Even though I mostly don’t post personal stuff here anymore, I felt a personal post this week was probably in order. I wrote another one of those earlier this week, but I pulled it quite fast (for many reasons) – we’ll see if I let this one through my implicit filter.
So, people who’ve read along for a while are probably starting to get worried at this point – ‘personal stuff’, that can’t be good… Well, no need to worry. I’ve had a good week. A close friend who needed a place to crash stayed with me for a few days; this is the first time I’ve ever been in such a situation. I can’t speak for my friend, but I had a good time. I value my privacy very highly, and I generally don’t like being around people for extended periods of time. So the fact that I had a good time is, I think, sort of important. I’ve been thinking that there might be things to learn from the experience so I’ve thought a bit about it along the way. An important insight did not occur to me until today, and that insight is what first motivated me to write this post. But I’ll get to that stuff later.
When my friend (let’s call the individual in question ‘X’) asked me, one of my first reactions was to feel flattered. I’m vain, like most people – sue me. Anyway I realized that I was now in a situation where I had a friend who felt comfortable asking me a favour like that, and I realized that that felt awesome. Especially as I was able to say yes; it felt awesome being able to say yes. I should perhaps point out that even though X would probably argue – indeed has argued (quoting X: “you’ve never had friends who are idiotic enough to get themselves in a situation in which they’d appreciate help like that”) – that it’s not necessarily a good thing that I now have a friend ‘like that’, I really couldn’t take that argument seriously.
When X asked me I also felt a little bit scared and uncomfortable. Though I should make it clear that most of those thoughts only came later, after I’d said yes. What if it didn’t work out? What if I couldn’t stand spending so much time with X, or vice versa? As mentioned I’m a very private person and given the circumstances we’d have to share the same room for a few days – what if that was too much? I really didn’t know if I could handle that; during the last ten years I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation where I was more or less unable to retreat from other people if it became too much for me for any extended period of time. And what if it became too much for X – what if X couldn’t stand being around me that long? What helped me there, though, was that I knew that X knows at least as much about what’s going on in my life as do my own brothers, and it’s very safe to say that X is personality-wise more like me than anyone in my own family. If I couldn’t even handle a few days in the same room as X, well… As for whether X could handle spending so much time with me, I figured that as long as I at least tried to behave reasonably like the person I’d like to be, which is what I try to a significant extent to do on a day to day basis anyway (though with varying degrees of success), it should be okay. So I ended up thinking that it would be fine and that it might even be fun and/or do me some good – the implicitly added social control element making me marginally more likely to do useful and productive stuff while X was around also had to be considered (the Hawthorne effect). Though on the other hand I’d have to add here that this element should not be overemphasized; X knows me quite well and so I knew that I wouldn’t have to put up any kind of elaborate facade in order to behave in what X would consider an ‘acceptable manner’. If that had not been the case I’d have been a lot more worried about the arrangement, because in that case I’d also had had to worry about significant foreseeable and ‘perceived necessary’ behavioural changes ‘draining me’.
Since I more or less stopped intrinsically caring about grades and how I did in school, I’ve tended to have a bit of a hard time figuring out what I was actually aiming for in life. My brain has tried to convince me that partnership and perhaps children are the sort of things I should aim for, and it has also tried to convince me that I’m not particularly likely to experience that kind of stuff during my life, which is annoying. I’ve long since convinced myself that career-stuff is unlikely to be fulfilling on its own. So what else? An interesting notion here is the fact that I’ve ‘traditionally’ been very skeptical about the value of friendships – close friendships were for people who couldn’t find a partner and then tried to fill out the void in other ways. I’d think that even long-term friends aren’t actually all that close, and how many of the people who cannot even get/keep a partner manage to find/keep a close, long-term friend anyway? I’ve been skeptical.
Since my period of social isolation ended, to the extent that it has, I’ve so far tended to think of friendships as a way to avoid problems, as a strategy to avoid isolation. It was the main reason why I started out interacting with people again; to avoid problems, to avoid a repeat of the hikikomori experience. It wasn’t that I thought I’d find interesting people to interact with – I’d never had close friends at that point. According to this conceptual approach I employed friends were perceived to have but instrumental value – ‘it’s good for you to interact with others so you should do that from time to time’. And that was it. It no longer is. Friendships can be much, much more than that. My friendship with X is not ‘just’ a ‘friendships to avoid problems’-friendship. My friendship with X is at this point, at least to me, probably closer to an ‘X is awesome, I feel lucky we’ve found each other and now have the opportunity to interact and exchange ideas and views, and I’d feel devastated if I no longer had this’-friendship. I don’t interact with X because I know that ‘it’s good for me’; I do it because I want to, because I enjoy it. Maybe I was in the same situation three months ago and it has just taken this long for my self-awareness to truly catch up with me; it’s been a gradual process surely, but it just hit me today: ‘This friendship is an important part of your life, and you should be very careful not to underestimate how valuable it is.’ At this point I’m really starting to realize that a friendship isn’t ‘just’ anything; establishing and maintaining such a social relationship with another individual can meaningfully be considered one of the major life goals.
In case anyone was wondering, X is a female.
Regarding the “I feel lucky we’ve found each other and now have the opportunity to interact and exchange ideas and views”-part, I’m pretty sure I could say that about a commenter or two here as well. ‘Online friendships’ are different from real-life ones but sometimes they end up overlapping and I should probably mention that if one of you people feel like you’d like to know me better and that I’d perhaps like to know you better as well, you’re welcome to reach out in this comment section. I’ve started to use skype regularly and it’s (…almost… – you can’t really disregard the time difference) as easy to skype with someone from Denmark as it is to skype with someone who lives on a completely different continent. I’d probably prefer to establish contact with people who’ve commented here before and/or have read along for a while. And please don’t consider it a one-time offer; consider it a standing invitation.