Help Me Reduce Friendship "Churn"
February 15, 2013 2:17 PM   Subscribe

I have a system to develop new friends while simultaneously measuring whether they're worthwhile, allowing me to toss users and losers into the discard piles. However, I worry that the intensity of this filtering process may inadvertently be eliminating some perfectly decent people. Snowflake details below.

The best way to describe my friendship process is that it starts out being heavily transactional, and becomes more empathetic as time goes on. Basically I meet somebody interesting and invite them out to something fun. Then they invite me to something fun, or do something thoughtful for me. Then I reciprocate, and we hit the friendship ball back and forth until empathy develops, at which point I no longer care whose turn it is to reciprocate. To me, "friendship" is when those little acts of kindness intermingle to the point where it's pointless to even keep score anymore of who's ahead or who's behind.

Of course, sometimes these new potential friends fail to live up to my expectations and don't reciprocate my invites. When they happens, I send one or two more invites to see if that jumpstarts any reciprocity, and if it doesn't I simply kick the friendship to the curb, discontinuing contact. (Although naturally I'm polite if I happen to run into them accidentally at some point.)

To me, it almost seems silly to call this a "system" since it seems like straightforward common sense, but apparently quite a few people don't measure their friendships this way. In any case, this method generally works very well for me. Because all of my friends have thoroughly vetted and have generally shown themselves to be giving and thoughtful people in the very beginning stages of the friendship, I know I can rely on them when I am in need - and I literally cannot remember the last time I have ever disappointed in a close friend - they have always been there for me every single time that I needed them. It's quite heartwarming really.

The one problem is that sometimes the "reciprocity" line gets blurry. For example, I know a lot of people in the comedy and music scene. Sometimes I invite them to something fun, and in return they send me an invitation to a performance of theirs - a comedy show that they are doing, or a gig that their band is playing somewhere local. I don't consider this reciprocity, because it's not something that benefits me or that they even put any effort into. On the contrary, if I go to their show it only benefits them, because the more people show up the more popular they seem, thus enhancing their chances of success in the entertainment field. It even makes me a little bit angry, because from my perspective it feels like I have gone through a certain amount of effort to plan a fun activity for these potential new friends, and their "gratitude" is to selfishly try and make me waste my valuable time watching their stupid shows in order to further their careers. Obviously I never say this out loud, but privately I get resentful about this, and if this kind of thing happens a couple of times I just drop them without any fuss.

My concern is that sometimes, this might be the result of a miscommunication or different value systems. It's entirely possible that these potential friends might actually be decent people who also believe in reciprocity, but simply don't realize that inviting me to one of their shows isn't my idea of thoughtfulness. Then they wonder why they're no longer getting invited to any of my group activities or social events, and feel like I'm snubbing them for no good reason. To me, this seems like unnecessary friendship churn because tI'm writing off people who could potentially be good friends if they only understood my emotional needs and expectations. Plus it seems a little passive-aggressive to ditch somebody without expressing the reasons why, and I generally prefer to be direct in my dealings with people.

What I'm looking for is a clear way to phrase my expections, so that new acquaintances realize that A) if they want to be friends I expect them to put as much into the friendship as they receive from it in accordance with the principle of reciprocity, and B) that I don't in any way consider being invited to their show a favor to me - in fact, I consider attending their show to be a favor to them. However, I'd like to find a way to phrase this as tactfully and respectfully as possible, so that if I have to drop them we can go our separate ways without any lingering resentment.
posted by wolfdreams01 to Human Relations (46 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
What happens if you attend their show and you somehow manage to enjoy yourself anyway? Is that just collateral fun?

Also, you're overthinking it.
posted by Jon_Evil at 2:23 PM on February 15, 2013 [25 favorites]

What I'm looking for is a clear way to phrase my expections, so that new acquaintances realize that A) if they want to be friends I expect them to put as much into the friendship as they receive from it in accordance with the principle of reciprocity, and B) that I don't in any way consider being invited to their show a favor to me - in fact, I consider attending their show to be a favor to them. However, I'd like to find a way to phrase this as tactfully and respectfully as possible, so that if I have to drop them we can go our separate ways without any lingering resentment.

I think you should share this question, particularly this paragraph, with potential friends. It may change up your friend pool a bit in the moment, but I guarantee that anyone who is down with this approach will prove an unshakeable comrade because they will share your distinctive and unusual worldview down to the letter.
posted by Frowner at 2:27 PM on February 15, 2013 [46 favorites]

If you can't tell a friend that they suck, they are just an acquaintance
posted by kanemano at 2:27 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ok first of all you have to understand that when musicians or any other kind of entertainers have a show they pretty much just tell everyone they know every single time. In case any of them WANT to go they'll then know about it and be able to do so. If you don't, it's fine, don't go, they won't get mad. Most of us are very clear that coming to our show is definitely a favor to us. But we also try to make our shows worth viewing, so there is the chance that you could actually enjoy yourself one time or another, in which case the performer really is doing something for you.

