The Engines That Drive Friendship

We like to be around people that are like us. Someone who has the same tastes in music and movies. Someone who likes the same jokes and humor. Someone who holds the same world view and beliefs about eating tacos at 3am.

Some of us end up having friends from all kinds of walks of life, and some of us end up having a lot of friends that are the same. Some of those people end up sticking around for a long time, and some end up fizzling out. Hell, some of them we wind up hating a few years later. And sometimes we feel like we don’t have friends at all.

So what’s the deal? There must be other underlying factors at work here. Most of the time we don’t give a lot of conscious thought to why we like having the friends we have. We just do.

Which is why I’ve set out to explain it to myself, and those of you wandering the interwebz.

Purpose, Meaning and Beliefs.

I wouldn’t be the first person to point out that you and your friends probably have things in common. You both go to the same school. You both have really wanting to visit a certain city or country. You’re both dedicated to a certain religion. You both like wasting time at the bar playing pool and talking about existence.

And this is an important factor in a friendships foundation. But where the real footwork gets done is that you both desire a certain result within those things.

If I’m really gung-ho on touring Australia for a month sometime this year and friend A has the same desires vs friend B who wants to work in Europe for the summer, I’m probably going to have more opportunities with friend A, and I will naturally shift more attention to them. If you want to get more serious about religion and deepening your faith and friend A has similar goals vs friend B who’s gone off the chain and wants to start her own cult, well, you get it.

These are the cores of why we choose to socialize with whomever. How important our purpose is isn’t life and death to the friendship, but the more important they are, the stronger the forces will be to drive that friendship and its potential to grow or decay.

Having the same desires and dreams could help to inspire furthering a friendship, but execution of those things is only way to surpass this level, which is why I think so many friendships both start and fizzle out here. I have seen this play out in my own life time and time again.

The main point here is we consciously or unconsciously end up spending our time and energy with people who are similar to us and our needs, or similar to what we admire most in other people.

Exposure and Proximity

And then theres people who we just happen to be around often enough. The person you sat next to in class all year long. The cool coworker you get things done with day after day. Another way to label these people is “acquaintances”.

Having pleasant exposure to acquaintances over a short or long term is enough to create enough familiarity with someone to the point of where we get comfortable about sharing details about our personal lives and being socially vulnerable about our deeper purpose, beliefs and desires.

Which is why personal identity and proximity is where this helps to gain any traction into the next levels. We both live in the same or close towns. we like the same hang out spots or other common grounds. We agree to take things outside of our previous controlled exposure such as our jobs or the classroom. This is often where we find out if people stay acquaintances or move forward into friendships.

I think this is where the majority of our friendships begin. Most people don’t make themselves personally vulnerable enough with purpose and beliefs to make friends within the usual brevity of meeting someone unless the interaction lasts at least a couple hours.

You could focus on being vulnerable and open with brand-new people, but this only seems to be effective if they too are willing to be vulnerable and open out of the gate. I personally, have a lot of trouble with this. I need to really warm up to people before I just go throwing my goofy personality at them, and I think most people are also like this.

And thats probably why we make most of our friends while with other friends, because we’re already comfortable acting out our organic selves. This polarizes other people in the group into either liking or disliking us and acting on it.

Experiences and Novelty

Without a doubt, the subjective quality of our experience together dictates how we view each other in the long term. Always getting together to watch games during football season. Taking that usual camping trip.

Novel events also play a role into moving friendships into this level. Being a groomsman in your friends wedding. Taking a long incredible trip somewhere. Starting a punk band and touring the country together. Being abducted by aliens. you typically only share these big novel events with a handful of people.

These are the things that our deeper friendships breathe for. Its the things we get to look back on to inspire and induce further experiences. its where some normal quality time of “remember when” births genuine happiness and wonder.

Its also where things seem to either truly bloom or wither and die. we begin to let go of the parts of these friends we dislike and embrace them unconditionally, or we unfortunately begin to realize we didn’t care about them as much as we once thought, and the friendship either steps backwards or ends altogether naturally. Either way its a healthy occurrence.


Theres two different ways friends could grow into our identities:

  1. We tend create deeper relationships with people who support our identities and the way we see ourselves, as we do for them. If your identities are similar and consistent, its likely everything else is too. Moms tend to be friends with other moms. Musicians are friends with other musicians. Its usually easier to relate to and connect with these people.
  2. The longer a connection is held, the connection itself becomes a part of our identities and the way we see ourselves. These friends could change a lot about themselves as well as us, but us being friends has become intertwined within each others identities, so the connection sustains. These are either the tried and true unconditional friendships, or the drama filled “I can’t believe they whatever” shit fest.

The real fruit and veggies is in the bright side of the second subcategory: People who become a part of your identity. You see them in a similar light to family. If friendships don’t grow to this stage, they eventually regress into lower levels or end. Missing these people is akin to a subtle mourning of a romantic relationship.

In the same way it takes a lot of quality time and experiences to make it to this stage, it also takes a hell of a lot more life turbulence to disrupt it. You usually find these people in the first quarter of life.

Other Thoughts

You could see this as the 4 levels of friendship. Friendships could arguably be triggered in any level, but will not expand beyond into levels 3 and 4 and stay unless you’re compatible in the lower levels.

You could say that a lot of these things apply to romantic relationships. I think thats true, but theres a different world of psychology also playing in the balance with that. You most likely only have the emotional capabilities for 1 romantic partner at a time. We can be friends with as many people as we can psychologically handle. Theres also a lot more cultural and identity pressure on the details of our romantic lives then there is on our friendships.

The friendship engines are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how friendships begin and end, grow and decay. What I’m aiming for is to get the concepts going. Friends are arguably more important for our emotional and psychological well being than anything else, and its interesting that this doesn’t get more airtime as compared to romance, finances and whatever else.

The engines that drive our friendships are arguably just as subjective as the very relationships we have with our friends. People change beliefs, morals, and overall life purposes all the damn time. And I think as we move into a new era where people have the opportunity to change in more ways faster than ever in human history, (especially the younger crowd) we are loosing the old side of life that grants the time for friendships to reach a level where they wont wither away. Or put a different way; friendships are going to start needing more conscious effort.

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