town.
Considering this was just after I flew across Canada and lived in three locations for three months, I wanted to travel wherever I could.
Even if the place was a retirement town.
To this day it doesn’t make sense to me why this former friend blew up in my face. My dad said it’s probably because he wanted to manipulate me and keep me around for his own benefit.
I also know I made a Facebook post mentioning my decision which my former friend saw and got mad about. Even though I didn’t mention their name at all in the post, gave them a month’s notice prior to the move, and knew that another friend of mine would gladly take my place if I decided not to go ahead with that.
The only thing that makes sense to me is that we had a difference of opinion of what I wanted to do with my life and they didn’t like it. Instead of accepting it, they got angry about it.
I remember Jay Shetty making a video talking about chemistry and compatibility. In any relationship, we are looking for someone to complete us or to have similar interests to ourselves. Overall having good chemistry with one another. While Shetty was focusing on romantic relationships, I feel the same way with friendships.
We gravitate towards people who behave in a similar fashion to ourselves or have similar interests. People from the same department will have lunch together. The same holds true in schools where people in various groups will hang out with one another.
In terms of friendships, those scenarios are opportunities to have further chemistry and build relationships. Finding common ground is the basis for any kind of relationship. That common ground can also be defined as chemistry.
But one of the dangers of focusing on chemistry is that it requires us to make assumptions about other people.
I say this based on my own personal experiences. The friend that blew up in my face rambled on about how much I didn’t change from my 9-month travelling experience. Not to mention that I “pigeon-holed” my decision for the college I went to.
I believe my former friend made broad assumptions. That I wasn’t thinking for myself (which was false), and that travelling across Canada wasn’t a good experience for me (it was a transformative experience even though it didn’t feel like it at the time.)
These assumptions I feel were a byproduct of the good chemistry between us. We both played Magic and my former friend had helped me in opening up a lot thanks to their energetic and positive attitude.
When you focus so much on the chemistry, a difference of opinion — be it from a post, a viewpoint, or an action — can come off as a shock. It’s like the same experience I had with my former mentor several months ago.
Most people aren’t able to process those emotions and instead of thinking of how to make things work, people will lash out.
This is why I feel it’s important to discuss certain issues and to have more of an open mind towards things. With all of these serious topics bubbling to the surface, more of these conversations are happening and relationships are being burned down because people refuse to find some common ground and make things work. They refuse to look for compatibility and choose to find those who have good chemistry.
Making The Relationships Wholly Transactional
Shannon Ashley wrote a piece about one of her childhood friends getting angry about her view around the movie Cuties. It’s a prime example of friends — in particular the childhood friend — being unable to come to terms with what’s being said.
But one thing I want to highlight is what Shannon mentions at the end:
Maybe friendship isn’t friendship anymore. It feels more transactional, and like it’s all about social proof. As if we’re too busy or disinterested to know anyone who thinks differently than we do.
Because we dwell so much on chemistry over compatibility in our relationships, we surround ourselves in an echo chamber of our own world and values. Anyone who breaks this mould or introduces something else is seen as a bad person. A threat to our own mental stability.
But one other aspect of that echo chamber is that the relationships we have aren’t always genuine. Again, we tend to make broad assumptions about people to fill in the gaps. We may even form the basis of a friendship to be wholly transactional.
All of this feels similar to the formation of social links in Persona 5. The foundation of all of those relationships with the main character is transactional. The thing is in those games is by the end, both the main character and that social link gain more beyond leveraging one another.
In real life, I feel most people continue to make the relationships transactional rather than aiming to make them more genuine over time.
This isn’t to say that friendship should never have give and take within it. Every action has some ulterior motive to it be it monetary, emotional, physical, or whatever. But I feel that hinging relationships on these aspects are bad.
It creates rifts.
As soon as someone isn’t able to accomplish their end of the bargain or they became too much to bother, they’re cut off. Cast aside and treated like someone unrecognizable to the other.
If you only focus on a person's abilities and what they can do for you, every relationship you have will be built on this. I know this because I feel that’s the case with a lot of my past relationships.
I stopped talking to people altogether because they didn’t provide any kind of benefit to me. I wasn’t an ass about it and tell people that to their face, but rather drifted away from them. I couldn’t understand why I felt that way until I started thinking back to it.
Again, we hang around people for ulterior motives one way or another. But I think the problem is looking at one aspect you’re getting out of someone rather than looking at multiple reasons to stay around someone.
Never Confiding In Them
With any kind of relationship, communication is vital. That was one thing I learned early on but had difficulty putting into practice back then as I do now. Secrets hurt no matter how complicated they are but also never talking about problems, venting, or what’s going on in your life is bad too.
Every day I train with my trainer, he knows that every day is great. But I also tell him why it’s great and what’s on my mind. Even though my problems aren’t all that major and I’m more or less living the life I want to lead, I’m still confiding in him to some degree.
It’s allowed me to open up to the point it’s pushed me to ask him how his day is going and what his plans are. Even if those plans are as simple as training other people and taking the occasional nap.
The fact we are having a conversation makes me feel like I’m getting more out of the relationship as well as for my trainer. When we first started training again and the gym was closed, I arrived at his house bright and early ready to train. That action pushed him to not sleep in and be more mindful of his sleep schedule.
It still needs work, but during the times where the gym was closed, it provided him with a reason to get up early again.
In the relationship I have with my trainer we’re both getting more out of it than him getting my money and me improving my health. We’ve created a genuine connection where we can have quick conversations, offer advice and guide one another in our own ways.
It’s to the point where we can confide in one another about our own problems. Even if they are trivial in the grand scheme of things like lack of sleep, or handling workload better.
A lack of confiding leads to people making broad assumptions and thinking everything is alright. When we don’t communicate, certain things can be difficult to process or understand in the heat of the moment that something big is dropped.
My friends back in high school never knew I was going through a depression episode. I smiled and acted the same way as I would have even though I had suicidal thoughts and was going through some mental issues. No doubt they assumed everything was alright with me.
We all have our own secrets of course, but never opening up at least a little means you’ll never allow yourself to be vulnerable. Just as it’s important to be vulnerable in romantic relationships (something that I’ve heard about on occasion), I think it’s important to have that vulnerability in friendships as well to some extent.
I know enough about friendship that it’s meant as a support system. When someone says everything is fine only to blow up later for no reason, it means something was wrong before the emotional outburst and they didn’t talk about it.
Aside from never making time for friends, I feel a lot of the relationship problems stem from communications and what people use the relationship as and for how long.
Looking over my own past with the friendships I had, there’s only a few that I can count right now as genuine. This is despite the fact that I’ve been around hundreds of people and have chatted with those individuals once in a while or for prolonged periods of time.
And I know I’m not the only one in this situation. After all, only half the people you are friends with genuinely think of you as a friend.
So instead of being paranoid about it, I think it’s about time we all seriously think about our friends, our true friends. Let’s all strive to make deeper connections and move beyond making deals and looking for many reasons to spend time with that person. I think in this manner, we will all have stronger bonds with the people we want to be around rather than trying to be friends with everyone we find on social media.