A Q&A About Friendship, Pt. 2
In a reverse of last week: Aparna asks me what I value in my friendships, how I manage them virtually, and how they change over time.
Hi again! It’s only been a week since my last post, but I decided to split that one up into two parts since it got super long. Because of that, my next post after this will come out in two weeks (October 18).
Before we get into it, a few announcements!
I’m thrilled to announce that my friend Cassia’s put together this slick-looking email banner for this newsletter! (It’ll appear in emails, but not the website):
Cassia’s a woman of many talents—she also does photography, and she runs an Instagram where she posts photos capturing the beautiful moments of everyday life. Follow her at @onceuponatimeifeltsomething!
New York Write & Sip!
My friend Ishaan and I are putting on a writing workshop in NYC next Saturday, October 9! It’s hosted at the Russell Acting Studio and open to people of all writing levels—in fact, the less experience you have, the better! Bring a friend and a bottle and get ready for some fun. Sign up for the event here!
Write Away Live Essay Reading!
My writing group, Write Away, has officially launched! Jin, Celeste, Aparna, and I have been grinding away at our essay collections the past few months, and we’re doing LIVE ESSAY READINGS in NYC on November 13 and 15! Follow us on Instagram at @_writeaway_ to keep up with other upcoming events. (More details about the Nov. 13 event here.)
Last Week Recap
Last week, I asked my friend Aparna a series of questions about friendship*—how it changes over time, what contexts are required to form it, what’s important to her friendships, and more. The responses I got were so kind! Apparently, many of us are thinking about what friendship means, especially people in their twenties trying to figure their shit out. This week, I’m answering her questions about the same ideas.
*Thank you to those who sent kind words about the last post—I wanna clarify that the responses in that last post were Aparna’s, not mine! I was merely the question-poser. If you liked last week’s post, you can reach her on Facebook, by email at email@example.com, or on Instagram at @aparnas29 to send her some love.
Aparna Asks Chuckry…
1. Friendship Criteria
Aparna: To open with something fairly broad, what do you look for, if anything specific, in a friendship? Something we’ve dialogued about is the idea of transactional friendships in the modern age, and how that’s somewhat amplified by the virtual nature of most relationships. We give a gift, we expect one in return, we perform “emotional labor” for someone in our lives, and we expect to be compensated in kind. Do you find yourself taking stock of these aspects of your friendships, or do you rely on your instincts and how you feel when you’re with them? Can you identify the things that make a good friend, or do you find that they’re mostly intangible?
Chuckry: Generally, I choose my friends more based on feeling than by any sort of criteria. My gut will tell me whether or not someone’s “good people.” If I had to put it into words, right now, a good friend, to me, is someone who I feel I can be myself with. I generally like to spend time with people who are kind, thoughtful, and opinionated. A sense of humor is also important. These aren’t any sort of hard criteria, though; I’m friends with plenty of people who aren’t any of these things, but that I still like to spend time with for other reasons (maybe we went through something together, or we grew up together, or we like the same music, etc.).
It’s hard to say what I look for, because what I value in a friendship has changed a ton over time. When we were kids, it was all about physical proximity, taking the same classes, etc. Most of my friends were neighbors, fellow band kids, AP classmates, and family friends. Pretty soon, though, once I started meeting people outside of common institutions, this changed. I had to make friends on my own. Usually, this meant choosing a friend of a friend I liked and promoting them to friend status after a few coffee chats. If someone has similar interests to me, then I wanna be friends with them. But also, if someone has completely different interests than me, I might also wanna be friends with them out of this weird sense of journalistic curiosity.
