People are complicated. It’s why I keep secretly dancing to cheesy Melodifestivalen songs whilst outwardly claiming to hate them. We can’t be summed up by a single interest or personality trait, and things we think of as integral to our existence may be completely irrelevant in another context. Humans are defined as much by our contradictions as anything else.
It’s this complexity that makes making connections with others even more complicated. We may have a common interest with someone, but that’s not enough to foster a life-long friendship. It takes multiple common likes, dislikes and shared experiences for a relationship to grow. Plenty of services try to link people who want to do a certain activity, but a joint fondness for badminton, for example, isn’t enough for any sort of lasting connection.
Different people, Different Things
Similarly we can’t rely on just one strong bond to sustain us. Different people play different roles in our lives. We need multiple connections in order to create an effective network of relationships, and this means that we need different friends for different things. My partner and I have a great deal in common, but she relishes the evenings where she visits her best friend and they watch marathons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because that’s something that her friend is significantly better at than I am. In the same way, regardless of how close I am to many of my friends, when I’m around them I have to do my best to pretend I’m not massively excited for Wrestlemania because it’s not an interest we share because evidently they simply can’t smell what The Rock is cooking.
To borrow (and massively oversimplify) a concept from neuroscience and psychology, think of relationships as being like a neural network. The human brain works with billions of neurons firing and wiring together to send messages around the body. We link neurons together to make connections, making those messages faster and more effective. The more a certain thought pattern or behaviour is performed, the stronger those bonds get. Additionally, we develop multiple routes between neurons so that even if our normal way of thinking about something gets disrupted, we can look elsewhere for inspiration. The most stable and robust networks are those that have strong, deep connections between neurons developed over time and through multiple pathways.
Humans are the same. The strongest connections we can make are the ones we build over time with multiple pathways in common. We also need to know the importance of making alternative connections to support the ones we already have. This is the foundation of a sustainable, resilient network — multiple friends with lots of shared interests. They may not all be identical, and each person won’t meet all of our needs fully. But by spreading our network of relationships we can create connections that are powerful, long lasting and meaningful.
One person won’t meet all your needs. But by embracing our complexity we can create our connections even better.