Because we’re all unique (different upbringings, preferences, etc.), we are all attracted to different types of people – friends, significant others, etc. But, in many cases, we choose people in our lives for the wrong reasons – because we want to be seen or perceived in a certain way, or we think it would be ‘beneficial’ to be affiliated with certain people. Truly contemplating why you spend time with people is so important. Ask yourself, “which of your friendships are real and which ones are artificial?”
Why should you care:
✔ You’ll be true to yourself and others
✔ You’ll have a better time
✔ You can truly be ‘yourself’
✔ You’ll build genuine / real friendships that endure
✔ You won’t waste time and have regrets about failed relationships
✔ People will ultimately respect you
I have learned over the years that it’s easy to pick ‘friends’ for the wrong reasons. When we’re young, most of us fall into the same social trap and often pick friends who have some status that we desire (i.e. the cool, hip group, the jocks, etc.). It’s easy to do this… there are lots of social pressures to do so. In our minds we figure that in order to be perceived by others as cool or hip and to ‘elevate’ our status, we need to be friends with those who have already been recognized in a certain way. We might join clubs or fraternities for that exact reason – because we’re trying to change, improve, or confirm our own status by virtue of those with whom we associate ourselves. And we might do things like drink or stay out late (even if we truly don’t want to) because that’s what the cool group is doing. But this method is flawed… we end up trying to behave in a certain way to fit in and it’s not necessarily fun, nor ultimately productive.
Ask yourself the following questions…
Do you try and associate with a certain group (at work or school) for reasons other than truly liking and/or connecting to those people? If you are totally honest, would you really want to spend time with those people if there was nothing to gain (and would you really want to do the things they do)? Most of us, at some points in our lives, are guilty of picking friends and groups for reasons that are not totally genuine. I know I was.
As an adult, I look back on those awkward years and wish I hadn’t wasted so much time and energy trying to be something / somebody that I really was not. I recognize how silly it was to try but also see how easy it is to do (and why it’s such a common trap). The best example of this that I can remember was my college fraternity – a place where I spent a lot of time, much of which was not truly compatible with who I was. I joined that fraternity hoping to, by virtue of association, be viewed as a cool dude who partied and got the ladies. I can’t really think of another reason for joining. And now, looking back, I realize that my closest friends (those who are true, long terms friends) were relationships that I had built via other more authentic affiliations. The fraternity was a right of passage in many ways and I did meet some great people, but it was costly as well. By being in that fraternity, if I was not truly honest with myself looking back, here’s what happened:
- I missed other opportunities to build more genuine relationships. The challenge with any decision is that by choosing it, you create opportunity costs (things that you could can been doing). I’m not sure what those opportunity costs were exactly and there’s no way to go back and see, but I figure there were some.
- I ended up spending a lot of time ‘trying’ to be the cool, party guy, ladies’ man (things that I really wasn’t). I didn’t really like drinking excessive amounts of cheap keg beer, being around a lot of pot smoking and generally bad behavior. I also didn’t like the fraternity-style interaction with girls and trying to ‘talk the talk’ with all the guys. It always seemed like a competition to see who could be the funniest or who had the best stories, and of course, who was gaining the affection of the ‘hottest’ girls. Trying to be funny or witty via story telling was not being ‘who I really was”. I was much more conservative and quiet. And regarding the ‘ladies’… I recall, for a very short and uneventful period, trying to be more like the typical fraternity guy with the girls (arrogant, aloof, too cool, focused on ‘hooking up’ only). Not only do I distinctly remember feeling very uncomfortable, but I remember it being upsetting to the girls (and ultimately, I felt uneasy and even disgusted with myself). Thankfully, that period only lasted 2-weeks! Aside from this just being generally poor behavior, It was stressful trying to do this and would have been much easier to just be in a situation where there was no pressure and I could be myself. If I truly wanted to drink into the wee hours or ‘womanize’, great. But, I should not have felt pressure to do so via an association with a fraternity, or any group.
There is enough stress in college (or in the work place, etc.) in general and why should anyone elect to make it worse?
Now that I look back, it’s much easier to see what I was doing. And it certainly wasn’t as clear (or clear at all) when I was going through it. I also reflect on my high school days where clicks and social pressure ruled. I realize it’s much harder to apply this type of discipline in high school.
As an adult, while the social pressures have changed, there are still many artificial friendship scenarios. People often try to affiliate with those who do or have something that we might covet – particularly money or influence. And, perhaps it’s equally as likely that adults will fall into the similar situation where they are spending precious time with people for the wrong reasons. Take a close look at your relationships and why you have them. Are they genuine relationships or ones that you keep for ‘superficial’ reasons? Compare friendships in your life and you will see which ones are really true and which ones are ‘convenient’ for some reason. Down deep in your heart, ask yourself if you like spending time with these people because you genuinely connect with them? If so, keep the relationships. If not, consider why you have them and if it’s ultimately healthy and productive for you.
Growing up, I had a very good friend who ultimately became a doctor and moved to a very wealthy area. As his career progressed, he and I spent less time together, spoke on the phone less and generally grew apart. This corresponded with his wealth accrual and affiliation with similar wealthy people. At his wedding, I was his oldest friend in attendance (one of the few who was not part of his new ‘elite’ group) and it seemed like he didn’t notice that I was even there. His new, fancy friends were the center of attention and it became very apparent how his new, wealthy friends were most important to him now. He asked a couple of newer friends to give toasts and participate more actively in the wedding proceedings. I was excluded, despite knowing him since we were kids, knowing his family and being a close friends for so many years. Our friendship was oringally based on a true human element – and was not a function of some sort of superficial gain one or both of us would receive. As I contemplated all of this, it became clear that his new friends were generally wealthy, drove fancy cars and lived fancy lives. My friend, having just leased an expensive new car, living in an expensive home and now wearing fancy new clothes and shoes was captivated by the ‘money scene’ and those involved. There were parties, trips and fancy dinners – momentarily exciting, but certainly superficial. I was not part of that scene, could not invite him to a fancy dinner or party at an expensive house – and, as such, our friendship had been reduced to a mere acquaintance. While I was hurt and insulted by this behavior, I knew it was less about me and more about my friend’s desire to be part of this ‘wealthy fraternity’ and he likely felt he would get more from those relationships. As an adult, my friend collected artificial friends who, in his mind, would give him the most benefit and since I was not wealthy and showy, I was no longer included. In a lot of ways, this was no different than my joining a fraternity in college that likely excluded my true friends and relationships for superficial reasons.
Today, I truly make an effort to spend time with those people who are genuine friends and with whom I genuinely connect. They are people that I affiliate myself with because I simply enjoy their company – and there is no superficiality. I am not looking for anything and I have no ulterior motives. And, I’m ok if this social discipline has reduced the number of active friendships that I have in my life and that I may then be forced to spend more time alone. I have realized that having more time alone is better than being in a partially or completely fake friendship. As I age, I am more acutely aware of how finite our time truly is and how it becomes increasingly important to then spend it wisely.
For me, having a smaller number of real friendships is much better than being the center of attention with lots of people for the wrong reasons. I am grateful for the REAL friendships that I have and I don’t miss the old ‘artificial’ relationships that I have discarded. I have more time today to focus on nurturing the important and true relationships in my life – those that will last a lifetime. It’s a much more liberating and honest way to live, and I wish I thought more about this earlier in life.