What’s interesting to me is how the friends you surround yourself with reflect who you are at the time. If you’re mostly hanging out with coworkers, maybe you spend a lot of time at work, or you don’t have much of a life outside of it—maybe you just moved to a new city, or you’re a workaholic, or you’re in love with your boss, or whatever. If you’re mostly hanging out with people of the same ethnicity, maybe shared culture is important to you, or you’re very much stuck in your comfort zone. It’s not easy to say how your friends reflect you—there are so many possible ways they could—but they most certainly do. Your friendships are an expression of your self. Everything you do is, in some way, an expression of yourself, so maybe this is a little obvious or transactional (re: curating your friends like an Instagram feed). But we often forget that ways we choose to spend time and the people we prefer to socialize with are ultimately parts of us. So to answer the first part of your question, I don’t look for transactionality in friendships (though some inevitably become like that—which is okay, honestly); rather, I just try to be honest with myself about whether or not I like someone and then be friends with them.
There have been times where I feel like my friendships have become lopsided, and I’m doing more for certain people than they do for me. I do take stock of this, whether I want to or not, but I try to not let it discourage me. It’s so easy to build resentment in your head and fume at your friends for not caring about you, for never thinking of you, blah blah blah. But then I’ll hang out with them after a while and I’ll forget all about that. Plus, I think it’s completely normal for friendships to be lopsided. For every friend I feel like I’m overcompensating for, there’s another one that’s overcompensating for me. That’s been a huge lesson for me: the fact that I need to be honest with myself about how much my friends actually mean to me and accept that those feelings may not be mutual. As time passes, I think your friendships average out anyways, so as a whole, they’re reciprocal.
2. Friendships and Gender
Aparna: How does gender affect your relationships? We were socialized in a very gendered culture, but we are coming of age in an environment where we are endeavoring to deconstruct gender norms and the very concept of gender at large. Moreover, we’ve talked a lot about the differences you experience in your girl friends vs. your guy friends. Does this inform your conception of what a friendship can be, and do you find yourself holding your friends to different standards based on their gender? What are your expectations of people beyond gender (meaning what are things that apply to everyone)?
Chuckry: I want to say I don’t hold my friends to different standards based on their gender, but if I look at my existing friends, I do find that there are differences across gender lines. I don’t think I’m conscious of this. It’s just that the ways my friendships with women and men differ probably reflect how I’m used to gender playing a role in my relationships. For example, my friendships with women often involve long conversations, listening to each other’s opinions, being silly and playful, talking about movies and books, etc. There’s a sense of care and listening in most of the women I hang out with, where I feel safe with them. I trust them. They remember details about my life, and vice-versa. Things feel more relaxed, safer.
With men, though, things are different. My male friendships often involve talking shit and roasting each other, being competitive, and getting a little wild and rowdy, e.g. spontaneously dancing, playing board games, and yelling insults at each other respectively. It’s all in good fun, and I love getting to express that more boisterous side of me. There’s no “better” type of friendships. And I don’t think either of these experiences reflects men or women as much as it does my own perceptions of them: it’s possible I just choose to be friends with the kinds of men and women who fit my perception of what they should be like.
The interesting part is in how each gender of my friends handles the same situation. I talk about opinions with both men and women, and I joke around with and tease both my male and female friends, but it feels different between them. With women, we often engage in a productive give-and-take conversation about personal tastes, intertextuality, and political relevance. Maybe this is because most of my woman friends in particular are more literary—I feel like most of my writer friends (like you) are women. They’re interested in other people; they ask me thoughtful questions about how I’m doing, and they remember important details of my life, like what foods I like and what kinds of gifts I like.
With men, though, discussions often become debates. Arguments, even. I dunno what it is, but most men just love fighting. Maybe it’s an ego thing? Maybe women are the same way, and I just don’t know it? All I know is, you pop into a group of dudes and ask “Kobe or Lebron?” and you’ll start a war. You talk about whether you liked the movie you just saw, and the initially civil exchange of opinions will quickly devolve into an argument about whether the director’s really good or just a hack. There’s just this feeling I get that with men, conversations are less about sharing your opinion than they are about proving that your opinion is right. And so you can’t appear weak. You need to be forceful. It’s subtle, but it’s there. I don’t feel like that with women. Which has been a relief to me in recent years as I’ve made friends with more women, because I’m not a power-hungry sort of guy. I hate jockeying for position. I don’t take most things super seriously. I like to feel like I’m a part of something, a part of a group, or anything else that’s important, which is easier with women than men. Again, I’m not sure whether or not that’s just me projecting my own associations of gender, but that’s what I feel.
