Your friends will know you better in the first minute you meet than your acquaintances will know you in a thousand years. Richard Bach, Illusions- the Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah
Friendship can be tricky these days. Sorting out the friends you would trust with “state secrets” and those who are just acquaintances or people we know more casually is not as easy, now that our friendships and connections are transparent on Facebook and LinkedIn. Even more so than in the past, you can’t outrun your own imperfections, as old flames find you, maybe just to say hi, maybe to gloat, maybe for other reasons- you never know. And what about all those new opportunities brought on by connecting and staying connected through the net- Are those people you are meeting for the first time going to become new life long friends or just passersby in your journey? How can you tell? Couple this with research that shows that weak or loose connections can often bring a lot of value into your network, and you have a real problem on your hands. Do you spend your time mining loose connections for their benefits, or do you invest in the deep connections that while they may not bring you anything new very often, will, by their nature, endure storms and bring more consistent and reliable benefit?
I read a great book by Richard Bach in high school, called Illusions. It was recommended, in fact, almost pushed on me by my friend Linda Quenell’ (Check out her great “upcycled” bags from neckties- great gift- I have several I adore!) Linda is one of those people who seemed to pluck me out of the crowd and see something in me I did not see in myself at the time. One of the quotes from that book (and there are many) that still resonates with me is:
Every person, all the events of your life are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you.
Sometimes I think about this, especially when I wonder why I am friends or connected to people. Sometimes we may seem very different, yet they’ve become a part of my life for a reason, I may just not know what it is at the moment. Are they teachers sent to help me? Am I a teacher sent to help them? Are we both in each other’s lives for similar reasons? It’s not always clear. (I know there are some folks who are there just for fun and comic relief, and that is about the best gift of all.)
The problem we have with all these loose and tight connections is making sure we keep a balance in terms of our investment. There will always be those friends you don’t see very often, but when you do, it seems like you’ve never been out of contact at all. Our friends Dave Baraff and Cynthia Adams are like that for us. Whenever we go to San Francisco, seeing them is like a breath of fresh air, and I just wish we lived on the same coast. There are folks you just don’t see as often because your focus or your kid’s activities have changed; there are folks you’ve outgrown, and folks you depend on being there, even if you’re not sure why they put up with you at all.
The ability to discern weaker ties from deeper relationships and those we can count on to weather any personal storms is important. After all, we need to know who will have our backs and who will help us when we really need the support and heavy lifting friends provide when things aren’t exactly perfect. I love many of the people with whom I have weak ties, but I also know in advance that these aren’t the folks I’m going to ask to be legal guardian of my kids or help me move. It kind of goes without saying. But it becomes harder and harder in an age when friendship is a broader spectrum than ever before to know who really falls into which category, especially when people you might have considered weak ties really come through in a pinch.
Navigating relationships is a bigger challenge than ever, and one I don’t envy, especially for my kids, who are entering those teen years and trying on the concept of more emotionally entwined relationships than ever before. I guess all we can really do is balance caution and optimism and learn as we go. Which really isn’t so different than it’s always been after all.