A Circle of Friends

Many TV series, books and movies feature cute and fun everyday dramas of a circle of friends. For example TV series like Beverly Hill 90210, Friends, Ally, and The Big Bang Theory.

 

 
I’m not sure how realistically they portray how it works, but a circle of friends seems like a common expectation for a normal social life. For me, that expectation has caused a lot of agony in the past which still lurk somewhere in the fringes, saying your life is not good enough.

 
What a Circle of Friends Is

My understanding of a circle of friends is a group of friends who all know each other well and typically have known each other for a long time; so they are a bit like a sort of family but not usually family. They are usually within the same age range and socio-economic segment. They hang out together often, maybe almost every day, in regular rendezvous locations such as a specific sofa set-up in a cafe or shared flat. They have shared habits, rituals and history together and know what to expect from each other.

A circle of friends typically comprises 3 to 8 members, who may not all go perfectly well along. Just like in a family, members have to be tolerant of each other across even seemingly incompatible differences and find diplomatic ways to cope with incompatibilities. Contained friction is OK (and fictive contained friction tends to be hilarious). Open serious conflicts and exclusions are not OK, since that would tear apart the group.


 
My Circles of Friends History

The time in my life where I would say that I had a circle of friends was in my pre-teen years from around 11 to 14 (on and off). The circle comprised my two friends in school and my best friend outside of school, who lived in my neighbourhood. I would usually play with just one friend at a time, but they all knew each other and there were times when we were all together and involved in a joint activity, such as our Dog Club, climbing the school’s roof, or trail rides.

My friends could play with each other independently of me; which is another sign of friends being a circle rather than just individual friends. We also had extra fringe members who occasionally joined the Dog Club or trail rides, for example, such as an additional schoolmate and my little brother (reluctantly).

Being part of a little peer group made me feel socially successful just like cool kids in books and on TV, especially when we met in my home. My mother was bubbly and smiling when I had my friends over, such as when we had a Dog Club meeting on the balcony. She casually strayed out references like “one of all Anna’s friends” to her friends or family; hinting that I had many friends. I think it made her feel like a successful mother.

It hinted to me that having many friends was an important success criteria. It was also embarrassing because it cast me as someone I couldn’t possibly live up to being. I was actually socially at my peak performance with a small circle of friends, but never many friends.

In one of the same years, my best friend and I often hang out with my little brother and his best friend; I considered that another circle of friends (sort of). My best friend and I also spent a summer on a roof hanging out with some of her admirers / shifting romantic candidates. That seemed like a kind of circle of friends too, although it wasn’t really, because I was more her attachment whom the boys accepted because my best friend wanted me around, and they wanted badly to be around her.

 
When a Group of Friends is Not a Circle of Friends

In early teenagehood my circle of friends, which had centred around “childish” interests and play, had already vanished as my friends gradually dispersed into new out of sight friendship circles through school transitions and youth activities and just general teenage clique dynamics, while I fell behind and sort of gradually dropped out of school too.

For a while I tried desperately to stamp up a collection of friends – like long forgotten pen pals, counting in my cousin, trying to squeeze friendships out of far out acquaintanceships, trying to make new friends through youth activities and to reconnect with my old childhood friend, Elsa*. I succeeded with the latter and for some years to come, Elsa was my main friend although I didn’t always see her often.

I may have looked like a regular member of Elsa’s circles of friends, but I wasn’t really: I was her attachment. I didn’t know how to socialise with her friends without her and felt terribly awkward with them when she was not around; having no idea what they were all about. They were nice to me, and I think I just came across as Elsa’s extremely shy childhood friend.

The way I knew how to socialise with Elsa when I was a teenager was by always letting her have the lead and define who I was. I mirrored her values, sub culture, dress code, humour, opinions; I even copied her hand writing style**. We appeared like very close friends, but it was all on her terms. My social identity was in her pocket and had to be guided by her in all social situations; otherwise I had no clue what to do.

 
little girl in pink clothes explores herself in large kaleidoscopic mirror

 
Eventually she had enough of my social helplessness and problems I think; having to bail me out of loneliness again and again in addition to trying to manage her own difficulties***. She gave up and drifted off, and I was all by my myself with not only no circle of friends, but few social encounters at all as I largely gave up for a long time.