3. Our Particular Friendship
Aparna: What is your perception of our relationship? The external factors of how two people experience each other is critical to determining the nature of how they get to know each other. We have known each other for most of our lives, but we never went to school together, and never had mutual friends until now. However, we do know each other’s families pretty well, which is a unique level of intimacy that I don’t have with many people. Another aspect I’d be interested in hearing about from your perspective is how the fact that our friendship has been largely virtual (from GChat to texting to now FaceTime and Zoom) affects your boundaries. Do you feel more comfortable sharing certain things, or not?
Chuckry: Great question. Honestly, our friendship is lot of fun to think about. For the uninitiated reader, we grew up in neighboring metro-Detroit suburbs and visited each other for Hindu holidays and the like. I remember one time when we were in middle or high school, we were looking up some potentially scandalous music video (as kids do) and when my mom turned the corner, I hurriedly opened a new tab and Googled “math homework” to play it cool. And then there was of course the huge GChat era where you complained about one of your classmates that we called Acorn because of how his head was shaped.
It’s cool that our friendship has graduated from that past. It’s not so different in many ways—we’re still silly and make dumb jokes—but we also have our own opinions now and exchange them frequently, which I definitely didn’t have back then. We also each went through our own difficulties and shared them with each other—I went through a breakup early 2020, for example, after which you consistently reached out to check in. So quickly, an element of trust and care was built, and virtually, at that, through video calls and texts.
I don’t think I’m uncomfortable sharing anything with you, or any of my closer friends that I’ve mostly only seen virtually lately. I do think that you miss out on a lot through video calls and texts. You don’t see how someone fidgets, how they respond to other people, how they bounce off a communal energy, how they even just look standing up and moving around. If you saw my gait, you’d look away, horrified, and reevaluate everything you know about me. You miss out on all this context that real life provides.
Because of that, there’s something cathartic about talking to a friend virtually rather than physically. It’s almost more intimate. When we video chat, after some joking around, it’s easy to just start talking about what’s going on our lives. Maybe it’s because it’s a bit more controlled (lighting, camera angle, etc.) or because we usually talk in the comfort of our bedrooms that we feel okay to let our guard down, but I also think that the connotation of video calls is one of connecting with someone because you need to, not just out of circumstance. In-person hangouts are almost less serious, sometimes, because the context you’re in is bigger, heavier. There’s weather, seating, hunger, noise, other people, and more factors to contend with, so it dilutes the impact of your face-to-face. The more skeletal structure of video calling makes it almost easier to connect through—it’s like you’re just cutting away all the “frills” of real life to be with another human directly.
And now, as you’ve met some of my friends (most virtually), our worlds are connecting more and more. I think that’s maybe one of the coolest signs that a friendship is growing, actually: your worlds intersect more and more, and you have much more shared context than before. Not only do we have share a history and culture, but we’re part of the same writing group, and now are working together on this newsletter. There are forces connecting us, both macro and micro, that greatly enrich our relationship, from the projects we undertake to the memes we trade.
4. Technology Affecting Friendships
Aparna: What have you changed about the way you approach friendships during the pandemic and with the onset of virtual life? What has friendship looked like to you? You’ve mentioned that with everyone from work colleagues to friends being accessible through only a screen, that the boundaries between your work self and your personal self have blurred. How did you experience that, and what would your advice be on how to navigate those boundaries? Did you feel like your colleagues or workplace took advantage of the lack of boundaries and total access to you?
Chuckry: I actually think the pandemic helped me get better at making friends. Before, I was too nervous to make friends with people. I was too shy to get people’s numbers at a party or to just approach coworkers to make plans. Once the isolation of lockdown hit, I reopened my social media accounts and started getting more comfortable with just interacting with people. I DM’ed friends of friends, reacted to Instagram stories, and responded to tweets with advice for moving to New York, etc. Being at home with your parents all day with no social interaction creates one of two mindsets in me—either I ruminate heavily over past social faux-pas, or the opposite, where I forget about the consequences of socially “messing up” because it’s been so long. So through the pandemic, I built a more outgoing virtual life. I didn’t fear reaching out to people as much, partially because I think there was an implicit understanding that we were all going through the same thing. I remember doing this thing on Instagram where I posted hypothetical questions from this game I own and soliciting answers from my followers, which people really enjoyed.
