what would you do if i sang out of tune...
identifying, clarifying, and classifying your friends for fun and profit
by adam kraemer
Well, Thanksgiving's come and gone and my family didn't wind up on the 11 o'clock news, so that's something else to be thankful for.
I remember my first Thanksgiving break after high school, being so excited to come home and hang out with my old friends. We were now in college; we'd been doing grown-up things like paying our own phone bills, reading philosophy, and learning to bounce quarters into shot glasses. And then, when we finally did hang out, we found we only had those few things in common. In the course of a few months, we went from friends with common experiences and concerns to a bunch of people whose only real commonalities were that we were the same age and our parents lived near each other. How come so many of the people I was "best friends" with in high school have since been relegated to anecdotes and the "Whatever happened to…" file?
And on the flip side of the coin there are those friends that I never get to see but whom I know will be in my life forever. I haven't actually hung out with Steve, my best friend from summer camp, in at least 4 years, but it hasn't really changed how close a friend he is. I know we could probably go for another 4 years without seeing each other, but we'll still be in the wedding parties when each of us gets married. And it's not just from spending great summers together (this one time - at Jew camp…); though we do often spend a lot of our time together reminiscing, there's a connection there that goes beyond shared experiences and nostalgia.
Why do some people just pass through your life, and others make a permanent mark? Well, I'm thinking there's gotta be a way to go about this question scientifically. If we could somehow measure and weigh, poke and prod every person we meet (some definitely would get more poking than others), maybe we could come up with some kind of sorting system for the relationships we create as we move through, as Prince put it, "this thing called life."
My revolutionary system will even allow you to recognize what roles all of the people in your life have played, and enable you to see your current friends for what they really are. Or if nothing else, it will allow me to exorcize my own demons. Which, as you might have guessed, is really what each one of my columns is about.
Type I: Acquaintances
There are actually two types of acquaintances: those you really don't want to be friends with and those you're ashamed to be friends with. The first type are people with whom you maybe share one thing in common - you go to the same bar on Sunday to watch football, for example. Maybe you were in the same math class. These are people thrown together by circumstances, but who would never actually be friends had they simply been introduced at a party or something. "Oh, yeah, that Dave guy seemed nice, but what's up with that dental floss hair weave?"
The other type of acquaintance is the person you probably would be friends with, if only you felt like you could be. You tend to mention these people with qualifiers: "Oh, yeah, a friend of mine from college…well, more of an acquaintance, really…" because you know that this person may not engender the same feelings in you as he does everyone else. It could be that he's a sexist pig, or maybe she steals other people's boyfriends, or he could have a habit of eating onion dip with his fingers. Whatever the problem is, you find that you almost physically distance yourself from this person on the off chance that it will reflect badly on you if you admit to liking him or her. Because you never want to hear, "Wait - you're friends with her? She once threw up on my mom."
Type II: Drinking Buddies
These are the guys (or girls) that you only see socially. You don't go to each other's houses; you don't share secrets (unless you're really inebriated); and you don't get called to bail them out of prison. The point of these people are that they appreciate the same level of socializing as you do, whether it's the "let's drink white Zinfandel, do shots, and bitch about our boyfriends until we can't see straight" type or the "another glass of port, old man?" kind or the "you can't roll a 20-sided die to attack an orc with 3 hit points" variety. These are people you have to make plans to see; you would likely consider yourself "friendly" with them.
And it's really got nothing to do with drinking - that was just a convenient moniker. The group of you can drink together, do bong hits together, play chess together, go bird watching together, or reenact Disney movies together - as long as it's a social activity with no real depth. These are people whose company you enjoy, but it doesn't really extend beyond that. You might ask a "drinking buddy" to recommend a good baby sitter; you'd never ask her to recommend a good proctologist.
Type III: Friends - regular, best, and just
In all three of these cases, there are both long-term friends and circumstantial friends - people with whom you're really only friends if you happen to see each other. I know a number of very good people that I genuinely like, but don't really stay in touch with, though we always have a great time whenever we see each other at weddings or college alumni events, etc. Whether you regularly keep in touch with someone, or whether it takes a catalyst of some sort to place you in a situation that engenders friendship, these people are more than either acquaintances or drinking buddies. Keep those two distinctions in mind as you read the three subgroups of "friends." Oh, and keep in mind that aidem dipertni is "intrepid media" spelled backwards. That'll be on the test.
