July 14, 2014
…but, there are implications that are unfortunate.
So, my entire life I’ve never really had friends. I come from a relatively large, relatively close family. There were always people around, and we were always around other people for soccer games, piano recitals, school events, etc. So, I was never alone for long periods of time. More importantly, I never felt lonely for any indeterminable period of time. Still, though, I never really had friends. I never talked to anyone about having a bad day or randomly texted something I thought was funny. I think that was mostly because I find that kind of stuff pointless. I know it’s perfectly normal and it doesn’t bother me that people do it; but, I don’t understand what it accomplishes. And, I have, at the risk of wading into the paradoxical, a very solid theory of practicality. And if I can’t articulate why something is necessary, usually it doesn’t seem worth the effort or practical, and so I don’t do it.
For a LONG time I thought there was something crazy defective about me as a human–you know more than the usual human flaws that are characteristic of our kind and that make us awesome. That insecurity prevented me from seeking out friendships or any relationships really. Part of it was feeling like a victim of my own, inarticulable defect. Another part was the more reasonable thought that I should really know myself before I try to know anyone else.
When I started law school I decided that I had a new chance to be outgoing and meet new people. So, I tried. It was a disaster. I thought that at some point it would get better, and everyone seemed nice enough so I didn’t feel like I was a complete pariah. But, everything about being around others still felt forced. What I realize now is that I was trying to pattern behavior on what I saw others doing, rather than reacting to situations organically. I was trying to fit my conduct in the frame of how I observed others rather than letting the contours of my own thoughts and reactions come out. This period was hard for me. And there was a LOT of drinking because that seemed socially acceptable. This led to a number of terribly awkward situations–like more than the cringe-worthy scenes in comedy movies. These were simultaneously sad and offensive.
Not wanting to remember all the terrible things that happened around the unfortunate people who were the unwitting Guinea pigs in my experiments to participate in society, I took summer classes. Then I added a six-month internship several thousand miles away. Away from the faces that brought back weird memories, I thought I would be safe and could try again. Then, by the time I returned to finish classes, everyone I knew would have graduated and things would be fine. I could figure out how to be a part of things and note hate it. While I was in the bubble of Geneva, I met new people, went out on occasion, and generally enjoyed myself. But, I still didn’t have any real friends–not like I had seen other people meet.
The lessons you learn are often not the ones you try to teach yourself. Basically, what I discovered was not the secrets for being sociable rather what I need from human interaction. And what I need is not a lot. It turns out that I was not defective. I’m just more independent than most. I don’t need to vent about most things. I don’t need an audience. Having people around doesn’t change things fundamentally, it helps you deal with and process what is happening. If I already have a way to achieve those goals, then I don’t need the usual means. Realizing this was a huge relief.
With all that said, it’s important for me to note that I’m not an agoraphobic hermit. I carry on polite conversation when it comes up. I can play the small talk game. But that’s it. There’s every reason to be pleasant when you’re around others. But, there’s no reason to seek others out other relationships if they’re not practical.
So, I can very confidently say that I don’t have friends and that I’m fine with it. Because it’s true. Well, mostly. What bothers me is that so much of what happens is an incident of relationships. Finding the perfect job, meeting “the one” (whoever the hell that is), enjoying a hobby, and innumerable other opportunities are all very important, but are (considered) a relatively small incident or side effect of relationships. That is, many opportunities have fringe benefits that become integral parts of our life. It’s the access to opportunity that I’m missing out on. And that’s what bothers me.
On one hand, I do not have the time, will, or resources to build/develop/manage (I don’t even know the right word!) a relationship. On the other, I am missing out on potential employment opportunities (maybe other stuff too, but I’ve painfully aware that after graduation in a few weeks I will simply number among the unemployed). What I’ve been struggling with is how/whether to have relationships for the “fringe benefits” and not the core relationship activity. For me, the “core relationship activities” are things like hanging out, doing things together (movies, sports, mani/pedis, etc.), talking out problems, and generally sharing one’s life with another in varying degrees depending on the relationship. Of course you don’t do the same things or to the same degree with an SO, sister, friend, or co-worker. But, there is a commonality in all these interactions. This is the core that I don’t like and want to avoid…just because I find it tedious. That may change at some point in my life, but right now, trying to live in the world of relationships is more trouble than it’s worth for me.
I guess that’s the idea behind a “network”: you can mitigate the involvement costs by recognizing that everyone involved is best served by having a close enough relationship to lubricate communication but it’s so not close that you’re undertaking the unending and unforeseeable obligations and responsibilities that come with “core relationship activity.” So, maybe that’s what I need. A network. How do I go about getting one of those? Is there a socially appropriate way to say, “Hey, it seems like knowing you will be good for my career and maybe vice-versa. What’s the minimum amount of effort we have to put into knowing each other so that our future interactions aren’t burdened by the inhibitions of strangers?” Yeah, I think that’s basically what I need. Friendships/relationships have too many unknowns and are too indefinite. A network has clear purposes and its effectiveness can be ascertained, even if the standard is still a bit squishy. I like that. I like it a lot.
So, how do you build a network? How do you mitigate against the risk of accepting the risk of core relationship activity? Am I even allowed to ask that?