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Post No.: 0979acquaintances


Furrywisepuppy says:


We can have different levels of companions, from close friendships to more distant acquaintances. Looking at just your place of work – workplace companions can range from mere co-worker acquaintances (those you see at work but don’t interact with much except for brief pleasantries and smiles) to best friends (those you trust closely with personal disclosures, meet outside of work, and would definitely keep even if one of you leaves the organisation).


There are online communities that are there just for particular interests too, like gaming or fandoms, and these can still connect people socially and regularly even though the members might not even know each other’s real names and haven’t seen or heard each other’s real faces or voices; never mind have met or will typically plan to ever physically meet each other.


Introverts are just as good at forming exceptional relationships as extroverts. Extroversion isn’t linked to higher or lower relationship ratings – being introverted isn’t the same as being antisocial(!)


It’s not so much about going to parties all of the time – talking to strangers on the train, for instance, helps too. It’s about being engaged in meaningful social interactions. It’s simple to talk to anyone – be pleasant, show a genuine interest in others and make them feel fluffy good about themselves. It’s about how we trust, feel connected, feel interdependent, and about being in tune, with others.


So even if your family, friends, colleagues, regular acquaintances and other relationships aren’t around, there are others to meet and interact with. Notice the people in your neighbourhood and don’t dismiss brief incidental acquaintances as you go by your day for they can bring psychological, and possibly financial, benefits too. Take a few moments to chat with those you encounter along your day and way. ‘Hi and bye’ relationships are valuable too, and from small interactions, strong friendships may form down the line; or indeed you won’t know if you’ll ever need or appreciate their help or what opportunities they may forward to you some day?


It’s thus usually worth the time and effort to try to connect with casual acquaintances and get to know each other better. Perhaps they’ll turn into a true friend? We’re often delighted when an old acquaintance checks in with us thus a spontaneous, “Hello” has much the same effect on others too. It’s also much better when it’s spontaneous and caring rather than done only if and when one is requesting something from them. It’s then worth continuing the conversation with them – after all, all close friendships began with a simple conversation between strangers or acquaintances, that then continued. Overall, many of us don’t have a good sense of how pleasurable it is to connect with others because of being tentative of that first contact.


So deepen new ties – be the kind of friend to them that you’d want them to be to you. You’ll more likely attract those with the same values as you this way too. Work at making friendships, albeit not everyone will be right for you. It takes time and effort to turn casual acquaintances into trusted allies. Cultivate the bond with reciprocal self-disclosures and reciprocal kindness. It’s nice to have people you can turn to for emotional and/or practical support, and for a sense of belonging. These types of relationships take effort to build and maintain but are worth it!


If you tend to be self-conscious during any kind of social interaction – focus your attention on the other person i.e. off yourself. Ask questions about them with the aim of learning more about them. Asking thoughtful questions, follow-up questions and carefully listening to what people say is a key way to get people to like you more. And if you’re putting in some attentive effort to connect, without being overwhelming, you’ll find that people will likely like you far more than you think. If you’re self-conscious then sometimes attention is only drawn to something about you because you draw self-conscious attention to it yourself.


If you’re struggling to make conversation with strangers or loose acquaintances – topics that are pretty much universal include family/friends, occupation, recreation and dreams (FORD). Ask open-ended questions about these. As a general rule, questions starting with ‘are’ or ‘do’ are closed questions that elicit yes or no answers. And questions starting with ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘which’ are open questions that need fuller answers. If you’re looking for something a little deeper and more involved then you could try some probing questions, which start with words like ‘how’, ‘why’ and ‘in what way’. But make sure you find the person interesting before you do this as it might mean kissing goodbye to an evening talking with others!


Romantic partners, family members, parent-children relationships, friends, colleagues, neighbours and acquaintances – who are similar and dissimilar to us – are all valuable in our social networks. Having a supportive network of allies around us, or feeling that people will be there for you if and when you need them is absolutely key to our happiness and health. Those who feel a social sense of support find stressful events easier and less anxiety-ridden to handle. So recognise the ties you already have. When we’re stressed out, we often take for granted and forget about those who care for us – so intentionally and specifically call to mind the people who support you, and remember a time when they comforted you before. This’ll break the vicious cycle of feeling distressed and alone, and alone and distressed.


Friends also help you to take that chance, that risk, to do ambitious things, like start a business, an academic course, a new hobby, a new life. Humans appear almost unique in forming non-kin companionships that can be extremely deep and meaningful – friendships that don’t have directly self-interested purposes; not even to propagate one’s genes. Many friendships will outlast romantic relationships.