 
Individual Friends

I’ve always tended to have individual friends when having friends. Individual friends are friends who are not friends with each other and who typically live far away from each other and from me. In some cases, they do know each other and call each other “friends”; but rarely see each other and rarely or never meet up as a group. So they are friends but not a circle.

That’s the kind of friends I have now, too. One by one; in different places, from different life eras and unknown to each other. Friends I rarely see. Friends who usually have each their own circles of friends. The ones who don’t know me closely tend to assume that I have a circle of my own too; sometimes politely fishing for cues about the standard social life they presume I have. My presumed circle of friends.

But I don’t have that, because I’m more like someone who lives on an island. My island has complex infrastructure in some locations but just bare fields in other, and just a slow old ferry route to the mainland with all its fast & wide infrastructure. To some people, my island seem so absurd that they can’t get their head around its reality. Why build complex infrastructure in spots where there are no people? And why isn’t there a big multi-lane bridge to the mainland instead? So they keep asking: are you sure there is no circle of friends on your island? Like, not family or animals or something like that, but real friends.

 
Reality Check

The impression I’ve been getting from mainstream culture and peers (especially as young) is that everyone must have a circle of friends lest they are social losers. That caused a lot of damage earlier on by making me feel like a loser, and by diverting my focus from developing a more realistic friendship model that might have a better chance of working for me.

I do think that friends are important for quality of life. Certainly that is the case for me. Being with and listening to other people can give access to different perspectives on life, inspiration from outside of one’s own head, inclusion and awareness of opportunities; and just feeling like a participant in the world.

A social circle ads something extra: it promotes just being together without having to talk; let one see friends from different sides; it teaches social dynamics in a relaxed, continuous way; provides safety, inspiration and social validation, and can be as entertaining as any sitcom****. So I want a social circle. And I do have it… by widening the criteria enough so my real life fits in:

  1. Family and a romantic partner can double as friends
  2. Friends need not be human
  3. Friends need not be physically present – ever

 
Home = Circle of Friends

Family and a romantic partner can double as friends, and Friends need not be human.

My husband is my best friend, and him and the 2 dogs make up the core of my everyday circle of friends. Then comes fringe members, like our friends and acquaintances from Church who all know each other and interact independently of us. Since we’re a family-like group with close relationships with one another and interact on a daily basis across the group, my home does in fact live up to the criteria for being a circle of friends.

 
Virtual Circles of Friends

Friends need not be physically present – ever.

Blogging is the centre of my virtual social life. Blogging means occasionally writing blog posts, and most of the time reading blogs and communicating online (e.g. in comment tracks) using this blog as my virtual ID.

Some of the bloggers who I follow & have been followed by over some time know vastly more about me than most people I know offline (including my family). They know aspects I haven’t tried to explain to most people I know face to face about how I sense the world, think, struggle and spend my time. I’ve even shared aspects of my history that I don’t think my family were aware of***** even when I lived right in their midst.

My point is that the networks and subcultures within the blogosphere serve as virtual circles of friends.

 
A Good Old Friend

Family can double as friends, and Friends need not be physically present.

Yesterday I talked with my cousin, who I have known all my life, for several hours via Skype… something that has never happened before. I gave her a tour of our house by walking through the rooms with my computer tablet with her talking head on… (Yay for living in the future!), from where she had a chat with my husband, too. It was great to talk with her, and we agreed to do it again soon. Next time with a glass of red wine in hand.

While she has her own circle of friends – a real one comprising old class mates et.c. – and I’m not part of that, our relation do have a bit of circle-characteristics in that we’re family and know a lot of the same people (family members). I have always been fond of her – from she was a big baby being placed on my lap (she is a few years younger than me). She is one of the most trustworthy and wisest persons I know and the one person in my maternal family who I dare confide in about sensitive things because she is a good listener and observer, and willing to understand instead of just wanting to apply black-and-white stereotypes to everything.

