Friendship

Better Humaning

Breaking the Chain of “Maybe”

It's an epidemic. It's coming for your social life. But there is a vaccine.

There’s a modern scourge upon us, and every get-together, plan, and social event is vulnerable.

I don’t know when it started, who’s to blame, or if it can be defeated, but I’ve begun vaccinating myself against it. And if you or your social circle have caught a case of the Maybes, or you want to prevent an outbreak, here’s what you can do.

The first step with any epidemic is understanding the problem: What is the Maybes, how does it spread, and why is it harmful?

Continue reading → “Breaking the Chain of “Maybe””
Better Humaning

Treating Old Friends Like New Friends

‚Äú[O]ur honeymoon will shine our life long: its beams will only fade over your grave or mine.‚ÄĚ - Charlotte Bront√ę

I made a new friend (not bragging) who is so awesome (totally bragging) she makes me seem boring (humble bragging). I love making new friends. I love the adventure, the mystery, toeing and pushing the line, oversharing with whimsy — I love¬†every step of the way.

A few days ago I got tricked into rage-reading an article on some ratchet link-bait site written by someone who is probably named Yolo Swaggington — I digress. Let me try again.¬†I read an article about a married couple that still “dates” one another. It was a couple thousand words, but that’s all it said: married people should date each other. I’m onboard. Totally. Sounds great. But I don’t think that going to the movies more is going to fix your marriage, Mr. (Dr.?) Swaggington, PhD. But the idea of treating your partner and thinking about your relationship with the same excitement and privilege you felt at the beginning, now that’s something I can really get behind.

But it’s also not that novel of an idea. We all know about the “honeymoon” phase of romantic relationships. I sitcoms with fat dads and skinny, model-attractive moms taught me anything, it’s that marriage is boring. And laugh tracks are annoying. There’s always that episode where their marriage gets strained and one of them cooks up the crazy idea to appreciate the other person, generally with some variation of the line, “I’m going to start loving you again as much as I loved you the first time I told you I loved you.” The studio audience lets out a big “D’awwwww” there’s a hug, a kiss, and that’s how boring television is made.

What we don’t see, or really talk about, is the same phenomenon happening in platonic relationships. Truthfully, we don’t talk much about platonic relationships at all. You see plenty of “24 Tips For Putting the Spice Back In Your Relationship” but rarely “18 Ways To Platonically Spice Up Your Platonic Relationship” (spoiler: #3 in both lists is “Don’t wear underwear tomorrow, but shhh… our little secret.”). All relationships go through phases, and all relationships that are meaningful to you deserve attention, intention, and care.

I’m going to start trying to treat my old friends in a similar way that I treat new friends. Here are a few things I’m thinking of that I can keep in my mind to help me do so:

  • Be genuinely curious about everything in their life. I generally try to be attentive and present, but I realize that with many old friends I’m not the information vacuum that I am with new friends. This is partly because I know so many of those things about them already, but that’s a weaksauce excuse. Even with the people I know the best, it’s likely a lot more tip of the icebergy than I realize.
  • Ask and learn how they want to be treated, and how I can be a better friend. I tend to do a good job Platinum Ruling new people, and a rubbish job Platinum Ruling the people who I’ve known the longest. Enough of that.
  • Tell them things about myself directly, instead of assuming they’ll know (“they¬†should¬†know this by now”) or expecting them to read about it on Facebook, Twitter, Interwhatever.
  • Be excited when I get to see them. And be excited that I get to be their friend. It’s a pretty sweet deal, y’all. I feel pretty strongly that I’m getting away with great train robbery more often than not.

There are many, many more ways to try to bring the honeymoon back into my friendships (and I’m all ears to suggestions!), but I’m happy with these four being what I focus on now. When building a habit, it’s best to start small.

 

Better Humaning

Single-Serving Friends

‚ÄúFriends are born, not made.‚ÄĚ - Henry Adams

Edward Norton’s character in¬†Fight Club¬†introduced me to the term “single-serving friend,” a person who is your friend for a short period in time. In the movie, he’s talking about the people he meets on flights (“everything on a plane is single-serving”).

As someone who travels a lot, I’ve had the opportunities to make a lot of single-serving friends in the past few years. Sometimes it’s a few hours on a plane, and sometimes it’s a couple of days if I’m in a town for a conference or series of shows. For a long time I thought, like Norton’s character in¬†Fight Club, that a single-serving friend was someone you only interacted with during that one short time period, greatly enjoyed one another’s company, then never saw each other again.

But that’s silly.

