“Hello! Do you want to be friends? No? Oh, okay. Bye!”
I’ve almost resorted to cold-calling as a valid method of friend-hunting because everything else that makes more sense has failed. Obviously you can’t just knock on someone’s door, right? You have to be in the same club (aka “church”) or like the same sports team or something. Then you can build friendships from there, right?
Wrong. I’ve tried and it feels like the modern equivalent of the parable of the great banquet. “Hey, who wants to get drinks?”
“Sorry, I just got married.” “I have to check out the field I just bought.” “I have a sweet new pair of oxen” etc. etc.
I don’t hear these excuses (even without the farming imagery) so much as feel them. Being new in town I try never to use such excuses myself; per some good advice about relocating, I always say “yes” if possible.
But during small-talk the words of “Sorry, I’m busy” always seem to hang between me and others. These words are gatekeepers. They are used to keep out the oddities like myself, though rare is the person who knows they are gatekeeping. On the surface these words function to stall the approaching stranger. They allow time to evaluate for compatibility of thought.
I used to base friendship on the common ground of shared ideas, too. I dreamed that everyone could simply fill out questionnaires to eliminate all the awkward small-talk it takes to friend-date. The eHarmony of becoming friends with strangers:
Question 4: Fill in the blank appropriately, “You can’t take the ______ from me.”
Question 27: How passionately would you agree or disagree with this statement, “My second amendment rights are my favorite thing about being an American cuz reasons”?
Question 33: What is the chief end of humankind?
Question 108: Which Hogwarts house do you identify with? Game of Thrones family? Faction?
I loved questionnaires before Buzzfeed realized they were cool, but I have to admit this particular questionnaire’s fallibility. Despite the indisputable brilliance and objectivity behind all questions I’ve created, the answers would screen some of my best friends. Those who identify as not-Lannister or Hufflepuff are disconcerting (nice people are weird), but they also bring donuts to social gatherings.
If I only accepted snarky bastardizations of the Westminster catechism, as the answer key suggests, many of my friends would get Question 33 incorrect.
It turns out that if friendship is based on common ground, it is literal ground shared that makes more of a difference than shared ideas. Friendship begins and ends with shared space. Being in the same place at the same time as someone else is the foundation of friendship. Dorm rooms. Bus rides. Church basements and detention. An office. A bar.
It’s hard to just be with people. Sharing your space with someone is scary and intrusive. You get to know one another “too” well, sharing farts and apartment keys. Friendship means physical and emotional (and olfactory) vulnerability.
Most of the twenty-somethings I know have a diminishing circle of common ground. A marriage partner, two or three friends, and a dog. What space is there for the outsider? Where is it? What words are we using that keep our hearts so small?
Elaine Schnabel (’11) spent her twenties traveling, blogging, and earning various master’s degrees. Now earning her PhD at the University of North Carolina in organizational communication, Elaine researches and writes at the intersection of religion and communication. You can find her blogging at Religious (Not Crazy).