One of my best friends is a professional dancer. Another is a model. Another still, a midwife. I have a friend who was rooting for Donald Trump and another who doesn’t consider herself a feminist. I have friends from South Africa and Brazil, friends who cheer passionately at sports games, friends with red hair, friends who “aren’t really dog people”.
Basically, in a lot of ways, my friends are wildly different to me. Normally, this doesn’t phase me – I like that my friends are an eclectic, diverse group of people that, at first glance, don’t have anything in common.
But a while ago, my colleague Zoë Beaty wrote about how it was possible to form friendships at first sight. I became obsessed with this idea, partially, I think, because it has never happened to me. But also because a more insecure part of me worried that this said something negative about my friendships – my friends weren’t people I felt an instant connection with, but rather people whom I grew to love over the days or weeks or years I spent getting to know them.
We’ve been socialised to believe that “clicking” with a person is the prelude to a meaningful connection. We reason that the quicker we feel it, the more genuine the connection must be. But the thing about chemistry – both in romantic partnerships and friendships – is that, more often or not, the spark you felt in those initial moments fades and you have to make a decision: is this a person I want in my life?
But it turns out humans aren’t great at predicting who will be an important person in our lives. If you asked most people what they were looking for in a friendship, they tend to think of the big picture – someone who has the same interests as them, or the same values. Someone who has the same political leanings or is a similar age. See? Big-picture stuff.
But the thing about chemistry – both in romantic partnerships and friendships – is that, more often or not, the spark you felt in those initial moments fades and you have to make a decision: is this a person I want in my life?
But in their book, Click, the Brafman brothers contest that it doesn’t actually matter what parts of our lives are similar to one another, just so long as we can find something in common. The Brafmans explain: “Sharing a strong dislike of fast food, for example, was just as powerful of a predictor of attraction as favoring the same political party.” Further, they argued that having one “big” thing in common isn’t as effective in bonding people as having two or three “small” things in common. In my experience, these “small” things often feel like the biggest revelations – you’ve both watched the complete series of the West Wing three times over, you’re both left-handed, you both think that camping is a glorified circle of hell. These “small” things are more nuanced and often they feel like a more personal representation of who you are as a person.
If you’re given enough time to get to know them, you can find “small” things in common with almost anyone. In Click, the Brafmans' research also suggested that we end up becoming closest with the people we see the most often. For their book, they tracked all the cadets at a military base to see what made people bond with one another – where they were from, their ethnic group, their age. Their results showed that the cadets ended up becoming closest with those based on their last names. Why? Because they always seated in alphabetical order. They bonded the most with the people they sat next to, day in and day out – the people who listened to the minutiae of their lives; how their day was, if they’d spoken to their family, the flare-up in their dodgy shoulder. These seemingly tiny pieces of information stacked on top of one another to form a friendship.
And I think that’s exactly what most of my friendships are, too. They’re not formed on lightning-bolt moments or obvious commonalities – they’re formed on hours of conversations about everything and nothing, on lots of small revelations that made me turn to them and exclaim, “Oh, my God, you too?” While, on paper, some of my friendships might not make sense, that doesn’t make them any less valid. Or any less strong.