The Six Degrees of Separation ~ Part 2 (aka why you do (or do not) have any friends).
One of my cats is laying beside my monitor, staring at me. Naturally I anthropomorphize the moment and imagine that she is judging me. Perhaps I don’t feed her enough, or pet her enough, or play with her enough. She has, like so many cats do, that angry resting face that I can’t help but interpret as meant for me.
This is a natural part of being human. We are loss aversive and attach a negative connotation to all events that are impacting us unless we are certain that there is a better more neutral explanation. If you’ve ever been cut off on the road you’ve likely experienced this. Time for segue magic: if you are one of those people who lacks friends currently you are likely doing this when you think about it.
The size and quality of your social circle is not as much tied to who you are as a person as you might think. That isn’t to say that some people aren’t just assholes. I was one for much of my life for one reason or another. But even the most charismatic black person would be in for hard times in the US during the 1700s…or 1800s…or a nice chunk of the 1900s. Similarly Jews in the late 30’s were likely not doing too well for social circles in Germany. There are dozens (hundreds?) of quick examples but I think the point is made. Your social circle is determined strongly by two major factors: who you are and where you are. The latter likely being way more important than you might think.
Most of your friends will be people who geographically live very close to you. The person you marry (or get into a long term relationship with) will very likely be someone that was born or raised very close to where you were. This isn’t always the case but more often than not it will be. The further you move away from your center of life the weaker your ties with people become, think of your social life a bit like a blast radius.
If you end up born into or moving into an area with pre-established social paradigms you are going to potentially find yourself entering into someone else’s friend circle. Think of this circle more like a branch. Basically it goes you, this primary friend connection, and then all the people they know. This is what happened to me as a kid, it happened to another kid who moved in many years later, and I’ve seen it happen to many people.
It’s not a negative thing but it does bring with it some especially interesting baggage. Because if for some reason you lose contact with that connector you are likely to lose contact with all the nodes that they connected you to. Maybe not all that’s a bit strong, but the majority that were more friendships of convenience will pitter away over time. If you find yourself sitting somewhere now thinking about how many people you’ve known but how few people you know this back story likely sounds very familiar to you.
Some people will be less impacted by this connector problem than others. Like nature/nurture, your personality decides how well you will capitalize on available connections and where you are both spatially and temporally will decide how many available connections you will be given and the network that connects them.
This isn’t to justify your life or mine, but more a matter of explaining why you may be where you are now. Much like other facets of your life this has a large amount of luck based around it. You might be capable of burning bright but there is nothing saying you will be given fuel.
The previous thought was inspired by Malcom Gladwell’s Tipping Point.