What makes a friend?

Being an uprooted citizen of the world has many benefits, but one of the inevitable consequences is the making of new friendships in new places. Some people like the challenge, some dread it; it is easier when we are children, and harder with age.

The modern technology makes it possible to keep the existing friendship going, what with the skype video calls and free messaging on smartphones. The real puzzle though is how do we make new friends? Because eventually, after moving to a new place, we end up with a new social circle one way or another. So the question is, what makes new relationships stick?

I am reading a book by Guy Kawasaki currently, and came across a perspective that challenged some of my preconceived notions:

Are the people you like the ones you see all the time? May be there is something else going on. Maybe the fact that you see them often is the reason you’ve come to like them. Close proximity and frequent contact mean you interact with them more, and your relationship can more easily progress from acquaintance to friend because of casual and spontaneous encounters. In other words, presence makes the heart grow fonder”

It seems to imply that our life is much more driven by circumstances than what we consider our own free will and choice. Looking back on my own experience, I have to largely agree. Our best childhood friends are often those who lived next door to us or sat at the next desk at school; our friends from uni are the ones we took the same classes with. And at work it’s the people you have common projects with, or your immediate team, or the ones in the next cubicle who end up becoming friends.

The Brafman brothers, in their book “Click: The Magic of Instant connections”, sum up the principle this way: “… the single most important factor in determining whether or not you connect with another person is neither personality nor mutual interests – it is simple proximity”

It’s a bit confronting, right: we are used to thinking that we control the choice of relationships in our life – “friends are the family you choose” – and instead it could be a random occurrence.

Which sometimes is the beauty of it… And of course, we still choose whether we want to really get to know the people who get thrown our way by circumstances.

The quotes above really got me thinking; and that thinking led to two conclusions:

1) In new (and actually also existing) environments, make an effort to get to know the people you encounter in everyday life – it’s the easiest and most natural way to build relationships. Have a lunch with your work colleague, have an extra coffee catch-up with that acquaintance you like – it might be “the beginning of a beautiful friendship” as Casablanca’s Rick Blaine says.

2) Take the time to maintain the ‘proximity’ with people who already matter to you the most. Being it a regular skype call, or a random message to your friend, an overseas little parcel or a holiday together; whatever it is that allows you to keep having common new experiences. It’s the doing something together, and living through something together, that makes the bond stronger.

We might be connected by chance, but we remain friends by choice…