Superficial Friendships

lyftHave you ever wondered why the people here are so eager to make the “where are you from?”, “it’s a nice day today” and “this was a great game last night” small talk?

Did you ever ask yourself why there are so many meetup groups and networking events around that revolve around the most superficial, short lived “where are you from?” and “what do you do?” interactions?

Aren’t you a bit curious why so many people in SF go out on one pointless date after the other, even if they don’t have time for or even real interest in dating?

The answer is simple  – there is a serious, chronic lack of meaningful, close connections in this city. Moving in and out and moving around the country / world is exciting, but there is a price to be paid. There is no community, no roots, no real attachments and no incentive to invest in relationships that are so likely to be cut short by yet another relocation. Why bother and get to know your co-worker, if either he or you will be working for the next hot start-up next month or one of you (or both) will start traveling for work? Why bother and get to know neighbors who are working toward moving to a bigger place in East Bay or Mountain View

When a person doesn’t have a number of truly meaningful connections, they are seeking a multitude of easy to make, meaningless connections – from drinking buddies, dinner buddies, activity partners, book clubs, and hiking groups to three-minute chatter at a bar. Loneliness is one big reason Facebook and Starbucks made it so big. And Uber / Lyft is the latest business which, besides being a source of casual income and convenient alternative to cabs, allows drivers to have an illusion that they have a social life by giving rides to strangers they have never seen and will never see again.

Your chances of being invited to party with a group of strangers elsewhere, especially in Europe are far, far lower. Random strangers elsewhere, and again – especially in Europe – are very unlikely to express interest in who you are, where are you from, etc… This is not because they are closed-minded or unfriendly. It’s because they have a solid group of close friends who they have known since early childhood, so they have no real incentive to put an effort into getting to know new people. They have enough friends. They don’t have the same void as so many of us do that needs to be filled with  that many happy hours and other types surrogate social life.

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4 thoughts on “Superficial Friendships

  1. I do not know whether it is as simple as you think in Europe. Sometimes these relationships are desperately being hanged on to when your life is simply distancing itself from that of your friends. Your friends have new careers, move to new places. If you study at a different institute it can already be very difficult to maintain a relationship and it often does not work.
    As sad it is, friendships work that way: once you have little to nothing in common they just disappear out of your lives. I do not know if it even makes sense trying stop that from happening.
    The Americans in general are more into small talk than Europeans are. It’s simply not an essential part of our culture and, to be honest, I believe some of us even find American small talk annoying. We do not feel the need to show interest in other peoples’ lives in order to be polite. They way I see it, small talk is only used if you see someone at a house party who seems to be alone and a bit out of place. It’s therefore really just an act of friendliness in places where it seems required.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. I agree that despite how often people like to say that friendships transcend time and distance, once it has not “benefit” to either party, the motivation to maintain it disappears or at least fades. Loyalty for the sake of loyalty is hard to come by these days and who knows whether it’s even a good thing.

  2. I totally agree with your insights. That said, having moved from the Bay Area, which I hated, to Philadelphia, which, for all intents and purposes I love, I have experienced that the equal and opposite of shallowness and vacuity is… provincialism and cultural stodginess, which, for a transplant can be extremely dispiriting. And I actually found Europeans to be far, far more inclusive, though I do understand what you’re saying. Tenacious as I’ve tried to be, in my year here, I’ve made zero friends. Baltimore was even worse.

    • Thanks for your perspective. I am yet to make my way to Phili and I know it would of course take more than a few days of visiting to feel the vibe, but I could totally see how what you would say would be true. I guess this brings up back to the old simple point – no place is perfect and it’s just a matter of time before we, haters, find something to hate on, for better or for worse.
      Baltimore is scary. I only lasted there for about 40 minutes before running away to DC.

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