Loner, Triad, Or Pack Member: What's Your Friendship Style?

For all the discussions we have about romantic monogamy and polyamory and everything in between, I don’t think we talk enough about how those same dynamics translate to friendships.
Publish date:
December 20, 2012
best friends, polyamory, friendship, best friend, puppy piles

It’s December, which means I’ve been spending 23 hours out of every 24 weeping over Ella Fitzgerald music and constructing elaborate fantasies centered around sticking my cold hands in other people’s pockets. It’s probably because I formed a lot of the most meaningful relationships in my adult life in one of the snowiest regions of America, but something about chilly weather makes me want to pair-bond like a mothertrucker.

I’m not even talking about dating, necessarily. Generally speaking, the minute the temperature drops below 50 Fahrenheit (shut up, I live in the Bay), I just want to stick my feet under someone else’s thigh and watch "Love Actually" under an afghan crocheted for two.

This is always a little disconcerting, because I spend the majority of the year being all flaky and wild-eyed, and then my friends turn around in December to find me clinging to their calves and mouth-breathing like a mini-Gollum.

For me, this is definitely a seasonal experience. But for some friends of mine, this whole pair-bond, best friend forever impulse is year-round. Others are even flakier than I am and frequently schedule themselves six dates deep in order not to feel bored to death by everyone around them.

This, as you might expect, can cause some problems. One woman’s “neglected” is another woman’s “smothered, you clingy bastard,” and it’s hard to convey “I like you, I just don’t like spending that much time with you. Or anyone, really!” without coming across as a Grinch-faced jerkwad. For all the discussions we have about romantic monogamy and polyamory and everything in between, I don’t think we talk enough about how those same dynamics translate to friendships.

Personally, I'd say a good 95% of my interpersonal conflicts have arisen from misunderstandings based on these disconnects; I once waged a ten-day monosyllabic text-war, for example, because my more group-oriented friend kept inviting randos on our Whole Foods salad bar dates. Once we worked out that I needed some one-on-one time (as it was late November), all that poutiness melted right away.

Someone recently pointed out to me that how we approach our relationships tends to be consistent, whether they’re platonic, sexual, or romantic. I’m not sure I agree entirely -- just because I like to run in a big old wolf pack doesn’t make my default sexual preference “orgy” -- but I think there is some merit in examining our own hermit-vs-butterfly tendencies and how they relate to others’.

Here’s how I break down my own platonic social impulses, which tend to change from week to week, and the complications I've observed with each -- where do you classify yourself?

Loner: The recurring urge to drift in and out of people’s lives at will is both a blessing and a curse. Because I am a modernist wretch, I spent most of my formative literary years swooning over Virginia Woolf and J.D. Salinger. Therefore, I will always half-suspect that I can only be creatively productive if I am hunched over a computer in a room of my own. Whenever I’m stressed about the fact that I’m going to die in the apocalypse without ever having made my literary “mark” (I know, shut up), I tend to very dramatically sojourn to my closet-den and vow to start prioritizing my art. Of course, being an extrovert, this only lasts about a day before I start getting unbearably lonely.
If this is you: Please understand that as much as you may grump, your friends are humans who enjoy interacting with you. If you treat every request to socialize like it’s a chore, soon they won’t.If this is your friend: Give ‘em time. My favorite thing that my friends do in these situations is to schedule some hangouts like three days in advance -- I can usually wrap my head around that better than, “COME OUT WITH US TONIGHT DO IT COME ON DO IT,” which makes me want to bury my head in a pile of dirty clothes like an ostrich bachelor.

Pair-bonder: Like I said above, when the weather gets cold, all of my usual I-need-space wires get totally shorted out and I cling to the weirdest person in my proximity. For example, my friend TOK and I once spent 85 hours on the same couch over Thanksgiving break eating nothing but cookie dough and watching Merlin on the BBC. Normally, we would have tried to strangle each other after that much couple-time, but instead we just lay on each other’s flannel-clad bellies and mumbled that we didn’t really need any exercise for the week. Bliss.If this is you: Mazel tov, you have a frequently normalized relationship! Seriously though, please try to remember that as much as you and your BFF may enjoy subtly flaunting the superiority of your friendship through the hilarity of your banter, anyone else in the room gets sick of that, fast.

If this is your friend: If your bro is a BFF-er and you’re not, there’s a lot of potential for hurt feelings. Unrequited best-friendships are pretty much the worst, as I’ve learned from being on both sides of that situation. I try to be extra affectionate with my pair-bonder friends, but also very firm about boundaries.

Triad/Quartet/Wolf Pack-Dweller: Oh, my God, these are the best ever. As emotionally supportive as a pair bond, but without all the catfighting that can ensue when you haven’t hung out with anyone else in the last 12 days. As we learned from “The Goonies,” these are the best type of friends to go on life-affirming piratical adventures with. Of course, as we then learned from “Mean Girls,” the power struggles that can come from a small-group friendship can be kind of tricky.

If this is you: Since they depend on the participation of so many people, puppy piles can be a very situationally limited endeavor. If you feel like a member of your small group might be growing apart from you, try not to cling or talk shit about them with the others. That only leads to resentment, and it’s unlikely to preserve your pod.

If this is your friend: It can be awfully intimidating to be the fourth wheel in a tricycle, but it can also be a delightful vacation into the cadences and mini-dramas of a pre-established group. I like to think of it as guest-starring on a sitcom: chill out, have fun, and don’t feel pressure to carve out a starring role for yourself if you don’t get along splendidly with everyone onset.

Flaky Charmer: We all know these people. You walk into a party with them and they’re immediately dragging you toward 8 other people they recognize from that salsa class they took last summer. They have a bunch of people labeled with places like “Mountain Goats concert” and “Taqueria” instead of last names in their phones. According to the University of Virginia, this describes an increasing number of Americans. I love being this person. Sometimes.

If this is you: Try to keep it reined in a little, bud. As much as you might be truly fascinated by everyone around you in this magical city, there are only so many hours in the day. You don’t have to take every passing acquaintance to the next level.

If this is your friend: Hang on and enjoy the ride. She might be booked for the next month, but chances are some of her other friends aren’t.

Did I miss anybody?

Kate wants to be your friend at @katchatters.