Leaving my family’s cult a couple years ago, and losing nearly all my friends and family in the process, I had to start completely over. It was a crash course in community building, starting at zero.
Kids do it all the time, moving to new cities, changing schools. No problem, right?
Um. Wrong. At least for me. A bit of a misanthrope, I’m not very interested in new friends, so I would have thought I could handle it. It took a scary-close look at suicide to convince me: having some relationships is important.
Crap. I guess I’m in grade school, then. Here we go…
Parents give their kids a lot of sucky advice about making friends.
- The best way to make a friend is be a friend.
- Just be yourself
- You’re great! Everyone’s gonna love you.
- What’s the worst that could happen?
- If anyone is mean to you, just come tell me. Or tell a teacher.
- There’s nothing wrong with being a loner.
Even if these were not insane pieces of advice, it doesn’t even apply to adults anyway. We have an entirely different set of obstacles:
- We’re adults – we feel like we shouldn’t be “trying” to make friends anymore. It should just happen.
- We’re not supposed to need friends
- We’re supposed to already have the skills to make friends
- We’re supposed to already have friends. There’s something wrong with a person who doesn’t have enough friends already.
- We’re old enough to know we don’t really want friends
And then the big one, that took me a while to consider: maybe we are no longer able to have the kinds of friends we used to have because we have grown too matured and complex. We used to agree completely with our friends and the strength of the relationship was measured by the degree of similarity. When I was a kid, there was still a decent chance of experiencing the feeling, “That person is just like me!”
But now I’ve read too many books, seen too many shows, memorized too many movies. I’ve visited too many places or stayed in the same place too long.
Finding two newborns who have had the exact same life experience is easy! (Although there is some variation even there.) One-year-olds have basically the same experience, though their common needs are met to different degrees. As long as you stay put geographically, even most teens can find some common ground (though it’s an undervalued skill at that point. It seems those with the most common ground in their peer group are trying to prove their individuation, and vice versa.) At least most of us got pushed through the same 12 industrial grades of indoctrination.
But you get your first car. And maybe it was the same as someone else’s, but probably not your first job too. You acquired your first spouse. Then maybe a second, and a kid or two. You developed your ideas and personality. You lost people, through fate and through choice.
The more you become you, the fewer of you there are. The less you change, the more you stay like your old friends who also aren’t changing. The more you make decisions collectively, the more you become a piece of the collective.
And it’s not just age; it’s time.
A 21st century entrepreneur is a different experience from a Detroit factory worker from the 50’s. Almost any 21st century experience is different from any profession in any era throughout history.
I’ve had and lost so many more jobs than previous generations. In so many important aspirations – finding a job, gaining attention, marketing my products, being funny or insightful, creating something new – I’m competing with 8 billion people. (My dad would have only had to compete with whoever had walked to the job site and handed in a paper resume.)
This is not a complaint; I’m also collaborating with 8 billion people. It’s just a different world, and a different kind of different than it used to be. I have exponentially more ingredients – more inputs – than the average personalities that have gone before me.
…And wildly different ingredients than those around me. My chances of making a reference my friends know has decreased because of my age and the technological advancements that stream so many more experiences to me than I could have had before. Not only did my co-workers and I not watch the same thing on The Tonight Show last night, I haven’t even heard of the #1 show that my best friend has been binging for a week.
So what now?
How do we move forward with nothing in common? The deep connection of having everything in common is dead. What do we build a relationship on?
Perhaps friendship 2.0 is not based on the experiences we have, but the friend-sorting process itself. Some people are empathetic and self-reflective; others are holding firm to the Truth. Some people are curious when they find places they are wrong, while others are just looking for more ways to prove they are right.
I’m no longer looking for like-minded people who agree, but people who know how to disagree in the same way. I don’t need my friends to be the kind of people who would like Newsradio (the best television series of all time), but I do need them to be the kind of person who would not discount the kind of person who would like Newsradio.
We don’t need to agree with each other’s choices; we just need to give each other the space to be different, and still find value in their experience.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong. If you were my friend, what would you say? Here’s what Jerry said.