Over the years, I’ve learned to separate friends from non-friends by, essentially, who stays. Friends stay. Even when being with you is hard or when you disagree fundamentally—as long as there’s some shared commitment. Non-friends leave when it’s tough, when you don’t validate their beliefs, or when you insist on mutual accountability. Friends are like musketeers—"all for one, one for all". The sine qua non if not the raison d’être of friendship is sticking together. It’s what separates friends from associates or mere acquaintances.
“He’s got, acquaintances. Me, I got friends. I don’t know.”—Boss Paulie Pintero (Tom Sizemore) in Enemy of State
It’s obvious that a current friend is a friend, and a past friend is not. What'd be useful is knowing when to bet that a friendship, if pursued, will continue indefinitely — adding value to the lives of both parties. I value friendships that last (real friendships), and I would rather invest intelligently.
On the surface, to predict the longevity of a relationship, one would need access to data that isn’t present until the association has already run for a while. And that makes betting a limited opportunity. But if there’s a predictor of that data, I think it’s a certain worldview — not beliefs, not ideology, not doctrine or dogma — but a fundamental underlying worldview. If we can get at that, maybe we can not only see the common distinctions between relationships we've had with current and former friends, but also potentially predict at an earlier stage, perhaps even pre-friendship, whether a friendship would last. I have only my own relationships as data points, but they afford me a useful and consistent answer.
I’m going to assign fictional names, because I don’t tell the story of other people without asking or unless I’m lauding their awesomeness — which might be true but isn’t the point here.
Hoss—the "knock around guy": I have a friend with whom I disagree, perhaps increasingly so, on politics and culture. He’s into fat Harley Davidsons, big dogs, jacked up trucks, and high capacity assault weapons. By contrast, size don't matter to me. He'd say "there's a reason for that" or "that's not what you said last night". But I'm with Tommy Lee Jones in US Marshalls: "Put away that nickel-plated sissy pistol!" or Robert De Niro in Ronin: “It’s a toolbox. I don’t care, you put the tools in for the job.” Hoss is a "be first with the most" kind of guy. So politics, tools, and art too—he's into songs with twang, while top-40 country makes my nostrils itch. We’ve grown apart; we still have the same old jokes, the same old stories, but we’re not building new ones.
And yet, neither Hoss nor I have left. We don’t see each other much. He’s in a rural somewhere, drilling the Hell out of some shale oil and probably fracking too, and I’m in urban elsewhere with my four pound rescue dog who I think is the toughest bastard I've ever met (he puts up with me)—little guy takes on pit bulls if they lick my hand. But if Hoss was here, I'd bring that little dog, after he found parking for his monster truck (24hours later in this city) and we’d have cigars, beer, and make some new stories and jokes. It just takes time together. He reached out the other day with a possible client gig. There’s still warmth. What I see between Hoss and I is a commitment to mutual regard.
Grady—the "intimate": I have a friend I never see. Sick and very involved with family. On sight, we’d immediately connect and have things to talk about. The thing that’s unbreakable with Grady is promises made. Friendship is itself a promise. It’s like if you accept someone’s trust, you’ve made a tacit promise to be trustworthy. Sane, decent people with integrity are that way even if, in a highly transactional culture, it comes off as a forgotten virtue. To quote Genesis, Jeremiah, and the Psalms, "I have sworn and will not repent." The sworn commitment is to mutual regard. I'm seeing a possible pattern. Regard means considering another person even when they are quite different. In an argument, for instance, one shows regard by deciding that a person thinks a certain way for a reason, rather than "he's just nuts". To consider someone, you consider how they might arrive at their ideas, feelings, attitudes. We actually agree on most things,. That might seem to make regard easier, but I'm not so sure. Regard encapsulates a commitment to care about another person's life to the point that what is important to them, we deliberately make important to ourselves. The friendship with Grady persists because an underlying worldview of regard among friends is shared.
Sonny—the "colleague": I see Sonny every week. We’re business partners, and we tussle like partners do. There are rocky moments, but we’re both committed to the notion that the other person is worthy of respect. Either of us would step up and defend the other, if he were attacked. When I had cancer, he flew in, showed up, and stood advocate for me — backing me when I had to stick up for myself in a system of mass medicine that’s risky if you just passively let everything happen. It's an intimate friendship as well as a collegial one. We agree on a lot, but mainly we're committed to a shared outcome, and to optimizing our lives. That underlying frame is the titanium spine in the friendship. What has worked, and stretched us both, is choosing to find room in one's consciousness for another person, who just by virtual of being another person, is necessarily different. We're quite different, but this underlying framework of regard means we collaborate well when we take on a shared project or tackle a mutually agreed problem.
