Why Can’t We Be Friends?
March 16, 2016
Filed under Features
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In Kanye West’s song “Real Friends,” he raps, “We smile at each other, but how many honest?”
Last Saturday night, I found myself preoccupied with that same question. I stood in a friend’s room on the fourth floor of Stewart and carefully folded a vomit-soaked comforter around itself to keep the mess from getting on my clothes while I walked down to the laundry room. “Stew is a dry dorm” — yeah right.
Later in the night, I was talking to my friend Roger. We hadn’t seen much of each other lately, and the rare opportunity for a heart-to-heart was too good to pass up, even with the specter of daylight saving time staring us down.
It would implicate and possibly embarrass Roger to describe our conversation in full, but it involved his de facto exclusion from the larger group that most of his friends are a part of. We realized that each of his friends has their own image of how he fits into their social jigsaw puzzle — as the too-good-for-us social climber or the introverted eccentric — and that these images keep them from truly letting him in.
My perception that he’s just one of the guys was wrong, too. The gloomy look that filled his eyes as he outlined his experience on the outskirts of the group made that clear enough.
So why does he pretend to be real friends with those who do nothing but pretend back?
Before I answer that, I have another question: Why do we pretend Stew is a dry dorm? If I told someone, “Don’t allow peanuts near me; I’m deathly allergic,” and they did as good of a job of not allowing peanuts near me as Middlebury does at not allowing alcohol in dry dorms, I would be dead two times over. But this lie, as transparent as it is, has benefits — for appearances, to keep the amount of rule-breaking manageable. . . . It is an innocent lie.
In much the same way, Roger lies for others’ benefit.
“How are you?” someone asks him.
I could give you an answer that would actually give you some understanding of how I am, but I won’t, he thinks. “I’m good,” he says, “How’s [single thing we have in common]?” This approach allows his audience to add one more positive social interaction, however insipid it may be, to their list, and feel comfortable that they may be each other’s 16th best friend. On the other side of the room, legitimate best friends are usually spilling their vulnerabilities and overflowing with stories. The dishonesty inherent in small talk becomes clear when contrasted with the interactions of real friends.
But is this dishonesty a bad thing? It’s Monday, and I’m talking to Roger. He tells me he’s been thinking, and now realizes he’s content not fully integrating into the group. He could make an effort to get closer to the others, but he likes his number of friends.
He’s a “quality over quantity” kind of guy, he says. “Being yourself is not something to be bummed about.” His eyes are bright and confident.