Everyone in the world starts out as a stranger (and potential friend) to you.
2. Loose Acquaintance
The first time you meet a person they’re just a random face in the crowd. Unless you meet this person at your arranged marriage, there’s little to no guarantee you’ll ever see them again. It takes time to learn enough about a person to know whether you like them or not. It also takes time to build shared experiences together with which you’ll come to base your friendship on. So even if you really hit it off with someone the first time you meet them, they’ll only be a potential friend until you see them again… and again… and again…and again.
There are over 6 billion people in the world. You only have enough time in your short life to become best friends with a few of them. Your brain understands this. So even if you don’t your mind will subconsciously size up every person you meet and come to a conclusion about whether or not this person is compatible enough with you to be worth pursuing a deeper relationship with. 99.9% of the people you meet in your life will fail the Loose Acquaintance Test. The first time they leave your sight you won’t ever think about them again. Even if you do remember them, the thought will never occur to you to regret their absence in your life, because they were just some unimportant, random person.
That’s fine. We can’t all spend our lives obsessing over everyone we meet. In fact, we should be conscious of the fact that we should be sizing people up to assess who we can/can’t build meaningful relationships with. If we don’t pay attention we risk passing up the right people and attaching ourselves to the wrong people.
3. Regular Acquaintance
If you keep running into the same person over and over again you’ll learn things about each other and build shared experiences. In no time at all they’ll stand out of the crowd. When you see their face it will mean something to you, and when you talk to them you can continue your previous dialogues. These interactions will evolve your relationship with each other. Instead of just being a random person they’ll become the person you met there who does this for a living and goes to the place you’re at to get whatever.
Spending time with a person doesn’t guarantee you’re going to be friends. You’ll meet just as many people who, the more you meet them the more you despise them. However, some will pass the Regular Acquaintance Test, and some will pass it faster than others. You could buy coffee from the same barista for ten years before they become anything other than a friendly barista to you. On the other hand, sometimes you run into people who you just click with and end up spending then next two weeks together every day. Not only do you need to spend time with a person to get promoted in their friend book, but you have to spend meaningful time talking, opening up, overcoming challenges, learning and having fun together before your relationship has significant meaning.
Eventually you’re going to work with people for so long that you’ll know their whole life story, their idiosyncrasies and secrets. You’ll know them well enough to accurately predict their future. But they’ll still just be a regular acquaintance who you know at work. Intimate knowledge is a prerequisite for friendship, but it’s only one component.
Feeling affection for each other is another prerequisite for friendship. When you experience affection towards another person emotionally, you get those feelings from your brain. Consciously and subconsciously your brain has been calculating how valuable that person is in your life. If the results of that calculation are negative then you’ll dislike them. If the results of that calculation are positive then you’re like them. The higher they score the more you’ll like them. The lower they score the less you’ll like them.
Friendships are warm and fuzzy, but they’re also based on a cold calculation. Life is beautiful, but life is also war. Everyone and every living thing is competing with each other to survive in a dog-eat-dog world where only the strong survive, and only the alpha thrive. Every stranger is a potential threat to you. They could rob you, bully you, steal your lover, get your job, rip you off, betray you or kill you. You might not walk around all day grimly sizing everyone up, but if a stranger asks to borrow $1000 from you, you’re probably going to say “no” without even having to think about it.
The test that regular acquaintances have to pass before they can get promoted to an ally is the test of trust. When you put your trust in someone else by (for example) lending them money, you risk losing ground in your battle against nature to survive. That’s a profound thing to do, because you’re choosing to bet or give a tiny piece of your life. That’s sharing life.
As you and another person reciprocate trustworthiness you cease to be regular acquaintances, and you become allies. Effectively you’ve signed an unwritten truce not to fight each other and to back each other up in their time of need even if it’s inconvenient.
There are different kinds of allies you make in life, and each truce is different. Some friends would only let you borrow $10. Some would let you borrow $100, but they wouldn’t pick you up from jail or give you a ride to work. You can open up to some of your friends, and some friends prefer to keep your relationship more formal or professional. Some friendships involve lust, and some don’t. Your expectations of each of your friends is different, but that doesn’t mean your contracts between them are unequal. Variety is the spice of life. We should be conscious of the different kinds of friendships we have and celebrate their idiosyncrasies.
5. Official Friend
When you make a truce with an ally, you agree not to take what the other person has. You can borrow from each other in your time of need, but you’ll be expected to pay your ally back. There’s also a limit to how much your ally will risk on you. An official friend will give you what you need for free without expecting you to pay them back. In fact, they’ll insist that you don’t pay them back. That act goes above and beyond the conditions of a contract. It’s not a bet. It’s a gift, and that’s profound. You’re sacrificing a bit of your life to make another conscious being’s reality better.
Ultimately, friendship is a choice. That choice is yours. Rocks and trees can’t make choices. Only living, sentient beings can. When you choose a friend you express the existence of consciousness in an otherwise inert universe. It also establishes a bond between you and another individual consciousness. The emotions and ideas you share will be unique in all the universe. All of this is valuable enough to justify the existence of life.
But I digress. Sacrifice is the cost to become an official friend, and it’s not enough to just be willing to make that sacrifice. As admirable as that is, you’ll never be as good of friends with an untested ally than say war veterans are with the people they fought alongside. When you build a history of shared sacrifice with another person you build a history of proven character.
6. Best Friend
Every alliance and friendship is different, and while there’s no need to stress over which friendship is “better” than the others, one will inevitably rise to the top. You win that prize by getting the highest score on the Best Friend Test, which is one question long and looks something like this:
Best Friend = (how well you know a person + how many experiences you’ve had with them + how much you care about them + how well you treat them) – (how many conditions you place on each other’s trust)*(mutual sacrifice).
Put your allies to the test and figure out who your true friends are. And put yourself to the test as well. Consider how high your friends would score you. If hardly anybody would give you a good score you’d be wise to consider the hard possibility that you’re an asshole and need to seriously rethink your life. If your friends score horribly low you may consider the hard possibility that they’re not really friends and it might be better for both of you to step out of each other’s lives.
When you do find a best friend, cherish them. When your life flashes before your eyes you’re going to see all the best friends you’ve made through the years. They were your life. As important as that is, it’s also a simple fact of life that you can’t spend your entire life with just one best friend. Things change. People change. You can’t write a song by only playing one note. As beautiful as that note may be, you have to let go when the time is right and move onto the next note, and the next one, and the next one, celebrating all of them for their uniqueness. (That last bit about music notes was paraphrased from “The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment”).
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