Why am I friends with the people I am friends with? Why have I chosen them to fulfil this momentous role of ‘friend’, and why have they, likewise, chosen me? I used to think the main ingredient – the main determining quality, here – was similarity, which (theoretically) breeds familiarity, and hence compatibility. But I now think I was wrong in ever thinking this.
In my eyes, back then, an ideal friend would possess a dark sense of humour; would…pontificate…often; would love Harry Potter, and mountains, and stars. They would probably be South Asian too; how easy this would all be – not having to explain myself to them. They would just know. And just relate. But, in retrospect, what a limited and borderline narcissistic way of thinking! Clearly, back then, I simply wanted in my friends, mirrors of, well, me.
In truth, I now realise, there is certainly such a thing as a kindred spirit. The souls that my soul recognises are cut from the same spiritual cloth as I am. But we are not identical; same cloth, but entirely different shapes and patterns – textiles decorated in distinctive ways. Being friends with absolute mirrors of oneself is no fun at all. In fact, I am almost certain that I would come to resent them after a short while. How predictable, how boring, how sickeningly similar-to-me they would (subjectively) be…
So why am I friends with the people I am friends with? Well, T and I, as a prime example, have known each other since practically forever. But surely this is not a strong enough factor to ensure enduring compatibility? We have shared many a moment together; we have, in unison, experienced far too many embarrassing memories and phases and enlightening encounters for us to ever let go of the other. Flowery headband phases; fat phases; mirrored academic struggles from SATs to these gap years…
And T and I are quite similar. Same cloth: both the same age; female; Bengali; from East London. We both have…a fascination with Jewish history; with Islamic architecture; with plants. We can make each other laugh until our intestines feel like they will almost certainly burst. And yet, we are so very different. I am very glad we are. T enriches my worldview with her interests in historical America; in period dramas; in the nuances of the Russian Revolution. When I am cynical and sarcastic, she remains sweet and rosy-cheeked. When she manages to devour five consecutive croissants in one sitting, I pretend to scoff at her, while sipping on my own cardamom-infused tea. And I could (and, hopefully, will) talk to her for decades without getting bored.
T knows pretty much everything about me. Our family members know us as S-and-T, the forever friends. But I cringe at the thought of what things would have been like if we were more-or-less exactly the same: if I was into the same makeup brands as she is. If she liked wearing dark floral prints like I do. If my favourite work of art was The Great Wave like hers is. If she was a Ravenclaw like I am.
We have spent a lifetime knowing each other. It is natural that we have so many things in common: an ardent love for Scotland – a country neither of us have ever even visited – for example. But, and thankfully, we are not joined at the hip. We reflect certain parts of each other, and yet we are very distinguishable from one other. We come from different families (although they both happen to be working-class and Bengali) and we have attended separate educational establishments throughout our lifetimes. She pursues her interests by having her ‘things’ – her own voluntary roles, her university pursuits, her classes, the friends and experiences of hers that we do not share. She has her world; I have mine. And this makes the parts of overlap – the centre of the Venn diagram; the parts of our worlds that join as one – ever more rich, more sweet, and more interesting.
Perhaps that is what good, meaningful friendship is truly about. Maybe it is a game of good Venn diagrams. Sameness through different eyes, and differences cut from cloths of sameness.
F loves art; the art she produces inspires wonder and fascination to anybody who might look upon it. She loves Twenty One Pilots; she is a Hijabi Pakistani who dresses like she is an artsy motorcyclist. I could never be her, but I love how all these things come together in her. The centre of our Venn diagram is centred upon Islam and Psychology. And I love listening to her stories – about her experiences of being she – for she is not me. She is my friend: an entire individual in her own right, with whom I share a special bond, and with whom my heart feels at ease with.
A and I rarely even see each other. But we are indubitably ‘kindred spirits’. We both apologise for being awkward and a bit strange – but, to each other, we are not awkward nor strange. Most of our conversations, due to circumstance, take place online. But my conversations with her always deeply energise me. Few people are able to think the way that A does. Recently we went to a Moroccan café for tea together – and what an entrancing experience that was. Time seemed to stop, while we talked. We bounced around, from topic to topic, and it was so weird and yet so wonderful: how the two of us, though from different backgrounds and such, just knew each other, so well. There is a sort of essence, I think, within every human being, that exists irrespective of whatever we try to plaster on top of them. Ethnicity, class, religion, [height]. Essences tend to be so strong that nothing else really matters.
H and I met fairly recently, but she is one of the best friends I have ever had. She is Somali and very tall. She wears a Niqab. If I passed her, without knowing her, on the street, I would probably never have been able to see it – the fact that her soul and mine are of the same fabric. It took a conversation – while we were sat upon two stools, pricing things – for us to discover our twin loves of spoken word poetry. And then it was a slippery slope from there: little letters and coffee dates, until we were laughing together until neither of us could breathe.
TN is my Sue; I am her Sue. [What does this mean? Well, it is a mystery to all, except to the two Sues]. When TN first met me, I seemed, according to her, “too cool” to approach and be friends with. But, from my own memory, I was always the definition of uncool with her: I would see her and deliberately annoy her, shouting her name out, and purposely mispronouncing it. TN is an artist too; I am no artist, though I do like art. She likes K-pop; I absolutely detest it. We share a lot with each other – the kind of stuff that makes us…Sues…to each other. We make lightness of heavy things. And I am forever grateful that she overcame this delusion that I was somehow “too cool” for her. ‘Cool’ is so uncool. We find our friends in being wholehearted embarrassing losers with one another.
And then, there’s F and P. Blood-related by chance, and friends by choice. Is it characteristic of a loser to be friends with one’s cousins? Well, then, I am gladly, thankfully, a loser. F, P, and I have our individual essences. Some things, F and I overlap with regard to. Some things, F and P. Others, P and I relate to each other very strongly with. The things we share: certain memories. Like how I fell down inside a wardrobe – yes, inside a wardrobe – in Spain. Olly Pablo – the mysterious Spanish boy they fell in love with, while I made fun of them. Our mutual love for astronomy. And for chicken. P and F love the beach; I prefer mountains. F and I can talk for eons about sociology and politics; P makes a prolonged really-confused face whenever we do. And, during sleepovers, F wakes up super early. P and I continue to cherish our golden slumbers, as F tinkers about, carrying out her meticulous skincare routine. We get along – along with our own lives when we are apart, and along with each other when we are together.
Mystery, familiarity, humour, differences, similarities, memories… these things contribute profoundly to compatibility when it comes to friendship. And the thing about people is that we cannot be put into descriptive boxes. Oftentimes compatibility cannot fully be explained. There are some people, I find, who are so ‘like me’, and yet I find myself…repulsed by…and not spiritually attracted to – them. Why? Perhaps they are the exact same shape as me. But maybe they happen to be cut from different cloths.
In general, friendship should definitely be a validating experience. We should see bits of ourselves in our friends, and vice versa. But it should also be an enriching experience. Thus, true interpersonal compatibility lies not solely in similarity. Compatibility encompasses its own various subjective criteria. It is not something we have control over, nor is it something that can be artificially engineered. With your friends, you talk about similar, or different, things, from similar, or different, perspectives. And, ultimately, it is true that the best kinds of friends feel precisely like home and like an adventure, at exactly the same time.