However, no matter how much I like her and enjoy her company, I’ve always as an adult felt awkward around her just like around anyone else who is roughly on my age, and just like around all my maternal family members. Because she is better… She met all her milestones. She has friends. She has a career. She knows how to navigate social landscapes. She masters the art of diplomacy. She understands how different persons feel and how it may influence their actions. She is telepathic (OK maybe not).

Talking with her, I had some of the same impulses as always… Too eager, almost agitated and trying hard to steer my energy and to not be offputtingly insensitive about anything. I tried to be attentive and pleasant to talk with, to not get stuck too hard & fast on single trains of thoughts. To return smiles and openings and remember reciprocity at all times.

This time I put in the same effort as usual to try to do the conversation right, but I was more relaxed and willing to forgive myself for my mistakes. Conversations have always been a difficult balance art, but now I think that it isn’t my fault if I tend to stuff it up. I’m doing my best. I’m doing fine considering how hard it is. If I can’t manage to do it right then I can just tell her what the problem is and ask her for feedback and corrections. She wouldn’t mind… She likes me and there is a strong, old and deep bond underneath the patchy contact. It will prevail. And best of all, it is a great foundation for developing the friendship further. A happy ending. beginning. continuation.

—–
* Names are fake for the sake of anonymity
** She pointed that out repeatedly, and I denied it was the case… but it was, there you go I admit it.
*** Bipolar disorder
**** Here referring to the few sitcoms that are in fact entertaining
***** I could be under-estimating them

Advertisements

21 thoughts on “A Circle of Friends

  1. autisticook

    This made me cry because you seem to have the same high expectations of yourself that I do. And then the letting go of all that in the call with your cousin. So poignant. I can barely manage to do that in relationships, never mind friendships. Your words are giving me a lot to think about.

    Like

    Reply
  2. annarosemeeds

    Great points! I stinks that culture seems to think that there is a right and wrong way to have friends. It isn’t as if we don’t already have plenty of rules from them about what to look like, act like, and be like. Anyway, thank you for a great post!

    Like

    Reply
    1. Mados

      Thank you!

      Yes I agree… I feel sorry for all the (especially young) people who struggle to live up to the “requirements” even if they do have or could have some friends of other sorts.

      Like

      Reply
  3. notesoncrazy

    One of my favorite shows on tv right now is Community. I love how they handle the “circle of friends” phenomenon, since it’s something that has always really bothered me about that kind of show. They treat it like the odd little family they have developed is something very special and unique, and also very flawed, and definitely not something to be taken for granted or that everybody has in some way or another. (Another unique/interesting aspect of the show is that the character used to pull you in and relate to what’s going on potentially has ASD – they mention it once or twice, but it’s not harped on – which means showing how strongly people can bond with others even when they have a slightly askew way of empathizing. That’s not really related to the circle of friends thing though; I just like it.)
    I just really appreciate how everyone on Community values what they have without being afraid to let it be imperfect. Some people are more a part of the group than others, some pair off, some are completely dependent on it emotionally. They all just let the group be what it needs to be for them without any sort of magical expectations. And when they get all corny and talk about how they are a family (and yeah, it happens), they’re really just saying how lucky they are to have met each other and been influenced by knowing each other instead of celebrating some best friends forever pact.
    So shows like Friends and 90210 and Big Bang Theory (ESPECIALLY Big Bang Theory) just make me angry. I get so weirdly involved with the shows I watch, and I don’t want those shows implying that the way I make friends is not good enough somehow. I think in real life there are a lot more relationships like you and your childhood friend or you and your cousin or me and my best friend/ex-roommate who lives 2000 miles away than there are these magical circle of friend things. And even if I’m wrong about that, eh, whatever. Me and my ex-roommate have a good thing going, and it sounds like you and your cousin have something pretty cool too.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Mados

      I had never heard about “Community “but I found this trailer on YouTube. Thank you for introducing it. I like it a lot from your description and the trailer too. I love the Community College idea: it seems like a great way to make an intersection where eccentric “losers” from widely different corners of society can hook up… I love that concept.