Once I got back on my feet more, socially, and I moved to NYC, there was an interesting downside to this. Most of my friendships, besides my roommates and the couple friends I’d have over at my apartment, were still virtual. I was video chatting, calling, texting, and social media’ing my friends. At the same time as this, I worked a remote job as a software engineer. I met all my coworkers virtually, and only about eight months into my job did I meet a small group of them in person after we got vaccinated. A strange thing happened that I only notice now in retrospect: since I met all of my coworkers virtually, and I saw the backgrounds of their homes and their pets crawling on their desks and their tastes in interior decor and the occasional family member, a sense of intimacy grew. It was weird. It wasn’t like we were all close, but we’d all seen parts of each others’ lives that we might never have seen had we all been in an office.
Because of that, virtual meetings almost felt like catching up with friends. Both involved video calls where I saw others in their home, and we’d all joke around, at least a little. Everyone I worked with was young, too, plus everyone was going through the pandemic together, so the boundaries between coworkers and friends blurred. I think it’s easier generally to bother someone virtually through Slack than it is in person at the office, but I don’t think this is abnormal for most tech companies. They didn’t take advantage of the lack of boundaries, but the erasure of those boundaries, while unnoticeable, affected my sense of professionalism, my separation of work and life. Many people have written about anti-workism and millennials quitting their jobs in the past year, which I can relate to: having your professional self bleed into your personal life is a bummer. When you sit at your tiny desk in your bedroom office sending emails and taking pointless meetings in the one place where you’re supposed to be free from outside responsibility, why wouldn’t you feel like it’s an absurd personal affront? Why wouldn’t you want to quit?
5. Shared Conversations or Shared Experiences?
Aparna: Relationships are generally built on shared conversations or shared experiences, and the healthiest ones have a combination of both. How much do each of these aspects of a friendship matter to you? Which one do you need more of, if there is one that matters more? How did you experience the sharp contrast between being young and mostly building friendships on mutual interests or experiences (being in the same dorm, being in the same major) and now, with the virtual world, disproportionately building friendships off of conversations and being a good support system for your social circle?
Chuckry: I used to be a big conversation guy—pretty much exclusively, actually—and now that’s changing. I feel like I’m becoming more of an experiences junkie. Overall, though, I’d say I’m the kind of person that still needs at least one good, meaningful conversation every day to not lose my mind, so by a long shot, that matters more. Because of that, I feel like when I was young, my friendships weren’t super fulfilling—I’ve always needed long conversations to feel balanced, but kids, especially boys, don’t like talking that much. So I spent a lot of time in my own head, or reading, or on the Internet. Reading what other people had to say and posting responses made me feel like I was in a very big, slow conversation with a stranger.
Only three years ago did I start to really understand what I need from the people in my life. I developed a better idea of how I wanted to spend my own time, and from there, of what I needed from other people. Even before the pandemic, I was the type of person that loved meeting a friend for coffee or lunch and just talking about our experiences and what they meant to us. Then, one of my slightly older friends told me she noticed that most of her friendships involved just catching up with people instead of actually doing stuff together. I’d never thought of it that way before. I noticed that imbalance in my own life and swung the other way (too hard, maybe). I started going to concerts, the gym, the market with other people. I didn’t have as many intimate conversations with most of my friends, especially when I lived in Seattle from 2017-2020, but I’m coming out of that experience at least knowing I need that moving forward.
