So the nature of what I do for fun means I get to meet tons of people. Amongst our social group in New York we consist of a couple thousand very loosely connected people. When you come on to the message board if you make it through the first couple weeks of hazing and insults, as is the tradition to lay upon newcomers, you’re generally warmly greeted by dozens of new people when you see them out at group outings.
This is great in theory because if it’s you, you all of a sudden start to think that you’ve got forty new friends. And surely any stranger that you’ve shared a drink and barely audible conversation with between loud beats at a night clubs is a friend for life right?
That’s when we get into the issue of friends vs. acquaintances. Every year I have to deal with someone having a breakdown within the group. Someone who just flips out and realizes that these people they’ve assumed were their blood-brothers/sisters are just club-friends, acquaintances. Some people leave, others turn introverted, others handle it well and realize that acquaintances are fine to have.
Which is the biggest lesson I try to lay on these people when it happens. See, for people not in our group of extended contacts, the average circle of friends is what, 20, 30? Who knows, I’m not from Boise. But I know it’s smaller. That’s normal. The modern human mind only has room for about six memorized birthdays, three full telephone numbers and one mailing address. That’s why we created computers, really, to be able to send and get fucking greeting cards.
So often when this realization occurs, the person withdraws and focuses only on what they call, “real friends.” I’m fine with this on the outside, if I lose an acquaintance, that’s one less name I have to remember. So inevitably we get to the “let’s choose our real friends” portion of the hissy fit.
Friend OR Acquaintance?
So how do you decide? For a lot of people this part is really obvious. There’s a certain level of self disclosure that goes along with friendship. For example, your real friends know that you’re scared of rabbits. They may laugh about it, sure, but they know to turn the channel when some looney toons stuff comes on. However, in our world of Instant Messenger, email and message boards, self disclosure just happens. The nature of the medium makes it easier for you to admit to complete strangers that you dream of being murdered by bunnies. So your pre-Internet mind assumes that since these people know that you’re a rabbit-fearer they’re your friends, and then it tells your post-Internet mind to invite them to your second cousin’s bar-mitzvah.
So when do people bridge that gap from contact to buddy? When do you put them on speed dial? When do you start getting them birthday presents? The key to answering those questions is another question:
Would they pick you up at the airport?
If the answer is yes, then you’ve got a friend. See, getting to the airport is ALWAYS a hard time, especially in New York. You’ve either got to take a 40 or 50 dollar cab ride there, or you’ve got to take eight trains and a bus, or you’ve got to drive through some of the worst traffic and potholed roads this city has to offer.
Reliability in the face of low to moderate hardship is the true signifier of friendship. A lot of people like to say “I’d take a bullet for you,” first of all these people are usually on ecstacy and second of all, why would I want a dead friend? Just pick me up at the airport, I’m going to have a lot of bags too. I’m coming back from a shopping trip at that giant mall out there in one of them fly over states and I love shoes.
In truth, I’m against the idea of friend-pruning. I try to treat my friends an acquaintances equally. Acquaintances are often better than friends in some ways because you don’t have that looming responsibility of one day having to lug their shit home from La Guardia. All you have to do with an acquaintance is have interesting small talk at parties. But that’s just me, I’m a shallow guy.