One trend that I have noticed in my friendships is a division of friends into two distinct categories: one would be ‘topical buddies’ – ones with whom I share a common interest and an ability to converse on it (they are not mutually inclusive), but with whom I usually only have conversations about that narrow subject. So, I have people to discuss music, writing, technology, media, philosophy, art, politics, sci-fi, and other niche areas with to get my ‘fix’ on them, but our views and thoughts on other subjects may/not mesh well, and that’s where our commonality/dialog begins and ends. The rest would fall under the category of ‘kindred friends’ – we share similar outlooks as well as interests, and because we mesh on our general core values and respect one another, we can talk about anything (it’s more about the enjoyment of talking to them than the necessity of the subject matter). Both are necessary; however, there is a balance between each of those groups to consider. While the first group is great to feel connected to (in that zealous passion for the same topic), there are times when you really want to talk with someone, not about something. Eventually you’ll grow tired of that show or not have time for that hobby, but core values never fade, and true inner passions can be shared with anyone who genuinely cares about/gets you, regardless of their overall knowledge/interest in the topic. Many times it’s better to talk about interests with friends who aren’t as ‘into’ them specifically anyways, as it enables you to see/hear/gain new and fresh perspectives as you show them your world, instead of the same old rehashed me-too validation.
Now, that leaves out people who aren’t really friends at all, but parasites who try to present themselves as such. Some people pretend to be in the first group; they find a subject matter expert and want to drain them – using them instead of contributing something useful to the dialog. There are many times when I get into one-sided conversations where someone wants to ‘pick my brain’ about an area I’m experienced in, and even thought they ask politely and profess to be ‘so interested’ in me/my thoughts, it eventually it turns into some sort of ‘be my free consultant/help/therapist’ mooching. And while I love to blather on about myself and give advice (solicited or not), after a while I’m not going to answer the phone when I know someone is calling only because they want something from me and never offer anything in return. If you want to talk to someone who has experience in an area that’s of interest to you, you should figure out something of value/interest to them that you can reciprocate with (not just merely what’s most convenient for you) in exchange for their gracious information sharing. At the very least, understand that they don’t ‘owe’ you anything just because they know it. People are usually experts in something because they get paid to do it; asking them for free advice is the equivalent of saying that you don’t value what they do – or them.
So how do you know when someone is sincere in their friendship versus when they’re merely providing lip service? After all, real friends do lean on each other at times, and there is always a need for give and take. And if someone means well but doesn’t follow through, are their intentions more relevant than their actions? Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter unless/until someone else’s actions are having a negative or adverse affect on you. If someone is using you or needs you and you don’t mind, where’s the harm? Friendships don’t have to be defined by any other terms. But again it comes down to communication; if someone’s actions start to feel too lopsided, establish boundaries and discuss them. Let them know versus letting it fester or harboring a grudge. Also understand that there are different levels of friends; while some are the fair-weathered variety, some can be very supportive and dependable. But don’t think you can – or should – change people, because the most important part of friendship is appreciating people for who they are, not for what you want them to be.