I was talking with April last night about how I build relationships with people, a conversation that began at my bi-weekly prayer meeting with Jonny and Matt. I’ve met some people lately and thought, “We should be friends,” but I don’t really know how to make that happen. I am not what you might call a naturally charismatic fellow. An easy rapport with others is an enigma to me. But I know some people who seem like they ought to be friends because we have lots of mutual friends as well as mutual interests.
The problem is that I only build friendships in two different ways for 99.9% of the people I know. My friendships are either built over the course of years around a D&D table, or they’re built in the core of a traumatic event. The first method limits itself to a handful of people, and while the second has resulted in a surprising number of good friendships (born out of a need to comfort and support one another), it’s not exactly the happiest way to establish a relationship. To be fair, there is a third method which is stumbling upon someone who is the same brand of weird that I am, but that is exceedingly rare.
As April and I talked about our definitions of “friend” and how we go about building a rapport with someone, she said that our friend Courtney is really the best at this. And what Courtney does is very, very simple: first, she asks people to get together over coffee, and second, she checks in with them regularly to let them know she is thinking about them. We’re pretty sure those are the two practical aspects, but Courtney has some magic as well, which is that she really likes people. Or at least, she makes you feel that she genuinely likes you and is interested in how you are. And she’s also an awesome person that pretty much everyone looks up to, so when she checks in with you, it’s a special blessing. Anytime someone you respect and admire takes the time to ask how you are and they really mean it, that has a positive impact on you and starts to build that rapport, or trust relationship, or friendship.
It almost convinced me to give Facebook another go. Something Courtney does is to comment on people’s Facebook pages and leave them messages letting them know she’s thinking of them.
You know, part of why it’s hard for me to build close relationships is that I’m pretty distant and analytical. Look at those last few paragraphs… I’m essentially sitting here thinking, “What mechanical steps are needed to build a friendship? If I can figure out steps A, B, and C, then I can do that too!”
This really came out in talking with Matt and Jonny last night. Matt observed that there often seems to be a delay between when I hear something and when I react to it. I will often take a long time to think about what I’m going to say before I say it. There is a disconnect, as he put it, between my heart/emotions and my physical actions.
That made sense to me. When I was young, I was often hurt because I said or did the “wrong” thing. I was bullied in school, but for me that wasn’t just name calling and being picked on, it was being beat so hard that I would have concussions, black out, and/or be bleeding more than a little person really ought to be. I learned that the safest things were to be silent and have no facial expression, to cause no offense, and to very carefully judge and plan every word, phrase, and gesture. These are hard habits to break, and I’m not sure they can be.
“Distant” is the word most used to describe me, and a number of people who are close to me tell me that those who are not close to me are often afraid of me. Not because they think I’m going to do anything to them, but because I seem cold, aloof, busy, important, wealthy, or any number of other adjectives that lead someone to think, “I really ought to leave that person alone.” As I type that, I can hear my friend Jennie (one of the 0.1%) telling me that’s absurd because I’m so wonderful, and it’s super-comforting to know I have friends who don’t believe all that stuff. But “distant” is the moniker of choice for most.
As Matt put it, it’s kind of like people are somewhere on a continuum when it comes to interacting with others. There’s distant, then friendly, then really nice and engaged, then hyper-engaged. I’m somewhere just to the left of friendly, not far off but not quite there, and a lot of it has to do with suppressing my emotions and responses to people. I stay blank most of the time. I don’t say a lot. I keep myself distant.
What will it take to move past that wall? I don’t think Facebook is the key for me, and I want to guard my introverted heart and not exhaust it with innumerable coffee dates with people. But I probably do need to start being more deliberate with my prayers in that area. I know that God has been healing me and helping me become a better person for the last eight or nine years in this area, but there’s still a lot of work to do.
And maybe I’ll do the coffee thing. Or just keep blogging and posting on Google+. It’s certainly tempting to just wait and see if someone comes knocking, but that seems unlikely.
It’s too bad the real world can’t be as easy as PAX, where we all have the same interests and similar backgrounds.
In other news, I’m horribly out of practice with blogging. Not knowing how to elegantly end this post, I’m going to opt for a period.