It never fails. Whenever I’ve started something new and so become part of a new group of people, I always marvel at how some people find a buddy right away and within a day or two (or sometimes hours) they are inseparable. These newly minted best friends eat together, do orientation together, go out together — they may even choose to live together! These pairings don’t always last, of course. But while they endure they are absolute; neither party will act without the other.
That’s never really been my style. Although there are some things that come easily to me, integrating quickly into a group is not one of them. I integrate eventually but until that happens I’m feeling people out, assessing possibilities and, truth be told, constantly auditioning for whomever it is I happen to be talking to. There’s always the possibility that they will decide to make me their buddy, right? Really, though, I’m content with my socializing style. It works for me.
The exception to the slow integration rule, for me, is when I find myself in a situation in which I have a skill which is valued by the other people in that group. I’ve found that this tends to be an instant free entry ticket into the group. Everyone’s friendly and solicitous. You’re prominent and people know who you are. But, to me, that doesn’t feel very good. It doesn’t feel very good because you know that when someone is into you because of what you know or what you can do, that friendship has shallow roots indeed. If you stop being useful, the roots will wither and the friendship won’t bloom. As a somewhat smart person, I’ve been in friendships where the appeal for the other person is the intellectual companionship that I provide. In effect, the brain is commodified. If I could no longer provide conversation, information or input, we would no longer have a relationship. That’s not cool.
The other reason this scenario doesn’t feel very good to me is because it devalues people who don’t have much to offer in a given situation. The attention given to the talented or knowledgeable person highlights their lack of attention. There are some people who maybe don’t have many concrete things to offer. They may not be funny, smart, athletic or charismatic. Don’t they still deserve a instant membership in the in-crowd? But if everyone were in the in-crowd it would, by definition, not be the in-crowd anymore, right?
Well, what can I say? It’s late (by my standards) and I’m a little more openly introspective than usual. I had an experience today that made me reflect on how friendly people become when you’re good at something in a way that attracts them or that they can benefit from. I do it too. And I don’t think people do it consciously, most of the time. But it’s kind of a bummer that, in many relationships and many groups, utility = affinity. I think it will be quite the experience in Heaven when this ceases to be the case and some of the people who just never seemed very desirable here and now prove to have much worth in God’s eyes. The first will be last, dontcha know.