I was reminded recently of the importance (or lack thereof) of the words we use and how different people define and interpret them.
In the era of Facebook and even more so now that we can “LOVE” things on that particular platform, “friend” has become a word with many different definitions. While Facebook has certainly reduced the friction involved in maintaining relationships with a substantially larger number of people, theories such as Dunbar’s Number indicate human cognitive ability caps us to 150-200 people with whom we can maintain stable relationships.
Malcolm Gladwell cites one particular case study in his book The Tipping Point and if you are wearing a North Face jacket right now, you are benefiting from Dunbar’s Number enacted at the company that makes Gore-Tex.
I started to put some thought in to how I think of the various people I call “friend.”
- “Hoi polloi” friends: the indiscernible masses we call “friends” but don’t really hold ourselves accountable to; they are acquaintances.
- “Damaged goods” friends: these are friends gained or lost via any number of emotionally evocative circumstances, some examples including: 1) a friend who was once a significant other, 2) a friend who decided they could not maintain friendship with you for whatever reason, 3) someone you befriended because they were going through a tough time.
- “Time of our life” friends: these friends represent significant portions of our lives, will always have some sort of importance to us (good bad or indifferent), but no longer play a standing role in our lives.
- “Family” friends: just like siblings, you may not love everything about them and they likely feel the same about you, but there’s nothing that will break your relationship with them.
- “Kindred spirit” friends: time, space, ability to connect on the moment to moment details of your life or the lack of having done that mean nothing relative to your relationship with each other.
- “Unexpected” friends: these are the friendships that emerge from places you least expect, advocates who you thought were detractors…these people represent unexpected support you didn’t know you had and didn’t know you could count on.
These groupings are not MECE (that’s the acronym for mutually exclusive collectively exhaustive) but roughly categorizes what I believe to be the universe of my relationships.
With over 36 years of life under my belt, there have been a variety of people who have come and gone, friends who are close to me with whom I speak very little, relationships I work hard at and some that require no effort at all.
I have friends I’ve made through work — many that I love.
John and Ryan Prosser are identical twins, Italian (this is one case where racial profiling matters…even the calmest of interactions involves a lot of raised voices and hand gestures and I abso-fucking-lutely love it!).
I’ve known them for at least twenty years.
They are opinionated, passionate, caring, each is more than twice as intelligent as I am when they are having a good day, and still can keep me on my toes when they are having a bad day.
To say they keep me on my toes is misnomer for saying they can and do possess just as much intelligence and fortitude to debate me on nearly every subject imaginable.
After a few failed attempts getting together over the course of far too many years, I reached out when I was in Lakewood for one of my niece’s dance competitions, took advantage of my proximity, shipped my mother home in an Uber, and hung out with the gentlemen Prosser and the real reason I continue to spend time with them — Ryan’s wife Jessica.
I don’t believe they actually know this, but John and Ryan were among very few people I considered friends in high school.
Growing up, being “the gay guy” in high school long before it was popular, accepted, and even longer before “bullying” was a thing, I was called “fag” or “faggot” simply walking down the halls between periods.
Every. Single. Day.
I shouldered this, never complained, never let it hold me back but it created an emotional strain and perhaps a tendency to isolate.
John and Ryan never participated in this denigration; I know they never wanted to even for a moment.
They never made me feel alone, isolated, different, or afraid.
In fact, they made me understand the nature of acceptance and belonging, helped me see how differences can become commonality, and were a “safe place” for me.
And though they may not know it, when they came to my going away party when I was 16 before moving to Japan, seeing them there made me feel accepted, loved, and more “not alone” than I’d felt ever.
Not surprisingly, that party was organized by Lindsay and was attended by all the people I still truly care about today from that time, twenty years ago.
Even then, as unpopular but well-known as I was, I recognized the value of true friendship, not popularity.
I played the long game and I didn’t even know that’s what I was doing.
Reconnecting with John and Ryan has meant so much to me and it has also inspired me to take action in a way that is resulting in me potentially changing my focus professionally to look exclusively at “human productivity” and how we can improve it in the schools that teach us, and also more carefully transition people from educational to professional environments.
This has long been a passion of mine.
I actually got to interact with Ryan in a professional environment recently and it was just cool…to see the men we have both become, and how our abilities are focused on helping do what we can to impact the world. John wasn’t there but he was in spirit.
So when I give thanks for amazing people who I’m lucky to know, I count John and Ryan among those that make me feel like I won the lottery.
Two smart, dedicated, honest, authentic, selfless guys who gave me friendship and demonstrated compassion and empathy –
…and perhaps started me on the road towards living those values as well.