Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The common misconception

I always marvel at people with bunches and bunches of close friends and acquaintances. For years I've looked at them with envy, wishing I had the friendliness and social capacity to create similarly plentiful relationships. But I, like many other people my age and all ages less and greater than mine, am one of the unfortunate ones who - while not necessarily capable of making a bad impression - for some reason has incredible trouble with cultivating closeness with a large quantity of people.

This subject has spawned a lot of conversations between me and one of my close friends, with whom I often argue about the fairness of building friendships.

It sounds stupid when I put it like that, but if you'll hear me out perhaps it'll make more sense.

My friends are incredibly nice and wonderful people. They are loving and caring. They don't instigate "drama" or fights. They never make me feel unwanted or superfluous. But they're also pretty exclusively mine.

I'm not saying they have no other friends. We all do. And I'm not saying that I'm necessarily the most important friend to any one of them. Choosing favorites isn't our game. But what I do know is that they have the capacity to share their love with so many people...and for some reason they don't.

When I talk with my friend (whom I mentioned earlier) about building friendships and how the process can sometimes be trying and difficult, it makes me consider myself and the people I surround with. Why is it that we can see and know social butterflies, even emulate their characteristics, yet we are comparatively reserved and devoted to a smaller social circle?

Oddly enough, this confusion led my friend and I - and I realize I've yet to speak her name, just get used to it - to have a lot of conversations in the last year about the subject of conversations. How's that for a roundabout thought process?

During our many conversations on this subject, we asked each other about our experiences getting to know mutual friends and mutual acquaintances. We compared the outcomes and discovered that there's one issue that we can't quite resolve: why so many conversations are one-sided.

Many times when I meet new people, our interactions end up involving one person making all the effort to instigate further conversation while the other person calmly and disinterestedly answers questions. I've been on both the instigating and receiving end of this awkward pattern, and I hate it.

It's also what I blame for most of my difficulties with making friends, and why a lot of the people I meet are similar to me by the fact that we don't get to know absolutely everyone. It's not just that we've experienced this feeling of either forcing conversation or letting it falter, but that we recognize when there's enough to a conversation that it makes sense to go further.

Back when I started college, I faced this dilemma a lot. Meeting a lot of new people, it can be hard to differentiate between who will become a person to say "hi" to in the hall versus a person to hang out with on weekends and invite to dinner every night. Or at least you can think it's hard to differentiate until you meet the people who fall into the latter category.

Though it's possible to grow in friendships with people, I'm a firm believer in first impressions. Many of my closest friends have become that way because incredibly early on we discovered we had enough mutual interests and a similar enough temperament that it made sense for us to be close.

While I have nothing against people who get to know everyone and who end up becoming beloved by the world - admittedly, if anything I admire and envy them - I feel it is my duty to stress that there is as much value in shy close-knit friendship-hood as there is in social butterfly-hood.

I think the opposite is a common misconception. We're raised to believe that quantity over quality is somehow a feasible argument. But in reality, the trite phrase "less is more" can hold just as much weight if not more.

How many of your acquaintances can you count on to be by your side when your family is going through a difficult time? How many can you expect to lend you money if you need it? How many can you even trust to be your confidantes?

Sometimes I look at my Facebook friends list or the number of contacts I have in my cell phone, and I judge my life by that measure. How many can I get? How many does everyone else have?

Maybe it would be better to turn the tables and ask myself how few I actually need, or how many are necessary. I think that would be a better use of my time - if only to discover who will really make a difference in my life in the long run.

Because we don't need a million people to talk to in our lives. What we really need is those one, two, three, four, or however few people that really make us feel like what we say matters and who we feel the same way about. In my opinion, that's real friendship. And that's what I strive for.

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