2 AM Friends

“I haven’t talked to Joe in years, but I know that if I were stranded and called him, he’d drop everything and come pick me up.”

I hear that a lot. It’s great to have friends who will bail you out of a tough situation, who’ll always answer your call at 2 AM, who will fly around the world to help you in an emergency. Even if you haven’t spoken to them in a long, long time.

These “2 AM friends,” as I refer to them, tend to be old childhood buddies, old roommates, or family friends who, for whatever reason, you no longer talk to or see often. There’s nevertheless real closeness and unbreakable trust. They play a similar role as family. I have a couple 2 AM friends.

But 2 AM friends, for all the joy and help they provide in times of need, do not nourish or invigorate my day to day life, almost by definition, as I’m not talking to them on a week to week or month to month basis. Sure, there’s some abstract sense of meaning I get from reflecting on my relationship with them, but it’s just that — abstract. And, sadly, that feeling weakens with every passing day.

I’m a big believer in staying in touch with people (via email, phone, in-person visits) to keep up relationships. I’ve always been mildly skeptical of the phrase “we pick up right where we left off.” If months and months of time have passed without any real communication, and if you or the friend are living reasonably dynamic lives, it’s going to take awhile to re-sync emotionally and intellectually. Even if there’s a lot of shared history in the past.

It takes a heck of a lot of time and energy to keep up with friends, of course. Time and money beyond just ‘liking’ social media updates. Joys and frustrations. All to be done in a culture where there are no broadly accepted social norms about how to “do” friendship. In the world of romance, there are a million and a half articles and guideposts for how to date, how long to wait before you call, what you should expect two years into a relationship, and so on. In the friendship maintenance department, there’s basically nothing. As Andrew Sullivan put it, it takes no work to fall in love. It takes real work to rise to a real and lasting friendship.

Some people’s lot in life is so unlucky that they haven’t been able to keep up with anyone — they have no one to list as an emergency contact number on a medical form.

Other people are fortunate enough to have that 2 AM friend to list, but then few other people with whom they share their day to day, week to week, month to month journey. If the emergency contact person isn’t the same as the day to day friend, and frequently they’re not, then this is the scenario I’m interested in: how can we appreciate the unique joys of a friend who’s part of our lives as our lives unfold? How can we work to strengthen those bonds and not fall back on solely the 2 AM friends?

In Empire Falls, there’s this line by Richard Russo which has stuck with me: ”One of the odd things about middle age was the strange decisions a man discovers he’s made by not really making them, like allowing friends to drift away through simple neglect.”

Why Older People Fire Friends More Aggressively

Younger people tend to maintain cliques of friends. Their social networks are interconnected — their friends know each other.

Older people tend to maintain bilateral friendships. Cliques are harder as people spread out and get busy and enter different stages of life. Time for friends shrinks as kids are born and work gets busy. You get choosy and confront logistical realities. The result? More 1:1 meals and double date outings; fewer group trips to Spring Training or Vegas.

In the past few years, I’ve seen several older people in my life fire friends — explicitly end a non-romantic relationship with another person, sometimes a person they’ve known for quite some time, over an argument that spiraled out of control. Cold turkey. Not a slow fade, not a shift from ally to light acquaintance — actual outright, silent hostility.

I’ve been puzzled by this trend. You lose friends as you get older, and friends are key to happiness and well-being, and it’s harder to make friends when older…so why wouldn’t a 50 year old be flexible during disagreements so as to hold on to every friendship he or she has?

Here’s one theory: When your social network is interconnected, as when you’re young, the consequences of firing a friend are broader than just that one friendship. You might rupture the clique. You might lose the person you have an argument with and some of that person’s friends who picked him instead of you. So you have an incentive to be on at least speaking terms with everyone. You bury the hatchet and don’t let a bilateral interpersonal issue spiral out of the control, lest you lose more than just that one friend.

By contrast, when your social network is less dense, when your friendships are more bilateral in nature, you are emboldened to end things with a friend who pisses you off as you rightfully believe that it won’t have a ripple effect in your other relationships. It’s still generally unwise, probably, but there’s a rationale that your action is contained.

A completely alternative theory is that with age we become more stubborn, more set in our ways, and more “brittle” in terms of our worldview — and so any violation, even a slight one that may have simply peeved our younger selves, sets us off so much that it results in cold turkey hostility.