Now, the same three examples with different people, who did not remain friends. This is like the Bizarro World on Seinfeld, where up is down and down is up because, as Seinfeld fans know, Seinfeld explains everything.
Lenny—another "knock around guy": Culture was the breaking point — Lenny and I shared the view that society is dominated by institutions of control in categories like work, faith, and learning. He was about rejecting participation in that system—increasingly as he lost various battles. I was about creating my own way of participation, without accepting the tradeoffs offered by the worst examples. I took bigger hits, but eventually prospered. He took hits and grew increasingly reclusive. I was running a business and hired him, because I could use the help and he was unemployed, and I even payed for him to move, because my business, at that time, was local. But after a while, the narrative of our differences included judgments of me that came between us. He engaged in open mockery, which increased his bond with other disaffected people who had apparently accepted their fate. I will not recount the specifics and risk casting him as a bad character. We all have our pain, and we come from the place of either our pain or our aspiration.
Lenny Died: I still loved him and was loyal to him. But I had became distant out of emotional self-preservation. Lenny died as he lived — alone, as an outcome of isolation. If the other disaffected persons with whom he better identified were with him, I did not hear of it. I will say he was a decent person. He did not harm others. He did not add more than his share of weight to the problems of the world. He made exceptional art. I own quite a bit of it. I was not the ideal friend by comparison; I had selfish interests, certainly. I recount this much of his story, because it’s useful for me to understand why friendships last and why they don’t.
Other intimates: I use the term ‘intimate’ to describe a friendship into which you can confess your fears and insecurities as well as your aspirations. Two past ones stand out:
Ronny had expectations for the fruit of a shared religious commitment between us. I went part way down a certain path, and he came along. Then I decided not to continue and went a different way. For Ron, that was the first blow. It was hard on him. He was disappointed. Eventually, it became clear our two ways of faith were incompatible. That was the second blow for him. It queered the friendship. It didn’t have to — people of different Faiths are friends. But that’s the nature of disappointment—a spoiled vision of what was supposed to be shared. Disappointment is formidable. Add to it that there’s now some necessary work to rediscover what was ever there creating a friendship beforehand or what might now replace it, and the friendship usually doesn’t survive the challenge. That was the galvanizing ‘moment’, but it wasn’t really religion that did it. I'm convinced of that.
Ron and I were committed to a fundamentally different relationship to the world. He was gung ho to fit in—to succeed in “the mainstream” (his words), and I knew I could never exist or have a life I loved if I accepted the terms of mainstream ‘success’ rather than making my own. It's as though extreme disaffection and extreme fitting-in are two ends of a spectrum, and neither of those ends leaves room for me. I can't live in a shack off the grid away from everything that's 'wrong', and I can't blend in to the crowd accepting whatever it wants or demands of me. Either option is an incompatible world. No wonder Ronny and I didn't remain friends. When a difference of worldview that significant is the backdrop, it only takes a shift in commitments can end a friendship. Anyway, Ron went dark, and that was that.
Tommy was years later, and we had a strikingly similar experience. It ended when Tommy peeled off from my path of devotion, rather than I his. Based on the previous experience with Ronny, I warned the likelihood was high our friendship wouldn’t survive, and it would take addressing the rift, making peace with the change, and finding or rediscovering our common ground. Disappointment, again I think, was the barrier. Finding what remains or what is now the core underlying basis for a friendship is difficult when either party jettisons a previously shared commitment. Reconfiguring or rebuilding in the midst of disappointment is hard. But, again, that stuff was only the catalyst. The real difference was worldview.
Tommy shared some of Lenny’s disaffection with what he called ‘the game’ of society, but his response wasn’t ‘hermitude’ —in fact, it was social. Instead of building a traditional career, launching a startup business, or pursuing a similar path, Tommy devoted a great deal of his time to a community of gamers (video games, role-playing games, etc). By contrast, my answer to 'the game' was carving out my own entrepreneurial place in the broader ecosystem. I didn’t have time for games and, in effect, our two roads diverged. We differed in our aims, ceased being fellow travelers, and that difference, raised to the fore when we stopped sharing a previously common cause, exacerbated our underlying social and personality differences that had once been endearing.
Joey—another "colleague": Joey called me a friend for a lot of years but, like Tommy and Lenny, he was disaffected. And unlike Ronny, he wasn’t going to do whatever it took to make it in the “mainstream” or “the game”. He even did a bit of the Lenny thing, dropping off the map for months at a time—no one, including me, would hear from him until he resurfaced. Like Lenny, he wasn’t staying above water financially very well and, as with Lenny, I stepped in to help. I was prospering, and prosperity is kind of pointless if you can’t help your friends. Like Lenny, however, his narrative about our differences escalated as I made choices he couldn’t fathom, embracing 'modern technology' and moving to New York City. It emerged that we get our ’news’ from different sources, vote differently, and don’t share the same story of disaffection. I don't think there's a 'deep state'. He attacked my family, connived, and joined in when ideological bullies who share his beliefs attacked me for not sharing them.
