Why some people become our friends or what forms a connection?

Where are the people of my tribe?
Image source: My Modern MET

Sometimes I wonder why do we choose to hang out with one type of people versus another? Why do we find some people attractive and other don't? It does not mean that they are "bad" or something wrong with them. There is just no chemistry - "not my tribe". 

A lot of research is out there on the topic. For example, we prefer lifelong partners/spouses who remind us our parents. But how do we choose a friend? Why some people become our friends while others do not?

The issue of selecting a "right" group of people to hang out with came up only after I was "driven out" from my natural environment (Ukraine) by my curiosity to explore and understand what China is and where it is going. In Shanghai and more later in Hong Kong, I was seeking new friendships with people who have similar interests as me - public speaking, self-development, giving back to the community, entrepreneurship, The Economist, etc. But even within those communities, I didn't quite "matched" most of the time.

Hadzabe-hunting; image from Africa Geographic 

More recently, I realised that I have been attracted to people who are better in certain areas of life which I have aspiration to. I find people who are better than me genuinely inspiring. Those are people who great at art, commerce, investment, critical-analytical-systematic thinking, dance, science or research, etc. They aspire to be better and they are already on the level which I would never achieve or it would take significant amount of effort for me to do so. But that's not my goal. They got it because, in most of the cases, it is their genuine interest, a lot of focus and hardwork - something they like to do and "naturally" good at. And I find it incredibly inspiring to be with them and just admire for the way they are. 

I also got to know many people, who aren't exceptionally great at anything in particular. But they are good people. They have caring, loving personalities. They got their issues and challenges in life. And then there are people with whom I just don't go along well. We don't "click". For example, people who are into drinking beer and bars. It's just not my thing. I feel alien to be in the bars. And although, MBTI test says I am 97% extrovert, I just do not feel that way. Nothing wrong with going to bars. Most probably those people find me super boring dude to hang out. I would be more keen on art gallery or check out latest exhibition on Assyrian antiques or late Qing Dynasty. 

So what I think makes this connection among the adults is common values. Shared values is a "common ground" that can keep people together. When values change, your priorities change and we depart. Like Pangaea split into the two megacontinents Laurasia and Gondwana beginning in the Late Triassic. 
Some relationships are like megacontinents
image source: ZME Science

Let's say your friend gets a baby, and it doesn't look much fun to hang out anymore. It's all (or most of the time) about the baby. Unless you are into babies too and you like babies. I can talk for hours now about good parenting and babies, although I do not have a kid myself (yet). That's because since age of 11 or 12 I thought already how I want my baby to grow. And observing, learning from the experience of my friends, I find genuinely interesting. But sometimes things happen in life of our friends and there is not much to talk about as we used to. That's normal. Although it is true that friendships we form earlier in our life (school and university) last throughout lifetime and can outlast significant life changes as well. I think this is because as we "grew" together, certain values and shared experiences, fun memories make the connection a lot stronger. The more time we "invested" into relationship - the more we value it?

I believe what truly matters for a connection is common experience. Through doing things together, playing together, working, volunteering - we form that connection. Although often people in specifically work environment consciously choose not to foster further connection. It might be due to trust issues and the idea of being "professional". In big corporations it doesn't happen much, perhaps because of lack of empowerment (you are a tiny element of big machine). On contrary, in smaller firms you feel like a "family" and enjoy closer social ties with colleagues. 

What is my tribe
Without going too deep in further elaborations, I came up with certain strategy where do I find my tribe or people I connect with. If I would move to a new city or country, I would look for JCI and Toastmasters as NGOs which mission I share and communities I like to be in. Once I join, I would try to make a meaningful contribution - take active roles and become part of Executive Committee. As Woody Allen said: "80 percent of success is just showing up". But to me just showing up is more of passive way, which can work too, yet I prefer to take more pro-active roles.

Then I would set up The Economic Club - community of The Economist magazine readers and intellectually curious people. I like to read The Economist and having intellectual discussions, and it is a way to find more people like me. Going out for startup events or conferences, networking events to meet other people and look for other "tribes" I might belong to. For example, not long ago I discovered that among all Ivy League alumni the most I feel "right" with people from Stanford. I went out for events and gatherings of Columbia, Yale, Harvard, MIT and Stanford Alumni Clubs in Hong Kong to get a sense of the people, as I thought to pursue further studies. I found more of "my people" from Stanford and Yale.

Famous 75-year-old study on what makes a good life says that single predictor of happiness is quality of your social ties and connections (circle of friends and family). That's a feel of love and belonging that Brené Brown talks about in her TED-talk. And that happens when we let ourselves to be seen, truly seen. 


Once you become a member of the community or found a person you share common values, it is important to have meaningful / fun experience for both sides. I used to do this routine dinner gatherings with some of the people I like to hang out with once in a while, but I must admit it wasn't meaningful  or fun enough for them. The relationship did not last. In order for the relationship to last, both sides should have fun and enjoy each other company. Think about childhood - we as kids just play with each other and that's how we formed friendships. As we grow, it's getting harder to simply have fun, but if you like hiking and outdoor activities - you tend to bond with people who like hiking and outdoor activities. The more similar are our preferences and likes - the stronger we can form the connection (because we can have more fun meaningful experiences). That's how we can have it in genuine way - being naturally interested in each other when there is a common ground of values and interests. But how to identify people with whom you have shared values? Perhaps that's a topic of another research exploration.

So all the words above can be summed up as:

Shared values + meaningful experiences = connection

Disclaimer: the content of this blog is my personal thoughts and reflections, which might change as I change, and do not represent viewpoint of any organisation that I might have affiliation with. It is not a scientific paper, but rather an attempt to figure out what might be the truth, which should be read and perceived critically, with a grain of salt. 

Thank you for being with me and for reading :)

Tribe versus Pride



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