I’ve met some of the most fascinating, encouraging, inspirational, clever, and all-around sparkly people I may ever know when I’ve been traveling. To limit our connection to that hour, day, or week is more than a bummer — it’s life sabotage. “I really wish you lived here” is a common sentiment. Long distance relationships are hard, if not impossible. People have overfull lives. They don’t have room for a Sam from thousands of miles away. Or at least that’s how I thought of it for a long while.

I’ve changed the way that I think about single-serving friends.

Instead of viewing the friendship as single-serving, something that only exists for that one moment in time, I now think about that experience with that person as single-serving, with the hope and intent that we might have opportunities for future experiences together, even if they are similarly single-serving. We don’t need to maintain contact, be pen pals, or talk every day, but I like the idea of keeping the door (or inbox) open. This change has led to some really wonderful relationships, with folks near and far, that I deeply value. It’s also changed the way that I interact with folks on the road.

Knowing that I can have a meaningful single-serving friendship with someone means that I am more willing to have real conversations with people I meet on the road. Conversations about things that matter to them and to me, or to us — look at that: we just became an¬†us.¬†Instead of talking about the weather, or some stupid sports thing I don’t actually care about, we talk about life, in all of its wonderful fragments and facets. And talking about life, and hearing other people’s perspectives on life, helps me be better at life.

The possibility of a single-serving friendship also creates the possibility of real, meaningful connection to people I would have otherwise never allowed myself to connect to. And the more I connect, the more I want to connect. Connecting feels good. Wanting to connect more is a good habit to form. Connected life is a loving life.

If you’re digging the idea of single-serving friends, but aren’t sure where to start, or how to do it, here are a few humble tips:

  • Be clear up front. If you want to stay connected with someone, tell them. Ask if that’s okay. Explain what you mean.
  • Don’t force it.¬†One of my best friends in the world is someone I only chat with or see a few times a year, but when we do, we’re immediately best friends again. That’s how our relationship works. It works that way because we’ve allowed it to be that way and haven’t tried to force it to be something it’s not. Feel it out.
  • Hugs are good. If you’re a hugger.
  • Phone numbers are better than emails are better than Facebooks are better than Twitters.¬†Social media is a great way to¬†disconnect¬†from people. Let them tell you directly what they want to tell you about their life. Do the same.
  • Be no-holds-barred honest. We all lie more than we likely realize. Single-serving friendships can be amazing in that you have never told the person a lie (where most of the long-term or more high-contact friends you likely lie to inadvertently dozens of times a week). You don’t have to “protect” them with white lies, and you don’t need to puffer yourself into something you’re not. You can be blissfully, heart-relievingly honest. And it’s fantastic.
  • High fives are good. In case you’re not a hugger.
Better Humaning

Be Your Own Friend First

"I have an everyday religion that works for me. Love yourself first, and everything else falls into line." - Lucille Ball

Everything you need to know about relationships you can learn from watching¬†Dexter¬†and¬†Scrubs.¬†Okay, that’s probably not true. But I really dig both shows, and I like what I’ve gleaned from both character’s approaches to life.

Dexter, the sociopath who lives a life of lies, is amazingly good at self care. JD, the incredibly sensitive open book, is self destructive bordering on masochistic. And while it’s a not likely the popular judgment, and I’m finding my own eyebrows raise as I write this, Dexter is actually the better friend of the two. The serial killer who refers to himself as a monster. And not the Lady Gaga kind.

A lot of us struggle with being friends to ourselves. As Ian and I discussed, it’s easy to be unfairly hard on ourselves, and treat¬†us¬†in ways we’d never treat other people. We judge ourselves too harshly, rarely give ourselves a break, and expect too much too often for too long. Not all of us, of course, but those of use who struggle with being our own friends.

Being your own friend means treating yourself with respect. It means going out of your way to do nice things for yourself, to care for yourself when you’re ill or down, and to love yourself unconditionally, even when you screw up. Being your own friend means seeing the good in your actions, instead of focusing on the bad. It means that you’re always there for you, through thick and thin, when things are great, and when things are not so great. Being your own friend means treating yourself like a human being, the same as (or better) as you treat other human beings.

We often try to find people to complete us, both in friendships and romantic relationships. We want people who will make us better, on whom we can rely, who will make us happy, make our lives good.

But you need to be that for yourself. You need to be complete. You need to make yourself be better, and rely on yourself to make yourself happy. You’re the only one who can make your life good. Trying to fork that responsibility over onto someone else will never end well. In a good case scenario, you’ll end up with a codependent relationship (the kind many of us are currently in, in a variety of different capacities). And in a worst case scenario you’ll never find someone to fill that vacancy, and live a vacant, unhappy life.

