For the past year or so I've made an effort not to socialize. Sounds weird, but I figured that the only way I could really see just how much I could focus on SETT would be to cut out everything, even things that seemed somewhat important.
If really good friends invited me to something that seemed like it would constitute quality time, as opposed to just not-being-bored-time, I would go as an exception. Through those infrequent occasions, I'd meet new people once in a while. And sometimes these new people were just so amazing that I couldn't help but become friends with them, too.
For the first few years in San Francisco, I felt like I had tons of acquaintances, but only a few really good friends, and even those friends were people I knew before moving here. Even some of the people I hung out with a lot were just acquaintances-- our friendships never deepened, and when they moved away it didn't really feel like a loss.
Now I feel like I have no acquaintances and a lot of really good friends. There are a few people I hang out with who aren't really good friends yet, but it feels like things are moving in that direction.
I've learned two really valuable lessons from this process:
1. Acquaintances aren't free
Any time you spend with someone who isn't going to become a good friend is time you AREN'T spending with someone who might become a good friend. By pruning back time with people like that, you give yourself more mental energy for new people who might become good friends, and more time to deepen your friendships with existing friends.
This sounds like a subtle truism, but the effect has been dramatic in my life. Eliminating acquaintances was so powerful that even while actively trying not to make new friends, I made a bunch of great ones.
As a society I feel like we're far too concerned with filling our time, a function served by acquaintances, and not concerned enough with filling our minds/hearts, which is what good friends are for. The average level of conversation in my life has spiked upwards, as has the inspiration and motivation I get from those I spend time with.
Also, realize that you're on both sides of the equation. For many people, you're the acquaintance who will never become a friend. By spending less time with that person, you're helping him move towards building great friendships.
2. There's a Pattern
Unexpectedly, removing acquaintances removed the noise and left the signal. Whereas before I couldn't have described concrete patterns in who I hang out with, now they're clear as day.
The primary defining feature of my friends is that they are good people. Really good people. Like, the kind of people whose everyday actions are so positive and noble that I'm emotionally moved by them and inspired to be a better person.
Next most prominent is an unshakable sense of optimism. I just spent a couple minutes trying to think of a negative thing a friend has said recently, and I couldn't come up with a single one. I can think of examples of them dealing with breakups, death, financial setbacks, major illness, and seeing nothing but the best through all of these things.
Last, they're almost all entrepreneurs. I can think of a couple exceptions, but even they have pretty interesting jobs that they very intentionally chose and probably could be entrepreneurs if they chose to.
The interesting part in finding these patterns is that it reveals both my own aspirations and useful data for screening future friends. If I'm on the fence about spending time with someone, I might be more inclined to do it if they fit these patterns, and less likely if they didn't.
So what can you do with this information? For one, I'd suggest experimenting with spending less time with acquaintances, and spend no time making new ones. If you're overwhelmed socially, I'd try to find the common themes in people you do consider to be very good friends, and focus your energy only on people that fit those themes.
I'm incredibly grateful for all of the excellent friends I have, both new and old. If it's true that you become the product of the people you're closest with, I have an almost unfair advantage in life. I write this post in hopes that it will help others be as lucky.
Photo includes several of my really good friends (and a random Japanese girl who I convinced to climb the rock with us).
Doesnt this make you more insular?
Also, how do you get to 'friend' without going through acquaintance stage first?
brilliant post. I totally agree. At the beginning of this year I gave up with all acquaintances til I was left with no one. Im now in the process of building great friendships with new people who challenge me and each other and enjoy life.
How do you go about building those friendships?
I'm in a similar situation, I gave up acquaintances as well, and I'll soon start being proactive about making friends. Tips would be helpful.. :)
I used to go out drinking with the same people every weekend for years. I now maybe drink alcohol two or three times a year and soon realised these "friends" were very negative and wed grown apart. I bought a house with my boyfriend. Started a great job and enjoy doing other things with my time now so no longer shared the same interests with my old drinking friends. I started at my new job two months ago and decided to send everyone (50 people) an invite to go out for dinner after work. Only three said yes! We have so many nights planned coming up including a murder mystery night.
I also joined a slimming club last night and will try the same thing there.
Tomorrow I have an iinterview for a volunteer role and will hopefully get that and meet many more great people.
Its not easy making friends as you get older but now im classing it like dating. Be brave. Ask them out. See how it goes
Thank you for the advice! I'm thinking of doing something similar: figure out what kind of people I want to be friends with, figure out where these kind of people hang out, then be proactive in meeting them. I noticed that certain activities attract certain types of people (like, rock climbers love nature, etc.), so it's best to look for people this way, or at least that's my current theory. We'll see how it goes :D
Great application of 80/20 rule to people you socialize with. 80% of the quality interactions comes from 20% of the people you know - that would be the good friends. I did something similar where I cut down on interactions with negative people in my life and got rid of employees who were negative. I was happier and more productive as a result.
All of my close friends are either in other cities or I already knew from somewhere else 'before SF'. I have totally failed to make new close friends in SF and find it nearly impossible. Almost all of my acquaintances in SF are people who I was hoping and trying to move to the 'friend' stage with, but SF folks seem to be so insular it's impossible to take it to the next level.
I agree entirely about the waste of time that acquaintances can be. Years ago, in an effort to fix this problem, I set out to eliminate these sorts of relationships, but I found myself in the awkward position of being nearly friend-less. This leads me to wonder where I went wrong.Am I the acquaintance who never ends up a friend? Am I just boring? I'm not clear on the why here. Obviously I'm bad at being a friend, but I'm not sure how to fix that.
