Mutual Friends

stephen colbert black friend
Image courtesy of The Daily Banter

Having relationships with people–family, friends, romantic partners–means spending time with their friends. This can be a double-edged sword: being friendly with a guy or girl that shares the same interests and has a tolerable personality might net you a new pal to hang with; getting lumped together with a dud dude or dudette, and you’ll dread any and every digression you deal with. (Ds!)

I’ve been lucky to have made good friends out of mutual acquaintances. When I moved to Phoenix nine years ago, I knew two people–both from college. Through one of my work friends (now one of my best friends), I met several of his colleagues through his church. I’ve been able to depend upon their friendship (and vice-versa, I’d like to think) as we’ve bonded, and we’ve shared many life events in the process. They are dear to me and more patient with me than I often am with myself, and for that, I am grateful.

Then there are those mutual acquaintances that have made less-than-appealing impressions, those that make you wonder if that saying “birds of a feather flock together” makes you wonder about those qualities in your friend that you cherish. These are situations and people that I don’t want to encounter.

A recent get-together with friends introduced a sibling to the dynamic, a cordial and opinionated guy that was comfortable making his thoughts known. I was chatty with him, thinking it would make him feel more at ease around strangers, but I think he got TOO comfortable; during a heated game of video game Bocce (it happens!), a mistake on my part led to him shouting “You idiot!” This statement stung; a rough few emotional weeks filled with self-doubt and general depression about my basic contributions to life seemed to audibly confirm how others perceived me. I sat on those feelings for the rest of the night, not wanting to make an awkward mountain into a maladroit of a molehill. (I texted my friend the next day to inform him that I found his brother’s statement to be rude.)

Another set of gaffes came from the best friend of a mutual friend. Over the course of several years, said best friend of mutual friend (a jittery guy that was not shy about being his crass, jittery self) made displeasing comments about acquaintances and colleagues, expressed out homophobic remarks about a mutual coworker, and professed his lust for a then 16-year-old actress. My opinion of him was low.

The fact that the mutual friend of said schlub considered the asshole one of his best friends made me reevaluate our joint bond, and I recognized ugly aspects of his personality with a new clarity. Offhand remarks that were sexist and racist in nature came back into focus, as did off-color jokes about a good mutual friend. The dickbagginess of the mutual acquaintance reflected the unbecoming side of that mutual friend.

It also made me wonder if I was as horrible as those examples that I was surrounded by. Humans are bound to occasionally say awful things and engage in arguable behavior, and no one is perfect. (I wish I could do-over many of the conversations I’ve had in my life–especially between the ages of 7 and 12.) But what if the encounters between mutual colleagues were annoying? Though I would like to think that I’m a good judge of character, what did it say that their colleagues could be friends with frustrating people?

***

I recently took a week-long break from my personal Facebook account due to boredom and discontent. My friends list had expanded to the point where a majority of the accounts were people I had never met or hadn’t seen in more than 5 years, and my news feed was filled with posts that may as well have been from strangers. I found myself increasingly bothered by the indulgence in the worst social media habits that I witnessed, and after months of unfollowing dozens in my feed, I went on an unfriending purge. And I felt terrible about it.

Like those acquaintances that I dealt with in real life, those that I collected on my Facebook profile shared a similarity: they were good people that periodically dabbled in irritating acts. But those behaviors were the only side I saw to them–online sphere or otherwise. I realized that those pesky proprieties (including an abundance of selfies, baby and pet pics, and musings about geek culture) had little meaning to me but might not have been the case to those that had a primary role in their lives. I know that I can’t get enough of the baby pics that my cousin’s family and my good friends post, and I look forward to pop culture musings from certain friends. It’s that “the vital connection is made.” (BOW, bow-bow bow)

***

I’ve probably been that terrible mutual friend on more than one occasion. I’m not the easiest person to converse with because of my shyness, and I might come across as aloof or stuck up as a result. My sense of humor can be goofy, so an occasional riff (like about pop culture or douchebags) might be annoying. I’m lucky that my friends can tolerate me at my best and worst, and I’m learning to apply those principles to others that I come across in my travels. That said, if they admit their longing for an underage person or post nothing but selfies, all bets are off.

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