I have an old friend from high school who seems a bit enamored with me. He regularly directs social media posts at me, calls or texts at random with off the wall questions, and makes a point of talking up his life to me on a regular basis.
The strange thing is, the relationship isn’t reciprocal. I don’t return the gesture. I don’t show an interest in being his friend. Not that I dislike him, I simply don’t see that we have much in common.
The Cool Friends
In the past, I have been this person, trying to befriend people who seem to have little interest in me. Usually I perceived them as cooler as or more successful than me and I wanted to be the same too.
A great example is a couple from the gym. The wife is a stay at home mom like my wife, the husband works in IT like I do. They have three daughters, my wife and I have two. A couples friendship dream come true, right?
We’ve hung out a few times, went to a few parties together or had dinners here and there, but the friendship just never really progressed despite my expressed efforts. Initially I found it frustrating, but then realized, who cares? Why do I bother?
It is because I perceive them as cool and I want to be cool too. Am I worried they think I’m uncool? I’m 31 years old with two kids and a demanding career! Why do I care? I shouldn’t.
One-Uppers and Perceived Inequality
Next there are the one uppers. I’ve had friends who always seem to feel the need to ‘one-up’ you and others who’ve parted ways as I or they have progressed upward in life. In these cases, it always seems like the friendship falls apart due to a perception of inequality regardless of how real this perception actually is. But perhaps perception is reality and the inequality is very real- at least in our minds.
I’ve been this person before. I’m not naturally an envious or jealous person and never been one to keep up with the Joneses, but sometimes I do feel inadequate and come down hard on myself for other reasons.
As you mature, you come to realize this is foolish but it can be a difficult hurdle to leap over. Most of us never do quite mature and live with this idea for a lifetime. Some of never get past the issue of being a one-upper or that sense of inequality. Perhaps others simply feel like we have to be top dog in our relationships.
Life as a Lego Castle
One year for Christmas I woke up to a giant medieval castle Lego kit. I ripped open the box to disappointment. Inside were thousands of little blocks (I was about six at the time and didn’t realize this is how Legos work).
I was disappointed because I wanted a badass castle to play with, complete with moat and drawbridge! I wasn’t interested in piecing together a billion little blocks to build it.
My mom got down in the floor with me and helped me build the castle, encouraging me along the way. As a result, I learned about how every aspect of that castle worked. I paid extra attention to the mechanics of the various moving parts, knew the place where everything went, etc.
In life, do the opposite. It is already built up around us. So break it down the same way you would build up a Lego castle, block by block.
You will not only learn more about yourself, but the motives and nature of others around you. Everyone has a motive for everything they do, and they’re usually easy to identify. I am going to start exploring many ideas in a similar way over the coming months.
Think about how different your friendships are once you really break down the motives for why the relationships exist at all.