I'm really starting to see this pattern in my life too. I just recently moved to a new city and started working on my own business, and I've already noticed that the friends who matter have kept in touch. The crazy thing is that I didn't know for sure who they would be before I left. The process has helped me solidify the friendships that matter and free up time for other pursuits. I've noticed that despite the distance I've created, my important friendships grew.
I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their intellects. A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.
So I guess you don't associate with people who suffer from depression or any other form of mood disorder.
This post is so powerful and important to me that it made me tear up.
Wow. I hadn't been by your blog in a year or so, but so glad I came back.
I found your blog through Time Magazine. As a fellow blogger, I find your topics amazing and am glad to find another blogger who tries to live life with positivity.
It sounds like you've read The Secret. After some recent health problems, I found out who my real friends are. The word cancer weeded them out for me.
I have ascribed to your way of thinking for a while now. I am on the road to complete recovery and really don't have time for whining or listening to it.
Love your blog!
Thank you for sharing. You're a very brave woman.
Thanks Sam. I started writing the Boob Report to change the way people think about breast cancer. I don't want to be associated with doom and gloom. I am the polar opposite!
If you have a blog I'd love to check it out.
I land in Narita Airport, Japan, pull two thousand Yen out of the ATM, and get on the train for Tokyo. From memory I walk down familiar streets until I get to the New Zealand Embassy in northern Shibuya, where my friend Elliot lives. I haven't seen him in almost two years, and have only emailed a few times since then, but it's as if I never left. We joke around, walk to dinner, and make plans for the weekend.
The next day I pop my Japanese SIM card into my phone and call my friend Toby to let him know that I'm around. He tells me about a party he's throwing in Yoyogi park, so a couple other friends and I join him.
Nothing about these individual scenes is particularly noteworthy. That's the point. In various places around the world I have enough good friends that I can have a pretty normal life there while visiting.
After my meditation I snuggled-up under my duvet, still in meditative mode, still watching my breath - in and out. As I allowed my mind to wander again, a little bit, I noticed a reflection of the window pane on the ceiling, eerily looking like a face, with two squares for eyes and a big rectangular shape for a mouth. Strange, I thought, and tried to close my eyes to sleep. Thoughts came in and out. I had met a good old friend of mine, actually, exactly a week back. It was really wonderful to catch up with him after 11 long years. We were high school buddies who lost track of each other as soon as we moved away in our own directions. We met again, in London, and caught up with 11 years worth of stuff and also on some memories. He showed me an old class photograph of ours and we tried to name all our classmates (which we did). Oddly, though, we couldn't remember the name of a stodgy character in the middle of the front row, our class teacher!
Anyway, it was nice. That was a week back but I felt something lingering inside me, some thought, some odd feeling. I couldn't understand it. Was it a person? A memory? An incident? Or something we talked about? I couldn't get to grips with it. But as I was trying to drift away into sleep tonight, it came to me! It was indeed a person. A fellow student in our class photograph who is sadly not among us anymore. He passed away before we left school. I don't want to name him. He suffered from some kind of disease (I can't remember what it was exactly but something like a motor neuron disease) and he had to be on a wheel-chair all the time. We had become good friends. In fact I often helped him take his books out of his bag which hung around behind his wheel-chair. I always thought the wheel-chair was pretty cool! How awful a thought!!! It was gadgetry that caught my attention! Coming to think of him now, after all these years, what was really cool was his spirit. That is what this post is about.
This wheel-chaired friend of mine never complained. He was happy. He was content. He was competitive and he did his best. But we lost him way too early. I wondered what he would've been doing now if he was still around. But that class photo brought back something else for me, a feeling. I felt I am ungrateful, often. Here I was looking at the picture of an old friend who had a tough time compared to all his other friends. He couldn't do many of things we did. He couldn't go out play like us. Kick a ball around. Run. Walk. Dance. Jump. He couldn't even bunk lessons without being caught! He couldn't, but we could. We could do so much more but we never looked at it that way; at least I didn't. I'm sure he must have also felt a sense of loss, a sense of incapability, but he always looked fine and cheerful. In fact, most of us, the more capable ones, were the miserable ones. When I saw his picture again, he reminded me that I have so much to be really really happy about. So much to be grateful for. But I take all of it for granted, in search of the next fix.
My friend, I'm sure, struggled a lot. Life wouldn't have been easy for him but he kept at it. He went ahead and did the things he wanted to and could. Nothing else mattered. He just did it! And here I am, and most of us, not reflecting on what we have and not having the courage to just go ahead and be what we can be. We get stuck with what we have, good or bad. Who wants to change? Who really wants to improve? Who is really, really, the life-long learner among us? Most things are hum-drum. Routine stuff. This and that. Here and there. And life goes by. We have so much foundation on which to really build on, but we don't. We remain ungrateful and cowardly. I think making use of every thing we already have is also a way of showing gratitude, don't you think so? We should rightfully build on everything we have. We owe it to all the people and things in our lives. To squander away all those things we should be grateful for, is, ultimately, squandering away a life that could have been. My friend reminded me that tonight, almost as if by saying "dude! What exactly are YOU complaining about? You have so much. Build and grow and be happy for heaven's sake". He is right. I don't think of what I already have, at least not often enough. That is certainly one of the things I need to work on in the coming year. My friend also reminded me that there shouldn't be anything, really, holding me back either. He didn't worry about how he will be perceived in school. He didn't worry about norms and standards - someone else's standards! He had a benchmark of his own and he worked towards that. I too need that kind of courage. I think we all need to go that extra mile, set higher and higher standards for ourselves. Do you know why? BECAUSE WE CAN! That is what my friend has reminded me. He is certainly still around and I'm grateful for that.