The regular friends are people whom you think of as friends, but not "best friends." You really like being around them, and you feel you can trust them. You probably have a bunch of things in common, like where you live, the places you like to go to, the types of music you like, and the types of movies you watch. If someone were to say, "Are you friends?" you'd answer with, "Yes. We are most definitely friends," without hesitation. In precisely those words. In unison.
At every point in your life, though, you are likely also to elect a few of your regular friends to become best friends. This occurs when you discover that there's a bond, unlike with regular friends, that cannot be easily broken by a fight, a move across country, accidental bovicide; petty things that might ruin another type of relationship. Everyone has a few best friends, some of whom live close by, others who live in Delaware. The point of the best friend is that no matter how often you see him or her, no matter how much time goes by, the strength of the friendship is unflimsified, to borrow a phrase from Susan, my daytime senior advisor.
The "just" type is a little more confusing, as there are two very distinct categories of "just friends": the ones you want to date and the ones you don't. The ones you aren't interested in are simple - people ask, "So what's up with that Lisa chick?" and you answer, "Oh, we're just friends." No complications, no hurt feelings, no staying up at night wondering what's wrong with you. While random observers might assume you're a couple, the boundaries are clear and it's not at all an issue for either of you. For any number of reasons (you don't find him attractive, she's too high maintenance, he sleeps with anything that moves, she's pregnant) there's just no romantic interest there at all.
The ones you are attracted to, however, really make life tough. Usually, in those cases when you give the "We're just friends" answer, it's often followed by a sigh, or a mental note like, "unfortunately," "dammit," or "but I would gladly fight a dragon for the opportunity to sleep at the foot of her bed." Often, this situation is due to the other partner being 100% uninterested in any sort of physical relationship whatsoever. You're thinking, "I love him, why can't he see that?" and he's thinking, "That girl who works in the Laundromat is pretty hot." Or you tell her about the girl you've just started dating, and she's thinking "I'm really happy for him; better her than me." Things are always a little skewed when sexual tension is only one-sided.
'Course if "just friends" turns into "more than just friends," it can be a pretty wonderful thing. A few of my close female friends and I have, at one time or another, engaged in a little hanky-panky (not to be confused with "hunky-dory"), and, though none has turned into a long-term relationship, we had fun and successfully remained friends. (No, I'm not naming names.) And in deference to a close friend of mine who's currently exploring a relationship with a girl he's been just friends with for five years, it does, thank God, sometimes work out. I mean, think about it, which makes more sense - starting a relationship with someone and seeing if you get along, or already knowing you get along and just taking it to the next level? It's a no-brainer for me, but then I'm a guy. Men are from Mars; women are from Detroit.
Types IV and V: Lost and Mistaken
Observant readers may assume I'm grouping these last two together because they both have to do with people you probably no longer talk to. They'd be wrong. I'm grouping them together because this column's getting too long.
Lost friends are easy to define, but impossible to find. They're people who, for no reason at all, are no longer in your life. You can't explain it. If you could locate them, they probably wouldn't be able to explain it, either. "Well, last I heard, Phil was going to Pitt and no one's heard from him since." "Jill dropped out, we think, and I heard she gained a lot of weight." "I heard Adam was living in Idaho, but that was three years ago." No one in your entire circle of friends has heard any more than rumor about this person, and none of them can remember where they heard it in the first place. Someone who was once your friend has now become an urban legend - "I swear someone my cousin knows says her boyfriend saw her at Burger King. But it might not have been her because I heard he said she was blonde." And had a hook for a hand.
Mistaken friends, on the other hand, suck. There. I said it. These are people who you thought were your friends, but it turns out that they weren't, or at least they aren’t. They're kind of like missing friends, in that you're no longer in touch with them, but the difference is that you can point the finger of blame securely in their direction. (Note: You, too, can purchase an officially sanctioned Adam Kraemer "Finger of Blame" for just $5.95 plus s&h. But I'm not going to tell you how.)
