Sometimes i miss being a kid. There’s an overwhelming simplicity to social interactions when you’ve got a towel tied around your neck and a pocket full of army men. You find someone doing something neat, join in, and there’s an implicit understanding that “We’re friends now”.
Lucky little bastards.
Being several decades away from not getting reported to the police when hanging upside-down on the monkeybars, establishing a “friendship” isn’t quite the same. Frankly, i think i suck at it.
Allow me to set a baseline:
1) i’m strongly introverted. i may appear externally extroverted and will talk to anyone, but that’s more the product of having to survive in the DC area than any social skill.
2) Much like a sizable portion of the population i tend to deal with, i have poor social interaction skills. Everyone has areas they are blind to, i believe mine are around situational empathy. While i’m acutely aware of what i should have done, i’m not terribly good at what i should do right now. i’m also terrible at “subtle”. i tend to mask this through bad jokes.
3) i’m not embarrassed or ashamed of this facet of my personality, and actually like discussing it so that i can be better at social graces.
i also tend not to make friends. i have lots of acquaintances, dozens of colleagues, many folks i admire and respect, but only a handful of folks i consider “friends”. i strongly suspect that several of the people i consider friends have absolutely know knowledge of this fact, much like how i have no idea who may hold me in that category.
For me, i tend to approach a given social interaction from a purely neutral point of view. Since i’ve learned that people tend to be more negative toward those who do not act positive, i tend to be more toward “happy” than “emotionally distant”. If i am able to extract benefit from association, i will continue the relationship. (Benefit is a very general term, by the way, and is not simply something like financial or physical gain. Some folks i consider “friends” actually cost me more to maintain, but i feel i gain in other respects from their close association.) Once i consider you a friend, it takes two things to take you out of that category.
1. A malicious act of wanton intent (e.g. dropping live puppies into a meat grinder, stealing from defenseless individuals, senseless vandalism, etc.)
2. Lack of commonality (e.g. we no longer share elements of common interest.)
Obviously, most folks fall into the latter than the former and also why i’ve yet to add Hitler to my LinkedIn professional network.
i’m hoping that this is all pretty normal, but then again, i’m socially clueless, so there’s that. i’ll also note that while i had friends in school and in prior jobs, i’m not really friends with many of those folk now.
So, why all the effort? Well, i like to consider a friend to be someone who i can enjoy being with outside of just one or two contexts. For instance, there are several folks i enjoy working with in a professional context, but i’m not sure i’d feel comfortable calling them up on a Saturday and asking if they want to go catch a movie or grab a beer somewhere. Likewise, there aren’t a lot of folks i’d feel super comfortable calling up just to talk about crap that’s bothering me or just be a sounding board.
What makes things a bit odd is that most of the people i do consider friends live several hours (by darn near every mode of transit) away, so yeah, that “let’s go grab a beer” thing is a bit harder than you’d think. Fortunately, i’m able to at least use things like IRC, jabber, or other things to bother them as need be, provided we’re in complementary time zones.
i feel like i should be better at this, or maybe just a bit smarter.
Or maybe i just need to think about this less, toss a few army men in my pocket and find a set of monkeybars.
Mighty fine evening officer, can i help you?