On Getting Close, Distancing and Life.


To bond is a basic need for a social creature like us. It can be said that there are different types of bond and these can be put on a continuum. Romantic love, on the one extreme, and friendship on the other.

The Two Approaches to Relationships

Given the basic need for us to want to bond, we naturally do so. Yet each of us take a different approach toward this. There are 2 main ways in which social relationships are maintained. The Convoy Model of Social Relationships propose that, just like in a convoy, people maintain relationships through the exchange of social and emotional support, with the degree of social and emotional support varying with need and age. On the other hand, the Socioemotional Selectivity Theory posits that some people choose to prioritise time spent with their loved ones, over spending time with others that they are less close with. This explains (at least partly) why the older we are, the more we prioritise and spend time with family members and our spouse, and less with friends and acquaintances.

The Nature of Friendships

Most of the times, these does not matter much as friendships are generally low-stake, low-interest ones. We show only our good side to our friends, generally. We do not expect our friends to feel our pain and sorrow, generally. We have fun with our friends, generally. Deeper emotions, especially those associated with a serotonin deficit (I really meant depressive emotions), such as sadness, regret, hurt, disappointment… We share these only with those we are comfortable with. By telling them what affected us negatively, we expose our vulnerabilities, our deepest, most raw self. We hope that by telling them these, we hope to gain solace, comfort, if not, just a pat on our shoulder, or maybe if it is not too hard – maybe a comforting hug.

The Irrational Mind

Why do we do that? Is it not true that as time passes, as we wake up from the deepest of slumber, we will feel better? Why should we choose to expose our vulnerabilities? This makes no logical sense. I suspect we behave so irrationally because our minds are wired irrational from the onset. We need relationships to flourish as individuals. There is no individual that succeeds in life (at least emotionally) purely on his/her own. 

The Finity of Relationships

Knowing this, it is more often than not, difficult, if not outright depressing, to maintain closeness with people we love. Social norms, perceptions, differences in priorities, all affect how close we can get to someone. Any relationship, parent-child, husband-wife, friend-friend, for it to last, must be maintained by 2 parties committed to the relationship. What kind of commitment is needed? Be it penpals writing to each other, or lovers trying to stay together, or simply friends who treasure each other, time is needed for any activity to take place, for relationships to be maintained, not to mention strengthened. If time is needed to maintain relationships, and yet time is finite to each and everyone of us (unless you are an immortal freak), then there is a finite number of relationships one can have.

This corroborates with Dunbar’s number. It is ‘150’, by the way. Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit on the number of stable relationships one can have. Research has proven that most of the time in societies, organisations flourish best when the number of staff is capped at 150. Tribal societies split into 2 when their population exceeds 150. Monkey tribes do the same, too. The theory posits that we have limited cognitive resources to know how each person in the organisation is linked to each and every other person (therefore, the larger the brain size, the more relationships you can manage). Cognitive resources is indeed important in the maintaining of relationships, especially since relationships are complex and require effort in maintaining. Coupled with the finite nature of time, choosing to gain one more relationship must entail the dropping off of another (assuming each relationship requires the same amount of effort), or decreasing the amount of attention one can give to every single relationship.

What is the implication of this? To put it bluntly, it means that the more cognitive and time resources we invest in one person, the less we have for others. I think this explains very succinctly why many people who are in a romantic relationship more often than not, disappears (in their friends’ perspectives).

The other realisation is that, if someone chooses to invest their time and cognitive resources in you, it means that you are very important to him/her. That someone has chosen to spend a part of their life, literally, on you. I respect and thank every single one of my friends who has done so for me. That is why I strive not to be late as much as possible, and why I try my best not to change agreed-upon appointments. I strongly believe that everyone should do the same.

Implications of Getting Close

From there, after a bit of digressing, we return to our central question: what are the implications of getting close?

Implications, in its most neutral sense – contains both the positives and the negatives.

In its positive dimension, being able to share one’s emotions (joy, to sadness) is an immensely fortunate and lovely affair. Creating common experiences and memories allow relationships to be forged stronger and more enduring. This is arguably, what we live for.

In its negative dimension, there exists room (and lots of it) for negative emotions to set in. I believe this has to do with expectations and the failure to meet the expectation-reality gap (disappointment). Disappointments are inevitable in relationships, and the only way we can do is to manage it. How can we do so? I suspect it requires a compromising of expectations, afterall – the lower the expectations, the lower the disappointments. Yet this inevitably entails a drifting of relationships. The closer we are to someone, the more we expect of that someone. It is important to make clear here that expectations must be within acceptable limits. We don’t expect parents to walk around the house naked with their children living in the same house, nor do we expect friends to kiss each other no matter how close they are. Some things just are not acceptable.

Yet when disappointment sets in, it is tempting to tell oneself ‘it’s okay, i’ll just find another person’. That way, one will never be close to anyone.

At the end of the day, we live for relationships, and through relationships, we live. How can we be emotionally satisfied is a question that remains to be answered. I suspect it has a lot to do with how one views life.




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