[Rant/Disc/maybe adv] Social Frustration

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Post by Werel on Thu Aug 13, 2015 11:12 pm

AstralDazzle wrote:international student groups and campus housing (including facilitating multicultural friendships among men from the host/campus country)

Very much seconding this suggestion-- I see a lot of friendships (including between men) formed at campus international student stuff. Which fits the pattern of where I see a lot of emotionally intimate relationships developed between adults (i.e. college age or older): in high-stress, somewhat isolated circumstances where people are thrown together in a group and forced to spend time together. Grad school is a huge one--my first week of my PhD, I found a girl in my cohort sobbing in a stairwell. "You okay? You want to get some coffee?" led to her spending the next couple hours telling me all about her impending breakup (and this was the first time we ever really interacted). That's a super extreme example, but emotional-openness friendships can form pretty quickly in grad school, expat communities, military bases, and other clusterfuck-y high-stress scenarios, especially when people have recently moved there. International student centers have a similar vibe: "aaaahhh we're all far from home and stressed and don't know anyone WILL YOU BE MY CLOSE FRIEND??"

Plus, there's the advantage of getting to interact with men from non-American cultures who might be a little more open to emotional and physical intimacy with male friends. (Side anecdote: I had a Burmese friend who sometimes lamented that he was physically lonely in the US-- at home, it was the norm for male friends to walk around arm in arm, hug, put their arms around each other's shoulders, etc. Which is why I'd seriously recommend international student events to dudes like you, Wisp, who enjoy the idea of platonic physical affection.)

As far as the process of making close friends, my experience is mostly that one party being interested enough to pursue pretty hard has the highest success rate. It's frightening and risky to open up to people, which means it doesn't happen often unless someone takes the high-risk plunge of saying "I like you a lot. Let's be Real Friends."

In the case of me and my best friend: when I started college, I took a liking right away to the dude GMing my RIFTS game, and after a couple months of being one of his players I started inviting him to hang out one-on-one. Just small shit-- you wanna go to the dining hall/the bookstore/a walk in the snow/the arcade? He passed on a few invitations at first, but I kept at it because I had pegged him as My People. By the end of the school year, we were pals who hung out maybe once or twice a week. By the end of my sophomore year we were joined-at-the-hip besties with full Heavy Emotional Intimacy/Support privileges. Note that even between two people who hit it off pretty fast and are both hella into earnest emotional honesty, the zero-to-close-friends process took more than a year-- it takes time for that stuff.

Another example would be a friend who pursued me hard a few years later-- I started volunteering at the nonprofit where she worked, and after a boozy Christmas party hangout, she launched a full barrage of LET'S BE FRIENDS sentiments at me. Lots of invitations to one-on-one and group stuff, lots of earnestness. She let me know she was down for emotional intimacy by being totally up front about it, which is a type of blunt charm effective on me. She would straight up say things like "[name], you are so cool I just want to, like, get high with you and drink gourmet juice and talk about our BIGGEST FEARS." Which we did, pretty often, until we both moved to faraway cities.

Common thread there is that one person in the friendship was willing to take the risk of saying "hey, I would like emotional intimacy with you specifically because I think we are compatible." It's a tough thing to signal in a way that'll appeal to the person you're talking to--some people like it when somebody Just Fucking Says It, some people require a slower/more subtle approach, some people just do not want that kind of friendship. It takes luck to find the right two people for a really tight friendship, just like it does with relationships. But it's possible, and in my experience it's easier if somebody just spits it out.
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Post by The Wisp on Fri Aug 14, 2015 5:14 pm

Thank you for the detailed responses everybody!

AstralDazzle wrote:From what I have observed, either through participating or knowing people who did, the following types of groups have led to the deeper-sharing opportunities which fuel good friendships among men: international student groups and campus housing (including facilitating multicultural friendships among men from the host/campus country), meditation groups, humanist groups, and bands.

That's encouraging to hear as one of the clubs I'm going to be trying is a meditation and yoga club, so hopefully that will be a good environment to make deeper connections.

eselle28 wrote:Once we got into the beta, we shifted to instead spending most evenings in a group that talked mostly about the game. We figured out we were actually kind of incompatible as fellow players and got along much better as game critics. We kept on with things until our big group got frustrated with or bored of game and splintered.

