Lost among this week’s media coverage of the latest asinine comments from Donald Trump was an intriguing New York Times article titled, “Do Your Friends Actually Like You?”
The thrust of the story is that not as many people truly like us as we imagine. Most “friends” are really just casual acquaintances. Others are friendly to us for their own selfish, manipulative reasons. The article quotes various academic experts who seem to agree that most of us each have, at best, four to five true friends who carry no agenda. These friends simply love us for who we are, and they genuinely enjoy our company.
I had hoped that the Times would provide some constructive ways to weed out your phony friends and identify the ones who really care about you. The Times is usually more than willing to tell people what to do with their lives, but this time it fell short. There were no tangible “next steps” for categorizing and managing one’s friends.
So I came up with some exercises that might help. Here are three simple scenarios you can create that will help you identify your real friends:
1. Have a Child
This exercise is particularly effective if you are among the first in your social circle to try it. Just get married, have a kid, and watch in amazement as interactions with some of your closest pals trickle down to an exchange of text messages every two or three months.
At your child’s first birthday, make a point of counting the number of non-relatives who call regularly, occasionally stop by to help with the baby, remember the baby’s name, and listen patiently as you ramble on about the baby. If you need more than one hand to list those friends, you’re doing better than most new parents.
2. Move Out
Plan to move to a new home or apartment. DO NOT hire professional movers. Instead, ask your friends if they would mind helping you out. Make a point of not packing any boxes before they arrive at your place at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning.
Also, make it clear early on that you are running low on cash, and you won’t be able to provide free pizza or beer after the move is complete.
Those two or three people who are still around four hours later to help unpack your grandmother’s china? Those are your real friends.
3. Do Something Crazy
Invite all your friends to meet up for drinks after work. Excitedly explain to them how you are going to quit your job, sell your possessions, and dedicate the next three years of your life to traveling the country in search of The Perfect Cheeseburger. Sure, you only have $530 in the bank, along with a mountain of debt. But you’ve got a pup tent, your trusty 1989 Honda Civic, and a list of the best burger joints along the East Coast. Anyway, life is short. It’s time to follow your dreams.
Those people smiling and nodding as they try to wave down the waiter for their checks? They aren’t your friends.
The handful of people who are with you four drinks later, calmly asking if you’ve really thought this all the way through? The ones who remind you about your spouse and kids, and ask what happens to them during your quest for The Perfect Cheeseburger?
Those people are your real friends. They always will be.