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Here’s my older post on How Friendships Evolve Over Time and the Quest for Platonic Intimacy. Here are my other posts on friendship.

Relationships Matter, A Never-Ending Series

Reid’s latest post on LinkedIn is another excerpt from The Start-Up of You titled “Why Relationships Matter: I-to-the-We.” It’s an excellent high level summary (if I may say so myself!) on why relationships matter in a professional context.

But relationships matter for reasons beyond finding a kick-ass career. For example: Friends keep you alive. Several studies have shown that, all else equal, you have a better chance of beating a disease if you enjoy the support of friends.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco looked at the survival rates among women diagnosed with breast cancer. They found that women without ten or more friends were four times as likely to die during the test period than those with the close friends. Another study in Australia showed that those with many friendships live longer and healthier than those without similar social networks.

For those of us not dying from cancer, friends do more than just keep us health they make us happy. In recent years, psychologists and gurus have paraded onto morning talk shows bearing myriad theories of happiness. Their talking points vary, but they agree on one thing: human relationships, especially good friends, are the leading predictor of a happy existence.

They matter so much that you’d be wise to value these relationships over near any level of professional achievement. “…[O]ne of the key findings,” David Brooks once concluded in a column summarizing studies of well-being, “is that, just as the old sages predicted, worldly success has shallow roots while interpersonal bonds permeate through and through.”

Faith, Community, and Friendship

Chris Yeh wrote a phenomenal post over the summer titled Faith, Community, Friendship, and Imperfection.

He opens by reminding readers of an idea the two of us have kicked around for years: forming a secular church. Then he shares two beliefs of his that may seem puzzling when juxtaposed: he is not religious, but many of the people he most admires are.

First he explains what emotional void Mr. Rogers filled for his viewers:

Mr. Rogers made a difference because he pursued intimacy with people; he made them feel safe enough to open up about their failings and fears. Whatever the issue in your life, he felt that you should speak openly about it. And once people did open up, he showered them with unconditional love.

He didn’t absolve them; while we crave absolution, we know ourselves too well for absolution to feel real. His genius was to convey a simple, yet powerful message. “You are struggling. You sometimes fail. But despite those things, I love you, and I am proud of you.”

He then goes on to cite Walter Kirn’s recent piece on Mormonism to get to a larger point about faith and friendship:

Perhaps one of the reasons friendship is so powerful is that it represents the kind of loving acceptance that we crave, yet often do not receive.

I can’t speak for women, but among men, one’s close friends provide the same kind of paradoxical support as Mr. Rogers and the Mormons. My friends know my various flaws, and are quick to point them out. Much of male bonding consists of busting one another’s asses with friendly insults and embarrassing stories. Yet underlying it all is a sense of acceptance and brotherhood. The unspoken message is simple: “You’re a fuckup, but I love you anyways. Let’s grab a beer and hang out. Just don’t sleep with my sister.”

When Robert Putnam wrote “Bowling Alone,” he argued that the decay in community institutions (such as bowling leagues) was isolating people and making them angrier and less empathetic. Yet while his concept of declining social capital is a powerful one, I always had problems with finding solutions to the challenge.

I don’t think we can turn back the clock to an age where people lived their entire lives in a small town, and attended Rotary Club meetings every week. Putnam thinks that the entry of women into the workplace contributed to these changes; I doubt many of us want to go back to 1950s chauvinism.

But when I consider “Bowling Alone” in the context of faith, community, and friendship, I think I start to see a different solution.

Ultimately, the institutions of the past were imperfect. I don’t belong to any fraternal institutions because I find them kind of weird and creepy. But we can’t let our desire to avoid imperfection keep us from building meaningful bonds.

I think we all have a need to be known, really and truly, and then accepted for what we are. Call it love. Call it friendship. Whatever it its, we need it.

I think we all have a need for community–repeated, unplanned interactions with a group of people that accept us–even if the pieces fit together imperfectly.

I think that religious organizations like the Mormon Church, wittingly or unwittingly, have built a culture around meeting both of these needs. And in doing so, they provide great benefits to their adherents, regardless what’s in their theology.

If you are known, accepted, and loved by a community of people, no matter who those people are, I think you have something special that you should hang on to.

