Monday, July 29, 2013

Happenstance and friendship

Credit: Flickr / autumnsonata

You move to a village, or maybe a high school. You pass people on the streets, or maybe in the hallways between classes. There are more people than you can keep track of names, but even so, as time passes the faces become familiar. Some people, you nod to when you pass them by. Some people, you say hi to. Some, you befriend; some, you avoid. You see the same faces again and again.

There are upsides and downsides. On the upside, it's easier to get to know people. You see them all the time. You can expect to see them again next week. On the downside, there's less variety. You'll rarely have the pleasant surprise of encountering someone refreshingly new.


You move to a city. It's crowded. Sometimes you pass the most interesting people on the streets, and you stop to talk. The conversation flows smoothly, then, almost too soon, ends, both of you washed away in separated directions by your lives. You are anonymous and so is everyone else. When you do catch up with people you've met amongst the crowd, it's an event. There are upsides and downsides to this. On the upside, it feels like an event seeing them again. There is a certain excitement to it. On the downside, it's all too rare.


I live in a bubble like the village; I live in an ocean like the city. Perhaps we all do both. It's a matter of degrees.

Last year, the social circles of my closer friends were one level of serendipitously close by. The other people in my classes were a little more physically distant; friends of friends who dropped by uni once a fortnight, further still.

This year, the people I'm incidentally in contact with the most are colleagues at work. People I might have casually passed by at uni are more of a rarity. It's interesting how this affects my dynamic with casual acquaintances I'd like to get to know better.

(Here onwards, I'll speak of a single bubble rather than a spectrum for convenience.)


If you're good friends with someone, you'll make enough time to see them, and when you do catch up, it will feel like no time has passed at all.

That's not what makes the cities harder than the villages. It's the not-quite-close-friends. It's the acquaintances who you casually run into from time to time. It's the ability for the two of you to gradually go from familiar faces to people you'd go out of your way to spend time with.

Getting to know people inside the bubble is straightforward. It's exchanging banter while your history teacher isn't looking; it's chatting by the coffee machine; it's shared moaning and groaning while you're putting your gear on for kumite.

Getting to know people from outside of the bubble is like dating — pick a time, pick a place, pick something to do, talk, interact, see whether you click with them, make damned sure that it's a pleasant outing for us both either way. It's a far cry from Hey, want to grab coffee before my next class?.


For me, for the time being, I certainly want to get to know new people (and maybe make a few more awesome friends along the way). It's an interesting problem, and certainly not unheard of.

The classic solution is to dive into more bubbles. Do a salsa class. Join a tennis club. It has its merits: it's a natural way to find an environment where you see the same people again and again, and you're guaranteed at least a little common ground. The trick to this approach (it seems) is to make sure that you're not just there to make friends, that you really intrinsically want to perfect your golf swing. Otherwise you're not going to be enjoying yourself there, and you're not going to be in any mood for casual banter.

(Work and classes fit under this category, I reckon: even if you don't like what you're doing, you're motivated to stay even if you don't hit it off with anyone in the first five seconds.)

One different thing I prefer is leveraging* existing friend groups — classically, this is the go to parties approach, though personally I prefer smaller and quieter. Meeting friends of friends is also pretty effortless once you're in these situations, and if you do it often enough, you can expect to see them again.

The real advantage here is the compatibility rate. The chances that your most agreeable friends hang out with other agreeable people is, well, high. (Birds of a feather! This is the same phenomenon that says you can spend two years of uni not knowing anyone else who listens to Tim Minchin, meet one person who does, and suddenly meet another ten in the next week.)

I only recently realised how useful loose, friendship-group events like that can be. This is part of why I'm trying to organise more outings and activities with friends this year. Seeing great people hit it off can be almost as rewarding as meeting someone cool myself.


I live in a bubble like the village; I live in an ocean like the city. Perhaps we all do both. It's a matter of degrees.

* Six months in the workforce and I'm already speaking like one of them.