When it comes to friendships, the more varied the better

When it comes to friendships, the more varied the better. Photo | Photosearch

What you need to know:

Social media will have you drink the Kool-Aid that you are in ‘touch’ with everyone – but without face-to-face time, we lack deeper connections and only have superficial relationships

Love is blind, the old adage goes, whereas friendship closes its eyes. It’s too bad that despite closing our eyes, at some point we must open them, and what happens when the reality registers on our retina, of the full and, perhaps, less-than-flattering picture of our dearest friends?

Men have only a finite number of friendship resource quota, and we want our limited number of friends to exert themselves while being our be-all and end-all. And I get it. In Lurambi, we say, ‘A Bukusu can deny you food, but he cannot deny you gossip.’

So here is the gossip:  I have been trying to get my boys together and start a chama for the last three years (it’s actually five but I have taxed the last two years). It’s either we start and stop, someone drops off, or we all drop off. Sometimes—okay occasionally—, okay okay, most of the time I have taken it personally, as an indictment against my persona. How dare they refuse me? How dare they not respond to my carrot? Are we really friends or just vassals? 

This was the coward’s way out like going to a lawyer to ask his opinion of the basketball court; or a doctor to ask for stripping advice instead of a stripper. Just because they have both seen you naked doesn’t mean they are all qualified to handle your business—you know what I mean. 

Women’s friendships tend to be more personalised and dyadic: who you are is the most important thing. Men, it’s what you are. That guy belongs to my club, I like him. Oh, you play squash? Me too! You also think girls with foreheads are underrated? I knew we would be best friends! I learned early on, that you cannot get everything from one person. I have primary school friends who know me for my clean-shaven looks, and I have work colleagues who only know me as a Rasta man and keep asking me where to find the ‘shash.’ I tell them to find Jesus first because Jesus likes going to ‘shash.’ 

You may be one person but you are technically a different person to different people. The problem is trying to make an alchemy of these friendships, and getting mad when it doesn’t gel. I know there are friends we left behind, and there are other friends who left us behind. I also know that some people are stuck in a time capsule, the nickname they gave you, “Jino” because of your crooked incisors, they still call you that, 18 years later, even after you fixed your teeth. It’s extremely sad to witness this, and my prayer is to keep growing with your friends, while still maintaining that childhood sense of abundance but proceeding with caution because we now have families, and jobs and adulting.

Good friendship is a house on the hill, jewelled and creaking, crammed with a lifetime of memorabilia; and the passage of time suffuses the scene with the melancholy air of nostalgia.

In his book “How Many Friends Does One Person Need,”, Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist, theorised that humans could have no more than about 150 meaningful relationships, a measure that became known as Dunbar’s number. Dr. Dunbar explains that meaningful relationships are those people you know well enough to greet without feeling awkward if you ever run into them in a public space. That could be say 100 to 250 people—but we have an intimate bond with only about five to 15 people. (Then there’s the circle of fifteen: the friends that you can turn to for sympathy when you need it, the ones you can confide in about most things. The most intimate Dunbar number, five, is your close support group). It’s possible to maintain much larger networks, but at the expense of the sincerity of those connections; most people operate in much smaller social circles.

“The amount of social capital you have is pretty fixed,” Dunbar said. “It involves time investment. If you garner connections with more people, you end up distributing your fixed amount of social capital more thinly so the average capital per person is lower.”

Social media will have you drink the Kool-Aid that you are in ‘touch’ with everyone – but without face-to-face time, we lack deeper connections and only have superficial relationships. I have 5,000 friends on Facebook (what am I still doing on Facebook?) I read on Facebook that if you are friends with someone for more than five years, you become cousins. I have 1,013 friend requests! Yet my high school teacher said I was not very friendly! I’m no Theologian but Jesus can’t hold a candle to my followers on Twitter and my Instagram is an active crime scene. But am I remotely interested in them? Save for the occasional 3 am booty call, they elicit the same amount of excitement in me as nails do to Jesus. Not so when it comes to my buddies. 

When my mates and I meet, we never talk about our wives or girlfriends—or both. No one brings up their money worries, health concerns or family wrangles. Exposing is losing. Banter is a barrier. Offloading, rude, and boring. That’s one group of friends. It’s a cosmetic friendship, but it works, akin to your genes’ attitude to you once you have had children, which is: “It’s fine to carry on living if you like but frankly your task here is done so it’s all the same to us.” But what it means is that life is not always a Venn diagram. Not everything overlaps. Not every friendship circle loops. 

Now I don’t burden them with everything. There are friends I overshare with, people who if someone’s daughter is reading this, can give a running commentary on my love life (lives?). I have my cyclist friends, I have friends I can only tolerate after shash, I have friends who know a good bar-and-steak (hi Joe?) and I have friends who loan me money (but mostly owe). We don't lose sleep because we didn’t fling our arms around each other while pointing to those toned biceps and blubber, “Wow! Do you have a license for those guns?” and wonder why no major motion picture company has picked up this bromance for a limited series. It is not that sort of friendship. It is subtler, lower-key. But it has its purpose. 

You probably expect a more edifying finish to this ode. But you and I are friends now. And my test of friendship is simple: if you can be yourself, and that includes passing wind, then it is written in the stars. It’s not the sort of thing you do with acquaintances or women or children. Just friends (which is a terrible get-out-of-jail-free card when she asks who is Susan).  What I have learned? Let go of the obligations that you feel toward your friends. And be an even better friend to the ones you actually want to see.

“If a man does not make new acquaintances as he advances through life, he will soon find himself left alone,” English writer Samuel Johnson once said. “A man, Sir, should keep his friendship in constant repair.” The owner’s manual isn’t as complicated as we like to believe. Word on the street is that what’s popular is to jump on the victim-train: “I have no friends” or “Fake Friends” or “Friends who became enemies” as if it is a badge of honour. Hear it from me, you need friends. And no Jesus doesn’t count. Unless he is passing some shash.