The Grey Area

November 17, 2017
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Out of all the "friends" you currently have and pride yourself about, only a few will keep in touch with you after high school. It's a truth not many of us are willing to admit, but a truth nonetheless. Only your closest companions, those you sync the best with, will attend your wedding; or, to be morbid, your funeral. There's a grey area between these lifelong buddies and strangers, and it's a well-known source of much awkwardness. I'm talking about the "friends" you're supposed to know. Supposed to, but don't.

At the lowest rung of the ladder are those we recognize only two things about - their names, and their faces. The two of you are somehow aware of each other's existence; what kicked off the lackluster relationship is too trivial to remember. Since it feels bad to downright ignore him, you keep up the perfunctory "what's up"s and half-hearted waves. Sometimes when you're disgruntled for one reason or another, you throw etiquette out the window and don't bother to even acknowledge his presence. Years from now, the only two things you know about him will fade into the background static of bygone days.

Next up are the "acquaintances". You've had a chat or two with them, the topic usually being the weather or that one upcoming test. They're brief affairs - both parties are eager to terminate the painfully routine and shallow conversation. You're happy to see them only when you know no one else in the vicinity and want to seem like you have friends.

Then there are the people we are fairly comfortable in the presence of. Classmates and teammates fall into this category. Having spent at least a small part of your regular school life with them, you've become familiar with their quirks and idiosyncrasies; you can have some real fun with three or more of them around. That's not to say things will be all bright and dandy when you are thrown into a one-to-one situation with one of them. It almost always turns awkward pretty fast, with both of you desperately trying to fill the silence with any inane topic that comes to mind. Lapses in the steady stream of aimless babbling are accompanied by a nervous shifting of the feet or a diversion of the eyes to a detail in the scenery that suddenly seems so intriguing.

On the other hand, there are some people in this "grey area" that you greatly enjoy the company of, though you've only know him for a while. Conversation with him flows exceptionally well; it's the sort of effortless talk that leaves you feeling refreshed and contented. It's from this pool of special people that true friendships blossom from.

Once a close bond has been established, the "grey area" friend is promoted to the rank of "lifelong buddy". Intellectual complement or fellow rebel, comrade in battle or gossiper-in-arms - they take up a variety of roles to match each unique aspect of our personalities. Life would lose much of its color without them.

Ultimately, only a small percentage of all social interactions you engage in will matter to you. Faced with this grim reality - that most of your time is wasted on undesirable exchanges - you can choose to do one out of two things. Fortify the barrier standing between your social circle and the rest of the world, or tear it down, stepping out of your comfort zone to stretch your people skills. Continue viewing the "grey area" people as plagued monsters to be avoided at all costs, or embrace every opportunity with them as a chance to learn about and explore fresh minds.

It's not easy. With new people come unfamiliar behaviors to adjust to, new tones of colloquy to adapt to. You might find your judgmental side rearing its ugly head when your new friend starts to open up; there's no reason for you to go easy on someone you barely know. You might also be offended by some of his innocuous habits - his lame puns or the way he keeps stepping on your shoe for example. All part of sandpapering the edgy corners of a burgeoning relationship.

After all your attempts to vault over the initial hurdle of awkwardness, you'll find that it was worth it, and that you are a step ahead from where you were before. In your pockets is one more perspective to draw from; a whole different way of looking at the world a casual phone call away. Areas you never cared to probe into before will, through the influence of your newfound friend, take on a novel quality. You might even get involved in it yourself.

The possibilities are endless.

So stop acting like you're preoccupied with something to avoid making small talk. Stop rushing off to the loo in the middle of a chat while knowing full well that your bladder is capable of so much more.

Take a deep breath, man up, and start talking.






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