I'm talking about the people you thought were going to be lifelong friends freshman year, but they made no attempt to keep you in their lives. Or that girl who was your best friend until you tried sharing an apartment, only to find out that she was the worst roommate ever. Not only did she neglect to pay the rent on time and make you take care of her pet iguana, but you weren't even invited to her wedding. You know the type. As I said, they suck. And it's a shame, because out of the three types of people who can make you truly happy - yourself, your family, and your friends - you can really only choose your friendships.
So where does all this categorizing lead us? I'm sure we can all think of examples of each type, some with fondness, others with indifference, and a few with the cold hatred of a thousand black holes (yes, scientists have proven that black holes contain cold hatred. Look it up). These categories allow you to maybe sense a pattern regarding the different types of people who play each role in the drama of your existence. My friend Jon has a theory that at every stage of your life, there are certain people whose function it is to fulfill the emotional position of someone you knew in a previous stage. I, coincidentally, have a theory that some of the coolest ideas can occur to you when you're high.
I suppose in the end, this list is really only useful as a reminder that not everyone you know can stay in your life forever. Among the things I most regret in my relatively short existence (another being drunkenly trying to play piano at a bar in London) is falling out of touch with so many incredible people over the years. In some cases, they wound up being lost friends or mistaken friends, and I can at least abrogate some of my responsibility in those instances. In other cases, they shifted from friends to acquaintances - those things we had in common when we were younger are gone, and while there is still some affection there, it's vestigial; we don't hang out, though we do greet each other warmly when we do cross paths. There were best friends of mine from high school that I know are wonderful people; I couldn't tell you why we stopped communicating. There were people in whose company I wanted to spend the rest of my life, but whose last names I now have trouble conjuring up. And it sometimes bothers me. I can provide a list, by the way, if anyone's interested.
Luckily, however, I am also currently enjoying some of the most powerful, most fun-filled, most loving friendships I've ever been a part of. I have drinking buddies, friends, just friends (dammit), and best friends, without all of whom I would surely be a lesser person. And I think that's really the trick to all this: Whether you spend the next few minutes trying to categorize everyone you know, or whether you decide that I'm full of hooey (more likely) and move on to whatever was next on your to-do list (after "read Adam's latest paean to his own intellect"), take half a second and think about someone in your life whom you really appreciate is still a part of it (other than me), and just smile. And know that someone else out there is smiling, in turn, because they know you. Now treat yourself to a milkshake. You deserve it. Now stop smiling - you're scaring the hell out of the person sitting next to you.
A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
ABOUT ADAM KRAEMER
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
12.7.01 @ 9:34a
Oh, I'd like to thank, by the way, my friend Mara for giving me the idea for this column. She rocks.
12.7.01 @ 9:41a
Oh man, that "Jew camp" line is priceless!
12.7.01 @ 10:03a
Thanks. My mom was afraid it would be offensive, as though "Jew" is a derogatory term for Jew.
12.7.01 @ 10:04a
I've had this discussion before. The term "Jew" really does seem derogatory, even though it's not. But it does have a cringe-worthy ring to it.
12.7.01 @ 10:06a
Great column, but I sure hope that the Jill who dropped out and gained weight isn't a reference to me! :) "Oh, and for some odd reason your column made me think of this one time, at Jew Camp when I did the ropes course in a skirt..."
12.7.01 @ 10:09a
Thanks. Thanks. And thanks.
And I never did the ropes course in a skirt. Rumor and supposition.
And, no, it was a reference to Jill Adelman.
12.7.01 @ 10:31a
Besides, there are enough derogatory term for Jews (I prefer to be called "bagel-boy," myself) that we don't need to start taking offense at terms that aren't. That's like arguing that Irish is a derogatory term for Irish people.
12.7.01 @ 10:49a
Has anyone ever really made work the jump from "Just friends" (Dammit!) to "More than just friends"? I don't even try anymore because not only do you end up losing a girlfriend you end up losing a good friend, too. And that sucks twice as much.
