Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I Don't Have any Friends (Friendship musings...)

 Unless a person lacks a theory of mind, there is a fairly good chance they desire a social dimension to their existence.  Being human, it seems, we have biological needs to interact with and form bonds with other members of society. Many people seem to glide through life, easily forming a variety of meaningful relationships, many times, taking these for granted.

 I am an outside observer to the friendships of others. I notice that many of these connections are intricately woven, laced with rich memories, and they offer the person an escape from the doldrums of life, from the despondency of the sole-self. Friendships might have been formed with co-workers from prior years, classmates from high-school days, quirky neighbors who gave you ice-cream cones, or with roommates from your college days. Perhaps, you have a family. In this case, you are immersed in the interactions and concerns of your children and partner and your social needs are met within this family dynamic.  

As life goes by, I am noticing that it becomes increasingly difficult to form new, in-person female friendships. It seems like females already tend to be more social, and as they approach their mid 30’s and beyond, they have already amassed a variety of friendships from their high-school and college years. They have enough friendships to satisfy their friendship needs (and time constraints) so it becomes difficult and unnecessary to add new friends to their current mix.

Another difficulty with forming friendships is that many people are very discriminating about who they allow into their friend-circumference. Ever notice how humans only tolerate certain kinds of people? Shockingly, people tend to allow friendships to form with individuals from the same race, religious (or non-religious) affiliation, educational background and socioeconomic status.  In other words, humans tend to feel more comfortable around individuals with whom they share commonalities. Is this inherently selfish or simply pragmatic?

Personality seems to be a factor in the formation of friendships. My guess is that people who have more common personality types have an easier time attracting friends. Why?  First of all, if you have a common personality type there is a greater chance you will find another person with your personality type. The number of potential candidates is in your favor. Someone who shares your personality will also have more in common with you…they will naturally be able to relate to you, respond and think in a more similar manner than someone with a very different personality type. People simply get more out of relationships when they feel like they can connect with the other person.

For instance, if you like to ponder intellectual ideas and you’re comfortable with high-spirited, argumentative discussion, but the person you’re befriending feels most comfortable talking about concrete subject matter—like what they did yesterday or about a brand of shoes they like—well, the chances of you striking up a lasting friendship are low. Unless one of the two people in this potential union decides to compromise to the other person’s petty concerns, a friendship will be difficult.

Most of us desire friendships but we also want to maintain our authenticity. That is, we don’t want to have to trade aspects of our personality and preferences just to win the affection of a new, potential confidant. In the end, a relationship built on this kind of self-duplicity will not last; our true personality and beliefs will soon emerge and destroy whatever burgeoning union we thought we had.

Yet, it still seems for almost any friendship to form, some degree of compromise has to happen. I have two female friends. One of them I consider to be a very good friend despite the fact that we have very different world-views. She has views about the world—about religion, medicine and health etc—that are diametrically opposed to my own. I have learned to tolerate her constant bible quoting, her unyielding appeals to naturopathic medicine and her short-sighted quips against the use of vaccines.  Yet, whenever she dives into a subject that I clearly disagree with her on, she always makes an effort to acknowledge the fact that I disagree with her.  She never trudges on with the conversation, taking it for granted that I agree with her.  This means that she asks what I think about her particular view and then she goes on to offer whatever possible support she has for her particular claim. I’ve also seen her willing to consider views that are different from her original views. This makes me realize that she is a good friend to have—despite the fact that our views are so different.

Due to the busyness of life and the fact that many people already have a surplus of friends to take up their time, the marketplace for establishing long-term, in-person friendships is dwindling. This means that if you do want some sort of connection with society, you will be the one who has to compromise. You might even have to go out of your way and seek friendships from such places at Walmart check-out lines. I met a very friendly woman there yesterday. She may have little in common with me, but she does seem to be in need of a friend, just as much as I do.


  1. "In other words, humans tend to feel more comfortable around individuals with whom they share commonalities. Is this inherently selfish or simply pragmatic?"

    I would say both, but it varies on a case by case basis. In earlier times, people (and possibly other primates) would have to share some commonality in order to form a group that is essential towards survival. Factors that provide commonality are varied from group to group, but without them, a direction for survival be less probable for social species like us. Nowadays, selfish reasons would be observed more. Early in life you can befriend someone who has better stuff then you. However. as you said, such friendsships don't last unless something changes from this reason.

    Another reason today we try to find friends with similar commonalities if because people with extreme veiws opposite of yours can be very irritating to be around with. It's okay to have different opinions like your friend provided that such people are willing to hear you out on your side.

    “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself."
    -George Bernard Shaw

  2. Suva, am I right in assuming the friendship you describe began when you held much similar views? If the two of you were to meet today, for example, would either of you wish to remain friends? (You didn't mention any shared interests).

    In my twenties, I somewhat envied the strong sense of community and friendships that church life provided my sister and a brother who kept with the tradition we'd been raised on. As much as I admired their values, I just couldn't accept their belief system.

    1. True, I became friends with her *before* changing some of my views about life. Good call.

  3. Very much like my personality, the outside observer

    (schizoid personality traits)