As a child and young adult, I found it hard to make friends. I had no idea how other people did this. Watching my son fall in easily with other children, it’s still something of a mystery. What is the process by which people decide that they will be friends with each other? I’ve never really sought casual acquaintance, although I can be passably friendly because I find other people inherently interesting. But it normally takes me years to really bond with a person.
It’s certainly easier when you have common ground – I am a lot quicker to make friends with fellow pagans and folkies than with others, because I know that we share something significant. Those are such defining part of who I am.
It has dawned on me that my closest and most successful relationships are defined by what we do together. I don’t ‘hang out’ with people, and I spend most of my time doing. I’ve never really known how to sit round not doing much and ‘being sociable’ – I find it challenging, and am not terribly good at it. Where I can do stuff with people, I know how to relate. As a consequence, a number of my closer connections have been with people I’ve shared music with. Other friendships come from sharing ritual and voluntary work, green activism, and my work life with the writing and editing and so on. I bond with people by walking with them, or cooking together. There has to be something going on – if all I can do is watch TV with someone or go down the pub (not activities I do much of) there’s little scope for relationship.
This means that the people I am closest to are also people who do stuff. There have been people in my life who chose to be very passive about their use of time, and I found it impossible to connect with them in any meaningful way. People who don’t do much do not generate new stories, either, and stories are the basic currency of human interaction. I wonder sometimes if relationships flounder when we run out of new stories to tell each other. ‘Did you see that thing on telly last night’ is not a strong enough story to hold people together. People who do not do anything have no stories to share. That’s my other reason for finding it easier to relate to more active people – they tend to have things going on and hearing what they’re up to is interesting. Folk whose stories consist of very small scale trivia – curtains bought, work gossip etc, I find it very hard to relate to. That said, I remain intrigued by the ways in which people fill their time and craft their relationships, and where I have space to listen and am not called upon to interact much, that fascinates me.