On building meaningful relationships with fast friends.
Several years ago, someone close to me called me a “friend collector.”
At first, I was kind of taken aback, almost insulted. Was I the type of person that was just amassing relationships as a kind of social game? I didn't think so, but it took a while to understand the context of this phrase and why I love making friends.
It's important to first start with the word "friend." The word has varied meanings among different people, communities, and cultures. In Russian, there is an old saying: “Instead of having 100 rubles, better have 100 friends.” To some, they have a few friends and the rest of the world are strangers. Others add layers, inclusive of acquaintances, best friends, friends with benefits, peers, colleagues, strangers, and enemies. Some are only friends with their family, and the external world is foreign.
I have a fundamental approach to life that puts a premium on relationships; building them, nurturing them, evaluating them, and expanding them. To me, the word “friend” is rather broad, and extends from my wife (who I’d consider my best friend) to the guy who cleans our pool, who I’ve built a relationship with over the years. Why go through life interacting with people, and not going beyond the surface? Everyone you run into daily has their own life, purpose, experiences, and perspective. A chance interaction might be an opportunity to learn something new, to help someone through a challenging moment, or just to brighten someone’s day.
My life experience is exponentially enriched by my friends, and exploring a deeper relationship with those I consider acquaintances. Take Mike for example - a chance Uber ride with Mike led to a now multi-year friendship. Mike picked me up for a typical Uber ride one afternoon in his shiny, new BMW M4. That gave me pause, but when he suggested I hop in the front seat, I knew this ride would be different.
Me: “So what’s the deal, man - I gotta know.”
Mike: (laughs). “I work as a general manager at the Apple Store, and this is an easy way to make a few bucks and meet some new people on my days off.”
Mike was in it for the fun and connections, not the money. A chance meeting with him resulted in a long-time friendship and someone I’ve learned a lot from. [I also took up Uber driving for a few weeks myself, including one New Year's Eve where I drove Scott Disick to and from some private party].
It was around this time that I started to change my perception of friend collecting. I recognized how much I enjoyed meeting and learning from new people, and that this passion was more of an asset than a liability. I actively sought out acquaintances, random connections, and old friends, in an effort to deepen the relationship over breakfast or lunch. I began hosting “Monday Dinners” - a private gathering of my own friends' connections, so they could meet one another and build their own bridges. I found that not only did I get high on making new connections, but equally from watching others make those same bonds.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time honing my friend collecting skills. Here are a few tricks I use to make fast friends:
Be honest and transparent quickly. The standard response to “How are you” is usually “fine” or “great.” But what if you’re not fine? Be forthright about how you feel. “I’m not doing great today. I had to take my dog to the vet last night at 1 am, and he’s not doing well.” This sparks a different conversation, and in this case, would likely draw empathy rather than just a plain greeting.
Ask specific questions. The only way to learn about someone is to be interested in them. “What kind of dog do you have? How old is he/she? What does the vet think is wrong? What’s the prognosis.” Digging deeper into the conversation to get to know what’s important to your new connection. I also try to avoid the usual conversation starters and instead start with an icebreaker. These are great for larger gatherings and meetings.
LISTEN. An ancient art form that’s been lost over time. The art of listening (and not listening to respond) is the most important factor in developing relationships. Can you recall the last time you truly felt heard? Felt good right? Remembering that unique detail about a person, a specific need they might have, or an opportunity the engage from something you hear. Listen carefully, repeat what you hear, and make sure you have a clear understanding of your new friend.
Keep in touch, with intention. A quick text message, email, or note on social media can reinforce a new connection. “How’s your dog feeling?” Oftentimes, I’ll randomly text friends of mine when I see or hear something that reminds me of them. It could be an old photo I find scrolling my phone, an article that reminds me of a previous conversation, or a conversation with another friend that draws a parallel interest.
Share your friends. Connecting your friends to one another simply because of shared interests is a powerful act. It shows both people you’ve actively listening to them, and serving as an extension of their lives to help them achieve their wants, needs, goals, or desires. We’re tempted to silo our friends to specific groups, but there’s no reason not to cross-pollinate based on common interests, careers, family dynamics, or even just because you feel two people should be connected.
In retrospect, friend collector, albeit crude, is part of my identity. Finding creative ways to engage with new acquaintances has enriched my life in immeasurable ways.
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