I learned from an ex-girlfriend about this idea of face-to-face relationships versus side-by-side ones. It’s pretty self-explanatory: there are certain interactions that are face-to-face, like a conversation or a game, and certain ones that are side-by-side, like going to a party together or otherwise experiencing the same thing together. The first involves you directly experiencing the other person whereas the second is about you sharing a broader experience together. The virtual world swung me back into face-to-face conversational mode. You can’t really participate in any sort of meaningful side-by-side activity over a screen. You’re just there with another person or people, talking or chatting or maybe playing some of those online pandemic games if you’re lucky. You’re right to phrase it like that—virtual relationships, especially during the pandemic, often feel like support systems because someone’s reaching out to you from afar to experience you directly. They need you. And I needed them.
6. What Kind of Friend Am I?
Aparna: How do you show up for people in your life? What qualities are important to you in your self growth that let you be a good friend to others? How do you reflect on yourself and your interactions with people you love? Are you prone to overthinking or criticizing your behaviors in this department? If so, how have you managed that tendency? What are the positive and negative effects of too much introspection?
Chuckry: I think I show up in one of two major ways depending on the situation. I’m either a good listener and am being compassionate, thoughtful, and responsive—or I’m playful, and I clown around and talk shit. What matters to me is trust. I want the other person and myself to feel comfortable with each other. I need to feel an underlying sense of goodwill. We each need to recognize that the other is a real person, which sounds obvious, but I’ve met so many people who’ve talked at me like I’m a brick wall, or gotten snappy with me, or don’t apologize when they do something wrong.
Maybe what I’m trying to say is this. I try to remember, with anyone I spend time with, that they’ve gone through similar life experiences, have embarrassed themselves in front of a crush, gotten too drunk at a tailgate, etc. Perhaps not exactly the same incidents, but some variations of their emotional core. The song of their life is different from mine, but it uses the same notes. Because of this, I’m not judgmental (anymore, at least). I don’t like to feel like I’m better than anyone or anything. I approach people with curiosity and openness because I want to learn about them and be friends. It’s hard for me to dislike people; I think very few things are serious enough that truly warrant animosity towards another person (especially in my fortunate, privileged world). It’s easy for me to go over something someone said or did that I didn’t like and tell myself, “They’re probably just having a bad day,” or “Whatever, that’s life” if I can sense it was nothing deeper than that. That doesn’t mean I’m friends with everyone, but I stay open to people unless they’ve really, tangibly done something wrong.
Sometimes I overthink my interactions with people, where I look back and feel self-conscious about something I said, or maybe they noticed I got nervous, or, oh man, I stuttered for a moment! But lately, those thoughts have just been going away. Part of it is that I feel I’ve only in recent years been putting myself out there more, so I spend less time reflecting than I used to growing up (which is good—I used to be a huge ruminator). So after interacting with somebody, I usually just decide how I felt about the interaction (did I like it? do I want to talk to them again?) and then put it out of my head. I’ve also been getting better at being a good friend to myself—at telling myself “I’m just tired,” or “I’m just having a bad day” when I find myself crippled by intrusive thoughts. I’m able to detach from them. Maybe that’s just a function of growing up! I dunno. Life is
Other Things Of Note
For podcast lovers, check out this upcoming season of Invisibilia. Much like this newsletter, Invisibilia recently had a soft reboot, and this season will focus exclusively on friendship, and the weird and unseen forces that might shape how we form these relationships. We’ve dropped the first two episodes below! (Note: these two episodes have a content warning for self-harm.)
For Kendrick Lamar fans, this standout newcomer from his label Top Dawg Entertainment is everything that made Kendrick a maverick, plus more edge and potential to be a breakout star. Check out this track from the Black Panther soundtrack for a good intro to his work.
This new project by musician, poet, and visual artist Moor Mother.
The INCREDIBLE, miraculous-sounding album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert by British rapper Little Simz:
The (also) INCREDIBLE, melancholy album By the Time I Get to Phoenix by rap group Injury Reserve. An experimental rap album, full of noisy, erratic production and unresolved chord progressions that came after one of the three members tragically passed away last June at just 32 years old. I’ve followed these guys for a few years now, and their staggering development has been absolutely inspiring. This record makes me proud.