All kinds of welcoming connections boost our happiness. But not all friendships are equal – the most beneficial are those friends whom would truly come to your aid if you were in need, with their time, energy and action, and not just offer mere words of sympathy. A friend in need is a friend indeed. True friends, I’d say, care about each other on a more personal, almost family, level. Woof!


Life-long, close, long-distance, virtual/online, loose acquaintances, co-workers/contextual colleagues, friendships of convenience, etc. all have different values – but genuine friends are those whom you can confide in, trust, who will go beyond the call of duty for you and whom you mutually share generously with.


We naturally prefer to invest in, trust in and befriend members of our own ingroups (e.g. people with the same religious or political beliefs as us) though. But get used to being around members of outgroups too – inter-group relations can feel unnatural but getting used to them, being more open-minded and treating everyone as equal makes these interactions easier, whether we’re royalty or paupers, one ethnicity or another, one faith or another, etc.. Besides, group boundaries are always arbitrary – for example all people with blonde hair, all people with hair, all people with two nostrils… Humans are a tribal species but you can also take the astronomical view – your own ingroup could be all humans, or maybe even all life on this planet because there might be aliens from other planets in the cosmos, friendly or otherwise!


Disabled people, for instance, shouldn’t feel like targets of lazy stereotypes, and able-bodied people shouldn’t feel nervous about being perceived as prejudiced around disabled people – just be comfortable around all, whoever you are, by reaching across group boundaries more often. The more time we’re exposed to something, and we learn that we’re not being harmed by it, the less irrational fear will remain about that thing. And this applies to being open with other people and groups too. This attitude of openness increases everybody’s happiness and therefore decreases anxiety.


Having enemies makes us feel unhappy. Having friends makes us feel happy. So be courageous and make friends with everybody you can, no matter where a person comes from! This reduces our ingroup biases – well our ingroup will simply become more inclusive and diverse; and less division and conflict is obviously better for everyone and their dog. So it’s largely our own efforts that make friends, and largely our own lack of efforts, our aloofness or aversions, that make enemies or ‘outsiders’. Make new friends, keep your old friends if you can, and try to never burn any bridges. Making and maintaining friendships is a lifelong pursuit and activity.


A divisive environment beats this out of us from young but develop a curiosity about people who are different to you (interestedly, not interrogatively) like a child naturally does. Find other people more interesting than yourself. Join diverse communities, both offline and online. Travel more if possible. Challenge prejudices and discover the commonalities or what unites us rather than divides us. Treat people as individuals and not according to stereotypes. This helps us to overcome fears and unwarranted distrust, and promotes empathy and cooperation. Try another person’s life for a period of time (e.g. a different culture, homelessness if it’s safe to) – it’s not just those poorer but those different to us; even our ‘enemies’. Be mindfully present when with them. Actively listen and reciprocate by opening up to others if others try to open up to you – allow yourself to be vulnerable by exchanging your most central beliefs and experiences mutually. With enough courage and social intelligence, anybody can be turned into a friend.


But do beware of ‘fake friends’, who are only there when they want something from you – sometimes by pretending to be your friend from the outset in order to exploit you for some specific purpose. They aren’t there for you when you need them. They’re only there when it’s convenient for them. They may attempt to get into your inner circle if you have money or fame or if you appear to might acquire these things soon, but they instantly won’t care about you if you suddenly lose these things or don’t look like you’ll be acquiring them soon. They might even denigrate and make fun of you or share what you told them in confidence behind your back. They might like to subtly put you down and rationalise it as ‘banter’. They’re unreliable, manipulative and don’t always make you feel good. They’re basically people who just think of themselves first. So watch out for the red flags and distance from them or ditch them from your life.


Relatedly, we’ve got to be okay with finding out that some people will dislike us even when we’re trying not to feel hostile to anyone. Even the most popular people in the world have their haters. It’s not to say we shouldn’t give a damn about how others think about us because it could be the case that we need to become better people ourselves (e.g. more kind, thoughtful, empathic, welcoming, less afraid), but we cannot please everyone. We can let these people go.


Apart from for such self-improvement, don’t try to be like someone else in order to get them to like you. And if you want to be liked, people will like you more when you’re interested in and are impressed by them (in genuine rather than patronising ways) than when you try to appear interesting or impress others. Listen more and converse about stuff that interests them than speak about yourself and only stuff that interests you. Charismatic people are mentally present and engaged with whomever they’re talking with, as if no one in the world is more important than the other person in that very moment. (The worst kind of romantic date is someone who goes on about their ex rather than being present with you!)


Woof. Therefore self-improvement, perhaps ironically, requires focusing more on others.


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