There’s this old proverb that says, “Sweep before your own door first.” It’s perfect for what I’m trying to say here. If you don’t have a clean door step, you’re just going to track your dirt whoever you go, into other people’s houses, and others are going to track it into yours. Sweeping before your own door means caring for yourself, finding ways to love and support yourself, and, ultimately, being your own friend first.

It’s great to want to be a good friend to other people. The best way you can do that is by being a good friend to you.

Updates

My Gaming Community

Sometimes you can spend so much time and energy trying to protect something you love that you forget to spend time and energy loving it.

With what I do with Gamers Against Bigotry, and with being a long time video game lover, I tend to use the phrase “the gaming community” a lot. Generally more than once a day. It’s a term we all toss around, and we generally use it to mean “everyone who plays video games.” But it used to mean more than that to me.

The gaming community used to mean the couple dozen or so friends who would pile into a room with four TVs, four Xboxes, 16 controllers, and far too little fresh air, for a sun-down to sun-up party we called a Halo Bash. We did this in high school on a regular basis (once per month when things were extra awesome), and these nights are some of my favorite memories from that time in my life.

It was all about the people there, the time we spent with each other, and for those somethingteen hours that was all that mattered. We played the same game the entire time, rotated controllers and teams, and played until we couldn’t keep our eyes open. I loved it. We all did.

In a lot of ways, it’s that experience that I want everyone to be able to have, and what I’m working towards with GAB: creating a more welcoming space in gaming in general, where everyone who wants to be involved feels invited.

This past weekend, for the last 30 hours or so, I’ve been experiencing that sense of video game community again, for the first time in years. James (GAB’s Director of Communications) and I were invited to Raleigh for the United Gamers Coalition 48-hour Gamerunning Marathon that is a benefit for GAB. It’s hosted by someone who truly¬†gets it, or at least has a similar idea to James and I what gaming is capable of. We’ve played a ton of games, spent time with people who were all strangers to me one day ago but I would now call friends, and just had a generally fantastic time. It’s been a while since I’ve experienced this in such a powerful way, and I’m thankful to Adam for the reminder. I’m looking forward to the final 18 hours.

It is this that pops into my mind when I hear the phrase “the gaming community.” This is my gaming community. This is what I’m trying to protect, and working to share.

Updates

Catalytic Friends

cat·a·lyst (n) : a substance that causes or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected

It’s rare that it’s a good thing to be in a coffee shop, slurping coffee, at 11:30 pm. But last night, boisterously laughing throughout an otherwise intense philosophical conversation, slurping coffee until midnight was exactly a good thing.

I spent the night working and talking with a close friend of mine, in what’s become a routine of ours: late night “cofficing,” a term he coined, that sometimes is more work than conversation, and other times more conversation than work, but is always exactly what we need. Last night, conversation trumped work, because there were a lot of thoughts worth talking about.

We go into these conversations with no expectations, and talk about the things that want to be talked about. It’s like letting a small child lead you through the zoo. If you were to lead the way, showing the kid where to go, what to look at, what to¬†awe¬†at, it would likely lead to disappointment for both of you. “I loved the tigers when I was a kid,” you might say, “We should see them first!” But it’s best to follow where the child’s hand tugs, because a child without preconceptions, but with autonomy, in a place like a zoo is magical — focus yourself on experiencing the awe of a child in awe.

One of the things we talked about was the three key ingredients to living a life of contentedness. Just three things. With all three, you’ll never have to ask for permission to smile, but without just one your whole life will spin off kilter like an Earth without its Sun (as our lives have many times in the past, and will likely again in the future — though hopefully less with time). I will likely write about those things, but that’s not what this thought is. What I’ve been thinking about most the past day isn’t those things, but the process by which they came to fruition.

Last night, I was doing most of the talking. But the ideas weren’t mine. I may have been the fuel, but my friend was the catalyst. It was through the recursive process of me saying something, then him saying something more, or asking the right question, or nodding affirmatively, that the thing I said gained energy, and fueled a chain reaction that led to the outcome: those three things.

That’s a catalytic friend. A person who will take the simple fuels in your life and energize them into sustained reactions. If you are pondering an idea, this friend will help you develop it into a movement. If you are satisfied with your job, a relationship, or anything in between, this person will make you feel ecstatic. They add to your life, without giving anything of their own. They aren’t sacrificing, martyring, or suffering for your gain. Their mere presence magnifies your life experience, and interactions with them expand that experience exponentially.

Catalytic friends are hard to come by. If you find one, or have one in your life, hold onto them dearly.