Making friends

by dominicq4 min read13th Mar 2021No comments

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(cross-posted from my blog)

People self-select. This means that you will naturally fall into the same kinds of circles, even if you change the environment. An example from my life comes from mixed martial arts. An MMA gym isn’t usually the most educated or the most “refined” place in town, however you define refined. It’s working class guys who like to fight, mostly. Ages vary, but the mean is around 20.

How then, did I find guys who are finishing their PhDs in biomechanics or are writing their fifth book or are tired from their shift in the hospital – how did I meet all these people at an MMA gym? They all came to the one place where you’d least expect that sort of background – and we naturally clicked together. What is really funny is how nobody even tried to click, it just happened of itself.

I don’t know if there is a “should” somewhere in here. I guess I’m just noticing that, no matter where you go or what you do, you’ll hang out with people like you. That’s a very obvious conclusion. The less obvious conclusion is that being nervous about making friends is usually misplaced. Making friends is a very non-intentional process. Some intention is necessary, but it’s not like someone comes up with a plan to build a friend group or to make a friend. You just come to do whatever you want to do, and allow yourself to participate in the natural, unmanaged process of making friends.

If you’ve made friends before, you will make the same kind of friends again. If you can come into a meathead MMA gym and find a group of PhDs who play complex polyrythmic guitar, you’ll also be able to find friends at your new workplace or in your new school. I’d say just keep at it, but there’s nothing to keep at. Do the thing you came to do and allow friendships to happen.

More often is the case of actively avoiding friendships: saying “no” to an invitation even if you want to go; not talking to people when you want to talk to them, and so on. Allowing friendships to happen is a skill, and it mostly consists of not sabotaging yourself. This is surprisingly difficult. My inner pessimist thinks that it’s almost impossible to solve for many people, because those who self-sabotage are often also dishonest with themselves. When you always have a good-sounding justification which is totally wrong, you never change because you don’t need to.

I find self-deception interesting. I assume that its mechanism is actually avoidance: if you were forced to look at yourself, you’d see the truth (or at least, more truth). So the ability of self-deception is actually ability of selective self-attention – the skill of avoiding looking at yourself. That’s precisely where friends could help you! You may not look at yourself, but your friends do.

There is one problem with advice-giving friends, and it’s the hard-truthers, the tough-lovers. How do you know that someone giving you “the hard truth” is actually giving you truth? Obviously, you might start from the very reasonable position that where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and that whatever they say, there must be some truth in there. I don’t think that this is the right way of looking at it. Words sometimes work like weapons. People notice one of your flaws and establish an entire theory around how it’s the ONE thing that is preventing you from achieving success (or any other goal that they think you should achieve).

In a way, this may be reasonable because you’re counting that people see your failing more clearly than you do, and that they maybe have experience with it, so they can help. But on the other hand, sometimes people just project their own problems onto your “problems” and it just doesn’t map.

I was once told that I lack discipline. “You’re good at intuiting things and picking them up naturally. But you don’t make the effort to study and to repeat repeat repeat. This is why you fail.” This… was believable? I guess? Like, I did do many repetitions, and I did study, and I did work with discipline. I guess I just needed more? But how much more? It’s not helpful, and I suspect that it was said not to help but to position that person as someone of authority, someone who can show the way. I don’t think this was intentional or that it should lead to a conclusion that those giving advice want to dominate you, but it certainly do be like that sometimes.

Mostly though, the advice is good and well-intentioned. You have to judge it by yourself, but good friends shed light where you don’t usually look. So stop saying “no” because you have a vague feeling that you should be doing something else (this is advice directed to myself). You can always say no later and become known for your disappearing act, which is much better than never appearing at all!

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