friendship philosophy

One topic that has bubbled up since graduating from university is the nature of friendships: the hip mid-20s adulthood edition. I find friendship philosophy so fascinating because depending on who I'm talking to, I notice they have entirely different vocabularies and mindsets when talking about their connectedness to, and with, others. A leftover 2020 symptom, where the erosion of our gathering grounds has sensitized us to subtle changes in relationship dynamics.

I like sneaking this topic during catch-ups because it's a good primer topic for deeper conversation. Taken from an interaction with my friend G:

Me: "How do you feel about friendships nowadays?" 
G: "Hmm, what do you mean?" 
Me: "How much do you balance maintaining existing relationships vs. branching out and meeting new people?"
G: "Oh, wow, that's a good question. Something I haven't thought too much about to be honest. But looking at it now, moving to Toronto made me excited about mingling at the beginning, but over time it was just easier to hang with the old crew."
Me: "Ooh, now I'm curious. Do you think this'll stay true for a while, or does it even matter to you?"
G: "I think it's a matter of finding my groove where I can link with other like-minded people - but you're right, there are so many cool people out there. I just wonder what I have to give up you know?"
Me: "It's so interesting looking at our friend groups now vs. 2 years ago right?"
G: "Mmm for sure, I think life's too short to invest in surface level friends but I also have a hard time dropping people haha"

The funny thing is that G's mindset isn't uniquely isolated to herself. What this tells me is that people eventually settle into a rhythm. We live through the oscillating equilibrium of life: if there aren't large disruptions to shake up our core, then we comfortably snuggle into defaults. This includes friendships. I wonder how many people actively go through the inventory management of their friends, a cleanse of both close ties and weak ties. Is there any common thread among my closest friends? Of course, there's a sacrifice you make at both sides of the spectrum: sticking to the squad helps build a sturdy foundation of supporters, but leaves you vulnerable to siloed groupthink. Broadening your scope opens up possibilities and new ways of seeing the world, but divides your care. There's never a perfect orientation — only complementary opposites.

Historically, I tend to be a friend group floater. A social bumblebee of sorts, bouncing from friend garden to friend garden. The hallmark of my gardens was diversity & variety — I didn't really care that splitting up my time meant that I never got too intimate with any particular person. Real self-talk mode: How much do I actually care about keeping up with the intricate lives of everyone on my contact lists? To what extent does this devolve into replying to the odd Instagram stories and playing the constant cat-and-mouse game of juggling work schedules? What kind of connection does my soul truly yearn for?

If we equate friendships to living organisms, then the process of cellular division accelerates the moment we leave the safe waters of our schooling. We can dissect how friendships evolve and dissolve by thinking through patterns. On average, the Olden Friendships were characterized by proximity, frequency, and circumstance = surface-level interests. The barriers to searching for pals were super low. Definitions were loose and variances were wide. The one guy who I only played pong with during our weekly POITS beer garden was a friend, the random roommate down the hallway who seemed too keen on League of Legends was a friend, and the cute girl who always used to save my seat while studying at the Irving K Barber library — you guessed it — was a “friend”.

But as we mature more into the dizzying, unforgiving environment of ~The Wild West of Mid-20s Responsbility~, friendships gradually shift underneath our feet like tectonic plates. A heightening volcano of external pressures and relentless interactions can be equal parts exhilarating and distracting. You realize there's an important tension: the human desire to meet and interact with new people vs. sticking to meaningful connections that already exist. Here's a work-in-progress collection of musings to adapt for this stage in life:

(1) We need to willingly co-create a symbiotic space, filled with consistent compassion, rich communication, and shared truths. We move in a constantly swirling whirlpool of human emotion, where merely drifting by is not an option.

(2) Being friendly is not the same thing as being friends. To prevent meaningful relationships from crumbling and wilting away, we need to embody the role of caring gardeners, always tending to the fruits of our labour.

(3) True friendship means cultivating an oceanic loyalty to one another; for wins, losses, and everything in between. We can't make convenient exceptions.

These observations still might sound trite and obvious, but let's dig deeper into why this matters. Values, virtues, vulnerabilities, visions, voices... all of these elements froth up and form the cocktail of intentional connection. In a less elegant way, being truly present with someone doesn't just mean cracking open a cold one. And no, having occasional catchups at random tapas bars doesn't guarantee high-quality friendships either. On the flip side, I want to think that social interactions shouldn’t be diluted down into metrics that you optimize for. Just like a caterpillar, like a rosebud, like a tomato garden... friendships sprout organically, and I feel comforted to know that my only job is to figure out whether I'm happy in these friendships or not.

A top-tier poem that speaks to my perspective on authentic, emotionally-charged connection is from Orion the Mountain Dreamer's The Invitation:

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing. It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love for your dream for the adventure of being alive.

Because what you ache for, what you long for, and what you're willing to look the fool for — that's where I find beauty. That's the real shit that gets me going.

Here's to harmonizing the breadth and depth in my friendship chemistry mix :)

Published by Sam (samwong) 6 months ago on Sunday the 7th of November 2021.

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