I have been thinking a bit about friendship, and there's an essay or a more detailed post rattling around in here that I haven't had a chance to sit down and think through. Instead here are some scraps that are on my mind.
You can't say the following things out loud:
I have too many friends.
I like you enough to be an acquaintance, but not to be a friend.
I was really enthusiastic about you, but the more I get to know you, the less I like you.
You want to be my friend more than I want to be your friend.
I don't mind listening to your secrets, but I won't tell you mine.
I like seeing you in groups but I don't want to do anything one-on-one.
I'm probably a terrible person, but I've felt all of those things before, and I haven't known what to do. Because I don't think you're allowed to say those things, even if you think them. And any asymmetry in friendships, one person liking the other more or wanting to spend more time or be closer than the other one does, that can't be acknowledged, because it makes things feel lousy. It makes one person feel like a loser and the other person feel like a jerk. But relationships are asymmetrical all the time. You just have to pretend that they aren't. It's very confusing to me. I want to be honest in my relationships but we gloss over the asymmetries and doubts of friendship all the time.
I think I have a carrying capacity of about 8 good friends. I don't know if that's the right number, but it seems like it. Maybe that's high. Maybe it's really about 6. That's the number of people I can really feel close to, connected to what they're doing and thinking and worrying about, and articulate about me and where I'm at. So at any one time I am really only close to about 6 people. But which 6 changes, depending on the season or what's going on in their lives or just the happenstance of how I'm directing my time. I'm not very mindful about it. And the truth is there are more than 6 people who I like and trust and care deeply about. But I don't know how to connect meaningfully with more people than that at once. So if I shift my attention to someone I end up neglecting another relationship.
I'm finally starting to acknowledge that I can't be good friends with as many people as I want to.
I don't know what to do about that, really. Maybe everyone does this but I spent my teens and twenties learning who I clicked with, how to identify and get closer to people I really enjoy, how to find common ground and how to approach intimacy. I learned that if you meet someone you find compelling you move along a path toward greater friendship, more time together, more shared experiences and conversational depth. I still meet new people that I like a lot and by habit as well as genuine interest I start moving along that path. But I'm starting to realize that if I get there it means I have to kick out one of the six or eight people who are already in the inner circle, or the cluster of 12 or so just outside of that.
While writing this I feel like it is insufferable, like it's a whine about something you're not allowed to whine about. I am so lucky that I've found so many good people in my life. Of all the gifts in my life I think the gift I got in the greatest abundance is friendship. I make friends, all over, without having to worry about it. And the friends I make last and deepen. I know this is really lucky. I know people struggle with this, and are lonely, and have barriers that are hard to get past. So I feel like I can't write about what it feels like to realize in some ways I'm a clumsy friend. I am still grabby and eager. My reach exceeds my grasp. I am curious about people and interested and excited but I can't pursue every friendship. If I do it turns out to be irresponsible, because I can't really follow through, without dropping someone else. It's lousy. I need to change my approach to people, and the way I think about friendships. I've always thought, "more is better" and "closer is better" but the truth is more complicated about that.
More on this later. There's an essay I was reading, about social networking technologies and how they make the "transactions" of friendships explicit and in the process can actually damage friendships, that I have some thoughts about. It's percolating.