This post is dedicated to Nick aka Lorong, with whom I had a very interesting conversation that prompted me to write this (and has been edited since his reading of it lol).
First, a few things you should know about Nick: he is one of those atypical human beings who conduct themselves have little regard for social norms (he insists that their function in society is overstated) or other people’s feelings. He has often described me to others (in my presence) as “batshit crazy”. And he once caused a girl in our Junior College class to cry by referring to her as “chubby”. Nick also is a fervent Christian (sometimes to the point of bigotry, in my honest opinion) and in JC, together with several other equally odd recurring characters from our class, we spent countless hours after school lounging in our homeroom or in the canteen talking about life, philosophy, religion and all things irrelevant to the upcoming A Level examinations.
That is not to say that Nick and I are close friends. At least, not in the conventional sense. So when he asked to meet me for lunch a couple of weeks ago, our conversation took a peculiar turn:
Nick: We should meet for lunch.
Me: Yeah, let’s call the rest up too.
Nick: But I would rather just talk to jingdabomb. (A.N.: he finds my Twitter handle highly amusing)
Me: But meeting in a group will probably be more interesting. No offence. (A.N.: okay I should probably mention that I too often behave with complete disregard of norms and others’ feelings, which could be why Nick and I get along well)
Nick: Really? I find that conversations in big groups tend towards the lowest common denominator.
Me: … which is okay, right? I mean, our friends aren’t idiots.
Nick: Um well, I’d rather not.
Me: What if I’d rather not meet you one-on-one?
Nick: Oh, then we can not meet. Why though?
Okay, by now you’re probably thinking that I really am batshit crazy and that I ruined a perfectly good friendship by being World’s Biggest Asshole. But let me assure you that this extract is representative of the kind of interactions that I have with Nick.
A bit of context, I meet up with the usual suspects from my JC class a few times every semester to catch up and chill and most recently to play a board game called Codenames (which it turns out is pretty fun. Just be sure not to form a team that includes myself and Joel. We were so miserable at taking hints from the spymaster, it was almost sad). Nick used to come to these gatherings but late last year he decided that they were not worth his time. We still invite him of course, but the new rule seems to be: if gossip and cheap drinks and food are on the agenda, Nick will not be present. And when are they ever not on the agenda? So as you can imagine, I have not seen Nick in a while.
I never thought to meet Nick outside of our group. Save for one or two occasions on the train home or in class, we hardly ever hung out, just the two of us. It wasn’t that I didn’t like him or anything. We just aren’t that sort of friends. When he suggested that we ought to, it just didn’t feel right. What did I have to say to him? And why would he care? I expressed my concerns.
Nick: I’m surprised you would say that. There’s lots of stuff to talk about, it’s just whether you wanna talk about them.
Me: … So I guess what I’m saying is that we don’t have the kind of relationship that would make me wanna talk about “lots of stuff”. It’s nothing personal, it’s just the nature of our friendship.
I know, I know. I sound like a monster. But I tried to explain myself as best as I could.
Me: It’s not that you aren’t interesting to talk to… Just that you were very private in JC? Like, I only knew you superficially, and maybe this is some vague distorted version of you I am recalling but I guess I feel like I know less about you than the others in the group.
What I meant was that conversations with Nick were discussions about big, abstract ideas, about God and existence and morality. Whereas with the others it would be all of those things, but also “so I went to Greece with my ex” or “check out this picture of my pet beagle being adorable”.
Nick: What else is there to know? I would think that my beliefs and values are the most important part of who I am. What do you want to know that you don’t already? Or rather what do you know about others that you don’t about me?
Me: I don’t know… I don’t know how to articulate it but there’s this component that is just essentially human that just is missing, I guess??? This… transparency.
Nick: So are we condemned to be incommensurable and hence un-understandable? (A.N.: LOL)
Nick: NO. This cannot be. How about we get to know each other?
Me: But I’m an open book, you know all about me!
Nick: Batshit crazy?
Me: Right on the money.
And we left it as that and went on with our lives. Days later, I dropped Nick a text asking if he could read something I’d written. (This is something we do for one another pretty regularly, which probably indicates that we do have a pretty good relationship. Hmm.) From there, we picked up from where we left off on this topic.
Nick: I thought we could connect on the weird level. So… I don’t quite get why you said you don’t understand me.
Me: Sure we can connect but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I know who you are. I get to know the happenings and more importantly the emotional experiences of the people I care about. I don’t get that from you.
Nick: Ah, so therein lies the difference. The stuff you think is important is to me, trivial… Okay, not trivial, but secondary. I think what people think is much more important.
Me: Well, I agree! But I think you have to know about people’s lives, and let people know about yours, even if that’s not important. It builds a certain vulnerability that fosters trust, I guess?
I added that my need for affiliation might be higher because of my gender. Nick demanded that I must transcend gender at once. But the issue isn’t that I am succumbing to my insecurities, but simply that I appreciate the warmth derived from the banality of conversations between friends– the fact that I am willing to listen to how you fell sick after a YMCA camp (which he did) despite how little it affects my life. And that you might be willing to sacrifice your time to listen to my own boring account of my day. Nick claimed that you could glean that sort of information from Facebook, or a person’s blog which, to me, just meant that he was content with extracting facts in a somewhat sterile manner.
When I said this, Nick conceded. Then, he told me all about his camp.
The best part about talking to someone whose understanding of what friendship means is that it makes you question your own assumptions about what should be valued most in the people around us. Sure, you could refer me to the Five Love Languages but I argue that this isn’t just about what makes you feel loved but also what makes you feel… interesting? Like what do you say to someone such that he or she gives a damn about what you are telling them? Or, what makes you feel interested? What or who makes you want to care more about what’s being said to you?
In the end, it boils down to goodness of fit. Nick and I may never be able to talk about ‘trivial’ things like how good (or crap) the newest Captain America film, and yet we can have really honest conversations about deeper issues like an incapacitating fear of failure. That isn’t to say that we don’t have to try to talk about other things. At the heart of a good, healthy relationship lies a willingness to compromise in all interactions. And I am grateful that Nick did fill me in on the details of his camp even though it really wasn’t thaaaat interesting. (Edit: “Don’t write it as if you won. I 勉强 tell you okay.”)
Maybe we are that sort of friends.