And then, because we had each other's phone numbers for arranging raids, we started calling each other. We sometimes still play other games in small groups with his wife, his bestie, and another dude we're both friends with from the old group, but we also go six months or so with no common game. When we're not gaming, our usual pattern is that we'll maybe have a couple of 45 minute phone calls a month when he's driving and I'm making dinner where we bitch about life, one 4-6 hour one where we get off on some tangent and talk until one of has to go to bed, and the occasional crisis call where one person talks the other down and/or affirms the righteousness of their upsetness.

reboot wrote:He came, we hung out, hit it off, and then started inviting each other and friends to events. After a while we started doing stuff 1:1, first if we had no friends who wanted to come, then because we liked hanging out 1:1.
I think the first personal conversations we had were me griping about having to work two jobs to pay for school and my fears that the changed residency requirement was going to make me an out-of-state student, which would mean I would have to drop out. He helped me out by finding fraternity brothers that had taken my classes who would let me borrow their books for a semester before reselling. He first opened up to me about some dating/sex issues, not in a super intimate way, more "Fuck, we just had sex once and she keeps calling" kind of way. Over time, as in the rest of college we got more intimate. Then email became common, so when we both went to grad school back east it was easy to stay in touch and we were able to see each other occasionally since we were NY and Philadelphia. After that, we met up whenever we were in the same city or planned vacations together.

Werel wrote:In the case of me and my best friend: when I started college, I took a liking right away to the dude GMing my RIFTS game, and after a couple months of being one of his players I started inviting him to hang out one-on-one. Just small shit-- you wanna go to the dining hall/the bookstore/a walk in the snow/the arcade? He passed on a few invitations at first, but I kept at it because I had pegged him as My People. By the end of the school year, we were pals who hung out maybe once or twice a week. By the end of my sophomore year we were joined-at-the-hip besties with full Heavy Emotional Intimacy/Support privileges. Note that even between two people who hit it off pretty fast and are both hella into earnest emotional honesty, the zero-to-close-friends process took more than a year-- it takes time for that stuff.


Okay, these examples are partially helpful but also partially highlight the part I don't understand. How do you transition from hanging out and talking about normal things to talking about deeper things? And how do you maintain the momentum as you get closer? Is it really, as Werel says, just being persistent and blunt? That seems like a lot of work with a significant risk that you won't get any return.

I've two real shots at close friendships in my brief adult life (one ran its course before I ever showed up here), and both of them had some nice momentum towards more disclosure and more time spent together over three to four month periods, with some increasingly heavy disclosure and intimacy (though no real emotional support, and the disclosure wasn't quite at the deepest hopes/fears/traumas level) only for them to suddenly and inexplicably have that momentum stop and then quickly reverse. I almost feel like I bump into a glass ceiling of closeness which then causes me to fall down a few flight of stairs back to the lower levels. I don't really see many common patterns between these two friendships, except the stalling and then falling backwards in terms of closeness. They never really reached that close friend with full intimacy and support benefits, as Werel describes it.

I'm not giving up on my friendship with A yet, and I recognize he's a busy guy with a pretty active social life and it is summer and so on, but the trajectory isn't what it was three months ago. Maybe I'm letting myself get bummed out a little too prematurely with this specific friendship, we'll see.
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Post by Werel on Sat Aug 15, 2015 2:02 am

The Wisp wrote:How do you transition from hanging out and talking about normal things to talking about deeper things? And how do you maintain the momentum as you get closer? Is it really, as Werel says, just being persistent and blunt? That seems like a lot of work with a significant risk that you won't get any return.
The transition probably looks fairly different for different people. When I think I want to Go There with someone, my primary MO is to ask increasingly in-depth questions about them and their life. You know, escalating slowly over time from "what's your major" to "favorite movies" to "opinions on [issue]" to "when's the last time your heart got broke." Usually people will let you know how There they want to go with their responses; once you're getting very short or deflective answers, you've gone as far as they want to go with you. You can also gauge their investment, and their willingness to Go There with you, by how many reciprocal questions they ask*. Once you're getting substantial answers to questions about fairly personal shit, you're probably at a place where you can dip your toe in the water of asking for/offering small emotional supports. That + time is really the only way I've ever gotten to emotional intimacy (other than in cases like the female friend described who just sledgehammers her way right to it, which, as you said, can be a lot of work for a low probability of reward, and can also be off-putting to a lot of folks).

Momentum is... well, in my experience, momentum only keeps building between people who are pretty damn compatible in the first place. That drag or fall-off is the norm, and just says "huh, okay, our relationship has reached the highest level I'd like it to reach" on one party's side. It's strong mutual liking that sustains momentum all the way to Intimacy Town, I think, rather than anything you can do beyond continuing to have enjoyable interactions with the person. But I don't know; interpersonal momentum is a pretty challenging thing to inspect closely enough to really get how it works. I'll chew it over, maybe I'll think of something more insightful. Razz

*Some people are just not big question-askers, no matter how much they like someone; they might show their investment in other ways, but you gotta look harder for signs that they actually reciprocate your interest
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Post by The Wisp on Sat Aug 15, 2015 2:38 am

Thanks, Werel. The first paragraph makes a lot of sense to me.

As for momentum, well, I guess I'm not really surprised by that. Maybe A and I aren't as compatible as is necessary Neutral. I think I've been realizing that there are two sides of his personality: the philosophical, politically and morally ambivalent person who joined a Buddhist monastery briefly out of high school, and the bleeding-heart lefty activist (though a nicer version than some of the others Razz) who likes all of Bernie Sanders' posts on Facebook and devotes significant time to an activist organization. We strongly relate over the first half, but have little in common in the other. I think the second half of his personality has become more dominant recently. I think he tried to integrate me into his broader social group that includes mostly people who relate to the latter half of his personality at those parties he invited me to, but that didn't work out, and I think he prioritizes those people, socially.