It’s a topic I think about constantly, and Chris captured it beautifully. I’m grateful to have him in my community of friends.

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One small nit with the well-circulated NYT piece on how it’s harder to form friends when older: I’m not convinced “unplanned interactions” is a litmus test for a good friendship, or even a necessary ingredient.

Different Messages From Different Women

A couple hours before I went off the grid and headed to the 10 day silent meditation course, I spoke to my mom and to my girlfriend, who knew about my anxieties / doubts. They each proactively, independently told me the following.

Mom: “If it’s not working out, it’s okay to come back early.”

Gf: “Be brave. Don’t come home early.”

Both are important thematic messages to hear in life from people close to you–strive forward and take risk, but we’ll support you if you fall.

It seems just too right that I encountered this zen balance in advice right before leaving for a meditation course…

If You Could Be Brutally Honest With Your SO, What Would You Say?

Rely on Reddit for such a stimulating and often funny thread: If you could be brutally honest with your SO what would you say?

A rather serious entry has one person confessing that s/he would say:

You don’t love me as much as I love you, and every time you say those three little words, it breaks my heart.

To which a commenter wisely replies:

One always loves more than the other, and it always hurts. The gap in that love is proportional to the pain it causes. In a healthy relationship, the gap is small and easy to forget. But for the rest, it is a measure of the inevitable end, and a source of power for the one who loves least.

Other samples below and 700+ on the actual page.

# I don’t like a lot of your friends… They are tools. I agree to hang out with them because I know it makes you happy.

# When I suggest you pick where we go to eat, I really mean it . . . like seriously . . . really. . . please just choose a place

# For fucksake woman just watch the movie. I see the same things you do so stop asking if I saw that or ask for an explanation on something in crowded theaters, it’s embarrassing.

# Quit typing ‘lols’ when you IM me about something funny, adding that s makes you seem royally retarded.

# I love you. But you are soooo dumb. So dumb.

# we need to lose weight.

# I wish you would take less time complaining, and more time inquiring about my troubles. I deal with obsessive thoughts and high anxiety, and your trivial, dramatic complaints almost doubles my anxiety. I wish you enjoyed sex more, and I wish you wanted it more often. I wish you were more confident in bed, and took charge more often. I also wish you would stick up for yourself. Most of the things you complain about could be solved by just fucking communicating like a human being…

# Just put the fucking keys in the key bowl when you’re done with them, instead of leaving them in random locations throughout the house. I have enough problem getting the kids out the door without having to go on a treasure hunt for the damn keys every day as well.

# I don’t want to be the one who “lights up your life”. You’ve been feeling down lately, and all I want to do is sit in the darkness along side you until you’re ready to come into the light again. Oh, and you eat ice cream abnormally loudly. It annoys me sometimes.

# If he actually showed serous interest in me, I’d leave you in a heartbeat. I’m sorry.

Hat tip to Chris’s delicious feed, which I’m still following, after all these years. I am myself, by the way, still posting links to Delicious. 8,000 and counting…

Fortune Excerpt on Networks and Relationships

This week’s Fortune magazine contains two articles of note! The first is a lengthy excerpt from The Start-Up of You. The second is a brief profile/introduction of Reid.

The brief profile ends by mentioning the book:

In 2009, Hoffman joined venture firm Greylock, where he runs a seed fund and helps manage a portfolio of nearly 100 companies, including Groupon (GRPN), Tumblr, and AirBnb. With LinkedIn’s IPO and other investments, Hoffman is worth some $1.5 billion. Now comes his book, The Start-Up of You, in which he shares tips on building a great career. Paramount among them: being an authentic networker. After all, Hoffman has 800 Facebook friends and 2,579 LinkedIn connections, and sits on six corporate and four nonprofit boards. At meetings he spreads out no fewer than five screens — iPads, Androids — to keep up with contacts. That skill has helped Hoffman recruit to Greylock such web stars as former Mozilla CEO John Lilly. Hoffman now believes that the defining principle of the web’s next innovation cycle is data. “We are generating a massive amount,” he says. “What are we inventing?” It’s one of the first questions he asks everyone he meets. The other: “How can I help you?”

