Allison and I were recently having a conversation about the different kinds of friendships we both experience. Some of the people we know clearly like us very much, for various reasons. But they act toward us in different ways than they do toward their other friends, which confuses me, probably more so because I’m somewhere on the spectrum and rarely read people very well.
It took that conversation with Allison to sort this out for me, but what she said had the ring of truth. Some people have friends they keep in this group over here, and other friends that belong in that group over there, and the two (or more) groups sometimes aren’t allowed to mix much. The criteria for the categories are hard to pin down, but Allison suspects and I agree that age has something to do with it. I sometimes have to force myself to remember that many of the people I call my friends are young enough to be my grandchildren, if I had any children1.
As I thought about this later, I remembered a guy who came to the[campus of Full Sail2 while I was there. I’m pretty sure his name was Ray Newton, and he was a drummer whose claim to fame was drumming on the theme song for The Cosby Show. As a guest speaker, he was less than entertaining to me, talking mostly about himself and how he bested other drummers. “I smoked ’em” was a phrase that was liberally used throughout his presentation.
But he used a common word, “relevant,” in an uncommon way. He talked of other drummers “deluded into thinking they’re still relevant.” He spoke of how “relevant” a particular person was, without specifying what that person might or might not be relevant to. Without that information, the word seemed like little more than an expression of hubris or “trash talk.” But good or bad, the memory of that presentation and that strange usage of “relevant” has stuck with me over the more than two decades that have passed since that day3.
Relevance seems to me to be a factor some might use to separate those groups or categories of friends. It’s just a theory, but I think it might just fit the data.
I feel a kinship with my friend BC. We’ve known each other a long time. We are never at a loss for something to talk about, for common experiences, for shared goals and ideals. BC is my brother in every respect except actual blood relation and so it will always be. Even when we lived on opposite coasts and communications weren’t as open as either of us would have liked, each conversation was like a continuation of the last4, even if they were months apart. I’m pretty sure we’re both pretty relevant to each other.
I’m an introvert. I don’t make friends easily because I find it hard to be at parties or large gatherings. It saps my energy because I am constantly uncomfortable and unsure how to interact. It’s a miracle I ever found a wife, because I never quite got over the small hill that stood between me and asking a friend to hang out, let alone the towering mountain that represented the barrier to asking for a date. So the few very close friends I have are usually extroverts who saw me first, or people I felt enough commonality with to talk to about something other than work. If I’m comfortable enough to talk to you about anything personal, you’ll find that you’re very relevant to me.
I don’t know how relevant I am to others, though. Some people are more open with their personal lives than I am. Some are introverts like me, I’m sure. Some have seen something in me that they respect but that doesn’t necessarily make me relevant — only important, which is a very different thing.
I don’t seek or aspire to importance. Captain Kangaroo5 taught me that it’s nice to be important but that it’s much more important to be nice. I’ve never forgotten that. I know a lot of very important people who are not at all nice, and it strikes me as a very sad and lonely place to be, because while you’re well known and essential, you’re not really relevant to anyone’s life6. I’d rather be obscure, unimportant, and relevant.
I’ll bet you were expecting, after all this thoughtful analysis, that I’d have a strong conclusion as the payoff for reading this far. I’m sorry, but you’re going to be disappointed. All this thinking is less than 24 hours old, and I’m still digesting this jumble of ideas and observations in search of meaning. I never studied psychology. I’ve learned just enough to know that what I know is negligible. As a result, every day of my life is something like a day of research, and I have to accept that some things are going to remain mysteries — it’s as inevitable as the slow loss of brain cells that caused me to puzzle for five minutes over the name of a downtown restaurant7. If you come up with any ideas of your own8, feel free to share them!
1 I do have stepchildren I love very much.
2 Motto: We take your dreams. Seriously.
3 But according to Google, Ray is no longer relevant.
4 Yes, we probably talked about you.
5 If he were on today, would kids watch?
6 Except Putin’s.
7 It was Morgan’s.
8 About relevance, not the restaurant name, silly.