Maybe we're just going to plateau at friendship level 6-7 out of 10, which is still good and the closest friend I've ever had, but not the max level, full social support and intimacy privileges plus frequent contact that I was hoping for a few months ago.
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Post by AstralDazzle on Sat Aug 15, 2015 2:32 pm

You've identified the disconnect right there. He doesn't have two sides of his personality; he's developed/is exploring political interests over the last few years that differ from yours and what his had been previously. He has probably picked up on the fact that you don't share his new views and don't feel comfortable around his new friends. These are the things he would want to talk more and share about - and he has tried to integrate you into. Because he knows you don't like/approve, and this is so important to him, I'm sure he doesn't feel comfortable opening up any more than he already has.

This happens all the time among people. It can be pretty difficult to have those deep sharing friendships with people who differ from you philosophically, politically, and morally. I have only had one long-term good friend who differs from me in these ways. We have bonded enough through other experiences and similarities that there continues to be ample material for sharing and support regardless. However, had we met later in life, we might not have even started up a conversation with one another, let alone become friends, due to a weird but ugly organizational feud.

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Post by eselle28 on Sat Aug 15, 2015 3:09 pm

This is a pretty common story with friendship. People connect because of similarities, and then the friendship takes its own form as people learn more about each other and the ways their lives do and don't fit with each other. Levels of connection become clearer, as do people's interest in having various forms of friendship.

I do think there's an upside here, though. Friendships in the 9-10 range are fairly rare, and can take time to find and to cultivate. It seems like it's mostly been this last year that you've been focused on this, and finding a 6-7 friendship in that time period isn't a terrible result at all. And, while people do tend to focus on the 9-10 friendships (especially introverted people who aren't inclined to have large groups of friends), medium-level friendships have their benefits as well. They broaden your social network and give you chances to practice being a friend, both of which make it more likely you'll be able to tend to a friendship with someone highly compatible when you do meet them. Also, people sometimes grow apart, but they can also grow closer if events happen that make their lives and needs more similar - or sometimes just because the weight of time produces its own sort of bonding (the last one is probably on a scale too long to seem very comforting, but I do think friends made in one's teens or college years can sometimes pick up a sort of intimacy because they become some of the few people who knew you at that age).
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Post by The Wisp on Sat Aug 15, 2015 11:58 pm

AstralDazzle wrote:This happens all the time among people. It can be pretty difficult to have those deep sharing friendships with people who differ from you philosophically, politically, and morally.

Yeah, this is a good point. I'm not hostile to his beliefs, but I am definitely not and activist in terms of my personality, so we can't really have any substantial conversations about these things. This is also why I had a hard time relating to his friends.

I also think it's not so much that he changed his overall views, now that I think about it, but maybe that initially we talked about the things we had in common that drew us together initially, and then as we interacted more I got a more holistic picture of him (and him of me).

eselle28 wrote:This is a pretty common story with friendship. People connect because of similarities, and then the friendship takes its own form as people learn more about each other and the ways their lives do and don't fit with each other. Levels of connection become clearer, as do people's interest in having various forms of friendship.

True. Perhaps this is a case of black and white thinking for me, where if I connect with somebody at more than a superficial level then we should connect at a 9-10 friendship level, which isn't necessarily true.

eselle28 wrote:I do think there's an upside here, though. Friendships in the 9-10 range are fairly rare, and can take time to find and to cultivate. It seems like it's mostly been this last year that you've been focused on this, and finding a 6-7 friendship in that time period isn't a terrible result at all. And, while people do tend to focus on the 9-10 friendships (especially introverted people who aren't inclined to have large groups of friends), medium-level friendships have their benefits as well. They broaden your social network and give you chances to practice being a friend, both of which make it more likely you'll be able to tend to a friendship with someone highly compatible when you do meet them.

That is a good way to look at it. One thing I appreciate about this friendship is that I have learned a lot about how to be a friend to somebody, in many ways, and also (through observing how he pursued me and how our friendship developed) how to get from the lower levels of friendship to the mid-levels.

I suppose it is a good sign that I was able to from such a friendship, and though I was trying in the past year, I definitely haven't done as much as I could. I'm definitely looking to meet more people this coming semester and have concrete plans to do so, so that should up my odds at finding one of those elusive high-level friendships (and it will be valuable practice, even if those friendships don't materialize).

ETA: So, I guess the takeaway is that I didn't really do anything wrong, but rather that it's just an issue of levels of compatibility and that if I behaved similarly with a person I was more compatible with than we would have reached that 9-10 level. The stalling reflects a natural stabilization of the friendship based on our personalities more than anything else. That's actually comforting.
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