The funny thing is, “authentic networker” is oxymoronic to some. The cynical view of “networkers” is that they are by definition not very authentic. We prefer the term “relationship-building” and talk more about building “networks.” As it relates to authenticity, there’s also the challenge of trying too hard–obvious attempts at sincerity leave us cold. This made writing about the topic particularly challenging for us: in the very act of writing analytically and prescriptively about how networks work and how you should deploy them in your career, it’s hard not to come off as overly calculating–exactly what we’re saying not to be.

The reality is that unless the process of bonding and allying with others comes off as effortlessly as tying your shoes, which is to say, unless allying and helping really *is* what you want to be doing, the collaborative mind-set will fail, and so, ultimately, will the relationship.

All that being said, check out the excerpt for an introduction to some of the network themes we address in the book. In the full chapter, we go deeper on each of these points, and expand into other topics.

Over the next week or so, I’ll be posting a bit more on networks here on my personal blog, over at the Startup of You blog, and leading discussions in the LinkedIn Group, which I encourage you to join and participate in. The book is about much more than networks, but it is an excellent theme to start with!

Knowing a Man vs. Knowing About a Man

Sportswriter Joe Ponsnaski is in the middle of writing of biography of Joe Paterno. And then last week happens.

On his blog, Ponsaski reflects on the man, and starts with this:

Writing a book comes from the soul. It consumes you — mentally, emotionally, spiritually, all of it. I have thought about Joe Paterno, his strengths, his flaws, his triumphs, his failures, his core, pretty much nonstop for months now. I have talked to hundreds of people about him in all walks of life. I have read 25 or 30 books about him, countless articles. I'm not saying I know Joe Paterno. I'm saying I know a whole lot about him.

Love this distinction.

Editor of Modern Love Column: “Hard Stuff” More Interesting than Romance

Daniel Jones, the editor behind the insanely popular Modern Love column, talks about trends in submissions:

What is the one relationship theme or essay topic that you see over and over?

I see a lot about Facebook.

Really?

That’s got to be the single most written-about topic. It’s just invaded modern life so much that people can’t get away from it. The more surprising thing I see a lot of for a column called “Modern Love” is people being diagnosed with and dying of cancer. It’s gotten to the point where it becomes a red flag, something to avoid. When I’m reading, where I get to that line of “and then he was diagnosed,” or “and she was stage 4,” whatever… It sounds horrible to say it, but, really, there’s just way too much of it.

Have you seen a shift in the trends of the topics you see, from when you first started the column?

In the past year, I got a bunch of stories about people dealing with siblings – or friends, or lovers – who were dealing with going through gender changes and surgeries – like, people whose daughters became sons. That’s not something I saw any of for years. I think the public acceptance of that has shifted, at least in what I see in what people are willing to talk about publicly.

And this on romance vs. the hard stuff:

Do you consider yourself a romantic person?

Umm… I don’t think I’m all that romantic. I think I have romantic dreams about what my life should be, but I’m not getting all excited about Valentine’s Day or anything.

Then, do you think it’s at all ironic that you’re the editor of a column about love?

I think it’s just more about how complicated human relationships are. I pretty much equate romance with naiveté, you know, before “the hard stuff.” And I’m more interested in the hard stuff.

Friends: People Who Have the Same Flaws as Us

Anne Lamott:

A person's faults are largely what make him or her likable. I like for narrators [of novels] to be like the people I choose for friends, which is to say that they have a lot of the same flaws as I. Preoccupation with self is good, as is a tendency toward procrasination, self-delusion, darkness, jealousy, groveling, greediness, addictiveness. They shouldn't be too perfect; perfect means shallow and unreal and fatally uninteresting. I like for them to have a nice sick sense of humor and to be concerned with important things, by which I mean that they are interested in political and psychological and spiritual matters. I want them to know who we are and what life is all about. I like them to be mentally ill in the same sorts of way that I am; for instance, I have a friend who said one day, "I could resent the ocean if I tried," and realized that I love that in a guy. I like for for them to have hope — if a friend or narrator reveals himself or herself to be hopeless too early on, I lose interest. It depresses me. It makes me overeat. I don't mind if a person has no hope if she or she is sufficiently funny about the whole thing, but then, this being able to be funny definitely speaks to a kind of hope, of buoyancy.

That's from her 1995 classic, Bird by Bird.