On Friendship and on Finding Your People

This is an entry from my journal, dated 2014-10-02 (first year of the university):

I’m thinking a lot about being friendless. I look around me, and literally everybody has friends. How come? Do I actually just have such high standards or am I just a repugnant asshole nobody likes? How would my life experience change, if I had friends? I still don’t really understand the appeal of “hanging out”.

Here’s an entry dated 2014-11-28:


  1. I’m stupid
  2. Nobody likes me
  3. Nobody will ever love me
  4. I can’t have friends
  5. I can’t talk to people
  6. I have no conscientiousness
  7. I will never achieve anything of any worth
  8. I don’t fit anywhere

It’s true that I never fit in anywhere (God knows I tried). I went to a public school and I never had any friends. Then I went to the university and I still didn’t have any friends. I had a couple of “friends” and I even had girlfriends, but I never had any friends. I guess I have become somewhat better at covering my autistic tendencies and general weirdness when meeting new people over the years, but that doesn’t actually make finding friends any easier. Twitter and this blog have really changed my life.

On friendship

One way to define true friendship is that of timelessness (a):

No matter how long you spend apart, when you come back with your friend, it is like no time has passed at all. You may have experienced meeting someone from a past association—a school friend or a work friend—and upon re-meeting them, realize that without the common, mutual experience that there’s nothing there anymore. A true friend, however, reconnects easily and instantly.

C.S Lewis talks about two types of what I would call “true friends”:

The First [Friend] is the alter ego, the man who first reveals to you that you are not alone in the world by turning out (beyond hope) to share all your most secret delights. There is nothing to be overcome in making him your friend; he and you join like raindrops on a window. But the Second Friend is the man who disagrees with you about everything. He is not so much the alter ego as the antiself. Of course he shares your interests; otherwise he would not become your friend at all. But he has approached them all at a different angle. He has read all the right books but has got the wrong thing out of every one. It is as if he spoke your language but mispronounced it. How can he be so nearly right and yet, invariably, just not right? He is as fascinating (and infuriating) as a woman. When you set out to correct his heresies, you will find that he forsooth to correct yours! And then you go at it, hammer and tongs, far into the night, night after night, or walking through fine country that neither gives a glance to, each learning the weight of the other’s punches, and often more like mutually respectful enemies than friends. Actually (though it never seems so at the time) you modify one another’s thought; out of this perpetual dogfight a community of mind and a deep affection emerge.

It’s interesting how some of the humanity’s biggest achievements were done by the latter kind of friends. This is the story of Wikipedia (a):

While moderating an online discussion group devoted to the philosophy of Objectivism in the early 1990s, Wales had encountered Larry Sanger, a skeptic of the philosophy. The two had engaged in detailed debate on the subject on Wales’s list and then on Sanger’s, eventually meeting offline to continue the debate and becoming friends.

Of Google (a):

During an orientation for new students at Stanford, he met Larry Page. They seemed to disagree on most subjects. But after spending time together, they “became intellectual soul-mates and close friends”.

And of Andreessen Horowitz (a):

A16z was designed to be a full-throated argument about the future, a design predicated on its founders’ comfort with conflict. In 1996, when Horowitz was a Netscape product manager, he wrote a note to Andreessen, accusing him of prematurely revealing the company’s new strategy to a reporter. Andreessen wrote back to say that it would be Horowitz’s fault if the company failed: “Next time do the fucking interview yourself. Fuck you.” Ordinarily, relationship over. “When he feels disrespected, Marc can cut you out of his life like a cancer,” one of Andreessen’s close friends said. “But Ben and Marc fight like cats and dogs, then forget about it.” Two years later, when Netscape was floundering and forty per cent of its employees left, Horowitz announced that he was staying no matter what. Andreessen had never trusted anyone before, but he began to consider it. Their teamwork at a16z is complementary: Horowitz is the people-person C.E.O., and Andreessen is the farsighted theorist, the chairman.

(if you have more examples, please send them to me at alexey@guzey.com)

On finding your people

Scott Alexander (a):

Alicorn once told the story of how, when she was younger, she used to think she disliked life. Then she realized she just disliked being a kid, and that after that problem was solved life was pretty good.

In much the same way, I used to think I disliked social interaction. I have since realized – and it blew my mind – that I only disliked social interaction with people who aren’t awesome.

And (a):

I can’t say enough nice things about the other residents in my program. I’ve never been good at making friends, but being thrown into the lion pit together is a pretty powerful form of bonding, and after the existential terror of intern year where some twenty-something-year-olds who have been to medical school but are otherwise pretty normal people get shoved into a hopital and expected to treat patients together, I think we became pretty close. I never had to trust them with my life, but I trusted my patients’ lives to them every day. I’ve strategized first dates with them, been to their weddings, cooed over their newborn babies. Um. Had several-year-long arguments about consciousness with them. Met the gurus of their obscure religions. Good times.

But Kurt Vonnegut writes about the difference between two kinds of teams. A granfalloon is a team of people pushed together for some ordinary human purpose, like learning medicine or running a hospital psychiatry department. They may get to know each other well. They may like each other. But in the end, the purpose will be achieved, and they’ll go their separate ways.

A karass is a group of people brought together by God for some purpose of His own. No matter how little time they spend together, or how poorly organized they might be, they’ll always be on the same wavelength and have a special kinship with each other.

And all the wonderful and compassionate people I got to know during my four years in Michigan are my granfalloon. I’ve never stopped feeling like you guys – the rationalists, the effective altruists, the transhumanists, the AI scientists, the statisticians, and all the rest – are my karass. All these years I’ve had to spend away from you have felt a little bit like exile.

Appendix: More examples of the second kind

I first met Peter at Stanford, and right from the start, we clashed on a lot of issues. Our first dorm room debate pretty much consisted of us saying to each other, “You can’t possibly believe that.” And that feisty exchange continued throughout college through the founding of PayPal — and yes, as some of you might know, through the 2016 presidential campaign.

I’ve known Peter for three decades, and I respect him deeply. And although we often spar, he’s right more often than I find comfortable. But I still can’t predict where he’ll land on many issues. Who would’ve imagined that my former PayPal colleague would back Donald Trump? Not me. Yet there he was at the Republican National Convention. Go figure. (source (a)) (via Nityesh Agarwal)

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