12.7.01 @ 10:50a
Where have you been, Matt? That's so last week.
12.7.01 @ 11:08a
Sorry, I was trying to get off the Jew Camp thread because I have nothing to say on that topic.
12.7.01 @ 11:22a
12.7.01 @ 11:37a
Sorry. You've never inadvertantly killed a friend's cow?
12.7.01 @ 11:43a
I may be the only person you know who actually had friends who owned cows.... No, I never killed any of them. Tipped maybe, not killed.
12.7.01 @ 11:49a
Matt - I deliberately didn't really touch on the whole female "we're friends so I won't consider dating you" thing, as I could have filled another 10 paragraphs just talking about that. My friends can vouch for me that I know way, way, way too much about the subject. "More than friends" is a column or two unto itself. And I don't need the aggravation.
12.7.01 @ 1:02p
You haven't lived 'til your best friend's wife introduces you to someone as "the man I would have married if I hadn't married (my husband)." My head spun for days as I took what was at face value a compliment and tried to puzzle out where she now fit, category-wise.
michelle von euw
12.7.01 @ 1:10p
Wow, Russ. My head spun just reading your post. You could write a whole column on that comment alone.
12.7.01 @ 5:02p
i take offense to the term "Irish." i prefer "lazy drunk." (and i can say that, 'cause ...)
12.8.01 @ 8:45a
'Cause you're a lazy drunk?
12.8.01 @ 8:45a
Are we in the wrong column?
12.8.01 @ 8:51a
Never mind. By the way, my friend whose "just friend" is beoming "more than" seems to be going on a trip with her at the end of the year. Cool, huh? Gives me hope.
12.8.01 @ 11:15a
Yeah, that's the sure-fire way to up the stakes. Get 'em away from everyone so they're away from prying eyes. Find some nice, intimate setting (snuggly cabin, posh hotel room, lavatory in a Deutsche Bundesrail train) and it's "more than" in no time flat.
12.8.01 @ 11:21a
Let me append: a big hurdle to cross between "just" and "more than" is the annoying throng of other friends who point at the "just" friends and tell them how they look like a couple, or wouldn't they be great together, blah blah. I think that the reason many "just" friends don't experiment more isn't because of the dynamic between each other, but because of the couple's relationship to everyone around them. Get them away from the burden of wondering what everyone else thinks, and marvelous things can happen.
Even in the lavatory of a DB train.
12.8.01 @ 1:40p
Oh, see I've found the opposite to be true. You're "just" friends and that's the only way you think of each other. But then people start commenting on how great you are together and suddenly you look at the relationship in a whole new light.
12.10.01 @ 10:42a
I don't think I've ever needed someone to point out to me how well I would get on with someone in a romantic way. I usually pick up on that right before I'm shot down.
12.10.01 @ 1:43p
Adam, I think we are actually the same person cloned in a lab, then sent to opposite ends of the country to live our lives as a giant social experiment.
12.10.01 @ 1:49p
Could be. Do you also look like my dad?
12.10.01 @ 1:57p
Maybe you look like my dad.
12.10.01 @ 2:50p
Let me be the one to point out that you two are SO not the same person.
12.10.01 @ 2:54p
It wasn't really a question of that. It's more of a Danny Devito/Arnold Schwartzenegger thing.
12.10.01 @ 3:49p
You never know. It's not like Danny Bonaducci looked anything like the rest of the Partridge family.
12.10.01 @ 4:14p
I've never felt the need to post before, but I just needed to say that Jael's last post alleviated my greatest fears. Thank you.
12.10.01 @ 4:32p
You were worried about the potential of more than one Adam?
12.10.01 @ 5:04p
I've never felt the need to post before, but I just needed to say that Jael's last post alleviated my greatest fears. Thank you.
12.10.01 @ 5:20p
oops, sorry to repost. didn't realize the computer would do that. yes I'm stupid.
And yes, more than one Adam, simply terrifying.
12.10.01 @ 6:01p
I second that!
12.11.01 @ 9:35a
Teriffic. Thanks, guys.