What follows is a thought that I’ve mulled over recently put into beautiful words by my dear friend Amy F. ’20. It’s conclusions she’s come to (sometimes the hard way) after making it halfway through hell. Without further ado…
How do I meet know more people
(To new friendships! A special thanks to my dear friends Matt Q. ‘19 and Noah M. ‘20)
Recently, a friend in search of more friends, new experiences, and potentially a significant other asked me, “How do I meet more people?” Except, I think what he really meant was, “How do I know more people?”, because in my experience, making the effort to know, rather than meet, others has always led to the strongest friendships.
For example, I met my best friend (hey Alex!) four months ago. In that time, where we proceeded to hang out almost daily, he’s gotten to know me better than nearly anyone else at MIT. He inspires me to be a better person everyday, shows me why it is crucial to always be kind, and teaches me so many things that I don’t even know how to start returning the favor. MIT feels like a completely different (and much better!!) place because of him, along with all of the other wonderful people I’ve gotten to meet and befriend. My friends understand me, and it’s liberating. They are my cheerleaders and my muses, and I can’t imagine who I’d be without them.
So, how do you meet more people? Well, *meeting* more people is easy: go to more public events, make friends with your friends’ friends (and your friends’ friends’ friends…), and seek out novel experiences, especially if they make you uncomfortable.
However, *knowing* more people, and I mean understanding others and being understood, is hard. And it’s crucial to know than meet because there are things you learn and realize, about yourself and others, at only this level of understanding. But people are on their own life trajectories, busy with their endless todo lists, classes, personal problems, existing relationships, etc. There is only so much time in a day to do everything, so why do you deserve their time? And why do they deserve yours?
With everything that happens, it’s easy to forget that people want to care. People want to hear about your day, understand the way you think, know your biggest aspirations, and be there for the best and worst times. People want to know you. Because that feeling of being on the absolute same page with someone else, of being known and understood, is DEEPLY satisfying. We can initiate intimate connections and shared experiences by making the time. But this brings up another point: in getting to know others, it’s not only about making that time, but also how we’re spending that time.
More than twenty years ago, a psychology study conducted by Arthur Aron (and others) examined the acceleration of intimacy, and consequently made two strangers fall in love after 36 questions. These ordered questions, ranging from “Would you like to be famous? In what way?” to “Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?”, intentionally foster feelings of trust and closeness through personal revelation. In the end, the study concluded that the development of strong relationships is closely tied to mutual emotional vulnerability.
In her reflections of applying these 36 questions to someone in her own life (it worked), Mandy Len Catron muses, “But I see now that the story isn’t about us; it’s about what it means to bother to know someone, which is really a story about what it means to be known.” To be known, we must be comfortable sharing about ourselves and open to the possibility that anything can happen. At the same time, we MUST bother to know others, because friendship is a two way street. Being vulnerable is a risk, albeit a mutual one, but that’s why getting to know people is so so exciting.
To know people and for others to know us, we need to be vulnerable so others will do the same, we need to take the pains to understand so others will do the same, and we need to want to care so others will do the same. This is beyond just me or you or our relationships; this is for the sake of making the world a more empathetic, better place. In knowing people, we don’t just understand who they are, but we influence who they are. I often forget about this power we have, how our thoughts and actions are consistently shaping the people around us. In my time here, there has been nothing more beautiful than these moments of realization with my closest friends. Most recently, Alex told me that I’ve made him a better person.
“You’ve made me way more open to trying new things”
“Less judgmental and more accepting of people as they are”
“I think you’ve also made me a more loving/caring person”
We need to not only meet others, but also know them, because we make our deepest contributions in the lives we touch. I’ve never regretted spending, sometimes even prioritizing, my time to connect with others through meaningful conversation. I’ve realized that it’s in these chances I take, of being vulnerable and honest and willing, where I fully experience what it means to understand and to be understood, to love and to be loved.
“You realize, love is not a tragedy or a failure, but a gift… that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.” -John Green, Turtles All the Way Down
Shoutout to Alex H. ‘19, for being an all around fantastic person