When an asshole ran for office in 2015, Joey made groveled to said asshole and made fealty to that ‘movement’ a litmus test for treating people with dignity. If my patience had a death rattle, that was it. A friendship is predicated on trust, in some measure, and trust requires the other person to be trustworthy. Regard isn't conditional on being in the same 'church'. That seemed lost on Joey, and what warmth remained cooled to jagged frost. After multiple betrayals, I went full Mr. Darcy on the matter. “My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.” Again, it’s a difference of worldview expressed in different commitments and catalyzed by different devotions.
It would be easy to conclude that a shared worldview is essential, and that disaffection isn’t a good recipe for long-term friendship. However…
All my friends are weird. I’d observe that every one of these people, friends and former friends, are essentially ‘different’. Even the “committed to being mainstream” guy wouldn’t have had to say that if he didn’t secretly know, deep down, he’s not “normal” — himself. Aside from the question of whether everyone is, in his own way, a little freakish — with his or her own little habits, quirks, and peccadillos that in no way represent some mythical majority of human beings — I don’t make friends with “normal” people. I’ve never met any or, if I have, they were too boring to notice.
I do note the difference in three responses — trying to fit in (a culture of fit), retreat (into a full-on culture of disaffection), or hack the system (and create your own terms) while accepting hackers as fellow travelers, even if they don’t share your reasoning, methods, or baseline ideas. Those fundamental choices seem pivotal.
All my current friends are hackers. We each disagree in some of our reasoning, methods, and baseline ideas. So in that sense, a shared worldview does not mean a shared ideology. I do not share Faith or politics with any of them, and they also don’t align with each other. THAT is something else we all share. For each of us, there are more than two sides — more than “us” and “them”. Our ecosystem of fellow travelers is relatively open, and only closed to those who come throw a lot of toxic sh*t into it.
In the broader circle of these people’s company are are home-schoolers, bikers, vegans, clergymen, and other bizarre cadres. It’s a big tent of misfits. And I use that term lovingly, because I think most people are misfits and the difference between candidates for long-term friendship (or not) is whether one accepts being a misfit, makes a religion out of misfittism that only accepts misfits, or keeps trying to force their uniquely square self through a generic round hole. That’s a difference of worldview. I don’t mean those of us who accept our own weirdness and that of others are automatically all friends. But for me, and for the people I regard as friends, it’s an apparent criteria to a lasting friendship.
That brings up the final point: weirdness doesn’t have to constitute disaffection, in the sense that disaffection is direction away from engagement with the broader ecosystem of people who don’t share it, or what Landmark Education™ calls a “racket” (a ”persistent complaint with a fixed way of being”). None of the people in my circle of friends have thrown in the towel, disconnected from the grid, live in a state of fear and paranoia, or have made their weirdness a basis for hostility, resentment, or rejection of other people.
It would not be difficult to find support for the observation that:
Disaffection, when it calcifies, undermines resilience, openness, and accountability.
Not just in a friendship, but in general. It seems people who look at a broken system and determine to modify it to create a way to engage, rather than repudiate it and retreat —i.e “hackers”— are more likely to build resilience, openness, and reliability.
The argument has been made in other venues better than I can make it. But to the degree that one set of traits is more likely to lead to long-term friendships than another, I can’t help but observe that worldview, not just how one perceives the world but how one responds to a somewhat broken world, is (in my life, at least) a strong predictor of the longevity of a relationship. I identify with people who hack the world, carving out their own place—they are not its victims, either desperate to find their movement, fit into the in-crowd, or make their niche a standard, or else in full-on flight from engagement with the world. They hackers who approach friendship with a hack—they're committed to regard, even when regard requires finding a way to see the optimal in another person, navigating that person's differences from oneself. That's the bet. That's the criteria that has been the best predictor of lasting friendships for me.
Last bit: Hoss, Grady, and Sonny are the ingredients of a crew. If you’re Danny Ocean, the kind of people you want and want more of in your life are the Ocean’s 11. You want people who don’t just stick together, but they form lasting bonds with others because of how they approach problems. A problem could be cancer or it could be how you build a business or how you get out of corporate life or how you make corporate life better. It could be how you empty the vault in an impenetrable Vegas casino, or whether you do. Sneakers is another good example, and more to my taste. Or even Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead. Just don’t bring the fecal freak. His narrative is disaffection, and that’s what kills you in the end.