      I like The Big Bang Theory too, though. I have only seen separate scenes on YouTube, I have never seen the full programmes because I don’t really watch TV, especially not here in Australia (Australian TV is unbearable). I have seen some of the episodes of the other ones in Danish TV years ago – Beverly Hills, Friends and Ally. I found Friends very boring (just saw one episode on YouTube to check when I wrote this post – still not funny), I liked Ally, and I liked seeing Beverly Hills many years ago although I didn’t see many of the episodes because I wasn’t big on TV back then either.

      I think in real life there are a lot more relationships like you and your childhood friend or you and your cousin or me and my best friend/ex-roommate who lives 2000 miles away than there are these magical circle of friend things. And even if I’m wrong about that, eh, whatever. Me and my ex-roommate have a good thing going, and it sounds like you and your cousin have something pretty cool too.

      Yes, we do… and I agree. I’m glad that I at this stage in my life am able to have cool things going with other people. So it would be stupid to not acknowledge the tremendous value of it just because the people may not live up to mainstream criteria for friendships.

      I had a great conversation with my dad some weeks ago, also on Skype. For one and a half hours… That is highly unusual too, it has never happened before, and especially because my dad is generally a man of few words. He talked a lot about how honey bee society works (honey production is his newest hobby) and we also talked about feral animals in Australia (such as camels), dogs, my other cousin’s research, things like that and it was just like a really good conversation with a friend. I think I might count my dad in as a friend too just based on that conversation:-)

      Like

      Reply
  4. HappilyClueless

    I am glad that you talk about the circle of friends as something that is expected but in truth not as necessary as it is usually considered to be. It has always puzzled me how most people my age had a circle of friends and I didn’t. I have only had individual friends, and I sometimes envied those who had a “circle” because they went places I couldn’t go by myself (eg. eating out, or travelling, or simply the big cinema out of town). The closest I’ve been to that has been through groups (sport, student organizations, etc.) in which I made some friends – not the other way round. The most painful thing about it was that my parents – with the best intentions – always tried to “push” or “convince” me to get myself inside a group. So many years later, I haven’t yet figured out how to do that – but to be honest, I am not really interested anymore.
    Yay for different kinds of friendships!

    Like

    Reply
    1. Mados

      Your puzzle sounds very familiar … How do people build up their circles of friends? And stay in them? I still don’t know. But I’m not really interested any more either… I don’t think it would be the right type of circles for me anyway, from what I have experienced (other’s circles) they tend to be too demanding and noisy anyway.

      The most painful thing about it was that my parents – with the best intentions – always tried to “push” or “convince” me to get myself inside a group.

      Aw… I feel with you on that. My family members (particularly on the maternal side) always fish for cues about my “social life” and I don’t think what I do have is ever really enough to match up to what they feel it should be. They have good intentions too… Obviously a lively network of age-relevant friends is very advantageous for one’s career and opportunities in many areas, and isolation and “irrelevant” friends tends to cause stagnation. The friendship criteria just aren’t realistic or interesting for me, so it just means that I don’t feel like keeping in contact with them much because their prompts make me feel bad. The same is the case with my mother… I think that is what she really want to get out of any (rare) communication with me: check if my social life shows any improvement from earlier and put gentle pressure on me to “fix” it – while overlooking the things I value in life.

      Yay for different kinds of friendships – from me too:-)

      Thank you for your comment:-)

      Like

      Reply
    2. invisibleautistic/Robin

      Happily Clueless, I have the same feelings. I could never get myself into a group. Watching people get married made it worse for me, too, because it always seemed like they were able to pick people from their circle of friends to be their bridesmaids and maid of honor. I don’t have that luxury, especially as my friends can come and go. (And really, to have a group of so many people understand you, hang out with you a lot, and stick with you for so many years IS a luxury!) It’s great that you still made some friends through student organizations etc. Maybe this IS your circle of friends. I feel like we need to redefine what it means to have a circle of friends, or even a family.

      Like

      Reply
  5. Ashana M

    I think I have friends who have these kinds of circles, and whether you have one or not might depend on what kind of person you are. I seem to be more someone who drifts through social landscapes. I have friends from various aspects of my life that don’t necessarily know each other, and might not have much in common or even like each other. But I also suspect these “circle of friends” shows are popular more because it’s an easy formula to use in writing and filming than because it reflects real life. Having a show about the hundred or so people you interact with to one degree or another would be hopelessly confusing–much better to have a show about 8 fairly stable characters.

    Like

    Reply
        1. autisticook

          I’m addicted to it. It’s a fantasy world, very gritty and political and nobody is all good or all evil. It has a LOT of characters to keep track of, though. I had to read the books first so I could build my own pictures to go with the names of all the people, if I had to rely on face recognition I’d have been completely lost after 10 minutes.

          Like

          Reply
          1. bjforshaw

            My DVDs of seasons 1 & 2 arrived last week — just after I finished the books — and I’m just waiting for time to launch into watching them. I’m intensely curious to compare my pictures with the TV production.

            Like

    1. Mados

      But I also suspect these “circle of friends” shows are popular more because it’s an easy formula to use in writing and filming than because it reflects real life. Having a show about the hundred or so people you interact with to one degree or another would be hopelessly confusing–much better to have a show about 8 fairly stable characters.

      That is a good point too.

      Like

      Reply
  6. gavinpandion

    “Contained friction is OK (and fictive contained friction tends to be hilarious). Open serious conflicts and exclusions are not OK, since that would tear apart the group.”
    This is where I probably tend to make most of my friendship ascertainment mistakes – knowing who wants to be a friend, and what they’re doing when they may or may not be “acting friendly” in that social chit chat mode where “informative conversation style” is for whatever reason off-limits. (Dry, irrelevant, boring? It’s as if factual answer-style responses to social statements that sounded like questions are rude, as if social conversation were all about indirection and rhetorical circular arguments intended to be value-neutral and to prevent the conversation from finding a stopping place as if everyone lost interest in each other as soon as they learned what they needed to know by asking direct questions and getting direct answers.)
    Anyways, it’s tempting to see contrived contained friction as thinly-veiled bullying routines between dominant and dominated (but not necessarily submissive) group members, so that the jokes available through fictive contained friction always end up being obscure inside jokes (only the person on whom the joke appears to be would really know if it was harmless), which makes even more overt bullying seem like par for the course (only the victim of a cruel joke would know if it wasn’t an inside joke).
    Then you resort to reading tone of voice and never taking the verbal content of conversation at face value, and end up tuning out habitually, instead of following along, and if you pick up the tail end of a conversation you know only the verbal content was discernible if you hadn’t been monitoring the group dynamic, so you resort to an informative literal-minded response anyways just to indicate that you tried listening at the last minute for the sake of being polite, and you aren’t “above responding” in the most thoughtful way you can come up with on short notice, even if you had allowed yourself to be excluded from the conversation – so that being inattentive doesn’t seem aloof and self-important.
    And the prohibition on being honest about relationship problems arising within social groups seems useless and intended to foment friction in the name of cohesion. It does seem normal though, to act as if it would be rude and amount to an accusation with intent to coordinate punishments like ostracizing someone, if you pointed out that person had hurt someone else in ways that might not have come to their attention at the time (as hurt feelings can be accidental, depending on missing information problems, that sort of thing).

    Like

    Reply
    1. Mados

      Anyways, it’s tempting to see contrived contained friction as thinly-veiled bullying routines between dominant and dominated (but not necessarily submissive) group members, so that the jokes available through fictive contained friction always end up being obscure inside jokes (only the person on whom the joke appears to be would really know if it was harmless), which makes even more overt bullying seem like par for the course (only the victim of a cruel joke would know if it wasn’t an inside joke).

      It can definitely be used that way, and probably are some of the time in real-life groups. In the fictive social circles though, if we take a series like The Big Bang Theory, I think it is more a way to let the members express their frustration without splitting the group. For example, Penny and Sheldon are incompatible and frustrate each other, and they express it in passive-aggressive skin attacks which are fun to watch. It isn’t really that one is dominant and the other dominated necessarily, it is a stress relief.

      But you are right that abuse can take place jokingly within a group without any outsider knowing it, because the victim most likely tries to avoid loosing face by pretend he/she enjoys the “game” too. There really isn’t much to do about that, because it is pretty much impossible to tell the difference between teasing and covert bullying if you are not the victim and it takes place in an atmosphere of everybody teasing each other.

      Like

      Reply

Say something!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s