BUT not a keeping-score kind of way, because that's an awfully rigid way to deal with human beings, who are extremely, extremely complicated and don't always show you their full worth until you get to know them for awhile.

I'm not a big fan of mooches, but I am more into putting less possible impediments between myself and new friends because I need all the ones I can get.
posted by TheRedArmy at 2:28 PM on February 15, 2013 [8 favorites]

I used to be a dedicated musician. All other considerations about reciprocity aside, if I knew you thought going to my show was stupid and a waste of your time, I don't think I'd want to be friends with you. So maybe you can spare yourself having to deal with that particular issue by writing off anyone who has a career or hobby close to their heart in which you do not share interest/respect.
posted by Specklet at 2:29 PM on February 15, 2013 [41 favorites]

If you want to be polite and nice, you can say something like, 'I would prefer to do an activity that we can both enjoy - something where we can get to know each other a little better as opposed to watching a show where I won't be able to interact with you.'

If you want to be clear as possible, just tell them straight up what you told us. Although, I don't think that will blow over very well and I do think it is a very complicated system to keep track of. A lot of people might not be willing to follow through on something like that.

Also, it is slightly different, but related - I'm a club promoter but I do so for the benefit of myself and my friends. I only invite them if I feel like it's going to be a fantastic night where we're all going to have fun and I usually negotiate a bunch of perks for them too. Your comedian and musician friends may feel the same way and if you refuse to go because you're bitter about doing them a favour, you might miss out on a fun night.
posted by cyml at 2:29 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

The fact that you're thinking of friendship in terms of reciprocity and transactions is... a little abnormal. I would say that "quite a few people don't measure their friendships this way" is an understatement.

I mean, to the extent that people trade off buying rounds, buying dinner, or hosting parties-- that's pretty normal. But I would venture to say that the norm is to do things because you enjoy them, or you genuinely want to support a friend's band, hobby, whatever.

Stop over thinking, or (and this is almost what it sounds like) stop feeling like you're being taken advantage of early in friendships. You're not. Do things because you want to do them. You do have non-transactional motivations, right?
posted by supercres at 2:29 PM on February 15, 2013 [22 favorites]

What happens if you attend their show and you somehow manage to enjoy yourself anyway? Is that just collateral fun?

Once in a while, that does happen. But it's exceptionally rare, because I have high standards and am difficult to impress. Since this is very much an edge case, I didn't consider it germane enough to even incllude in the question.

Also, you're overthinking it.

I know, but I get one question a week here and since I don't really have any problems worth speaking of, I figured I might as well spend it to see if there's anything I can do to improve the efficency of my process.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:30 PM on February 15, 2013

If you don't want to go into their shows, don't go.

Also you're expectations are really limiting -- you aren't taking into account things like people being really busy with kids, 2 jobs, gigs and practice on top of a full-time job, etc. If you want reciprocity, you'll need friends who have money, one job, and no kids.

It sounds like what you're looking for in a friendship is to have several "best" friends. There are different levels of friendship -- it doesn't need to be all or nothing. Maybe start thinking in terms of levels of friendship.

For ex: my closest friend is someone who is in grad school and absurdly busy, and doesn't originate plans, but I know this and originate most of the plans. I'm busy too, but I'm more of a planner. And it's okay, because I know that fact about him. I'm taking him for who he is, which is not who I am.

And then I have other friends who I invite to various things and sometimes they invite me to things and sometimes I can't go because I'm busy, and sometimes they can't go because they're busy. They aren't close friends, but I consider them friends nonetheless. Time goes by between seeing them, but we catch up when we spend time together. I'm friends with them because they're good people, and because they're worth having as friends.
posted by DoubleLune at 2:32 PM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you told me that you would no longer want to be friends with me because you invited me to two events and I only invited you to my reading of yonic poetry then I would be like: "Woah, dude. Okay. Whatever." There's just no good way to say to someone, "hey, if you want to be friends with me, you need to step up your game in the entertainment department." So, in a way, I'm thinking you should just keep doing what feels comfortable to you. I mean, yes, you are totally and most likely missing out on some friendships. But if you don't really connect with people other than going to shows then that is your definition of a good friendship: shared experiences.

I do think that there's a give and take to friendships and when someone rebuffs my overtures to meet up or go to an activity time and again (for whatever reason), I do generally let them fade away, especially if they make no offer to reciprocate. I don't really keep score, though, but I don't think it's outside the realm of friend-making to think of things along these lines. In general, though, it's good to keep an open mind and a broad perspective so that you don't let good people fall through the cracks just because they're not on the same transactional plane as you.

Good luck!
posted by amanda at 2:33 PM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

I would hesitate to worry so much about establishing quid pro quo relationships. They are impossible to manage and inevitably I find that when someone is "keeping score" it just makes everybody unhappy. You might simply try to surrender worrying about reciprocity and see how your gut directs you. If you want to hang out with someone you will. If you find yourself bored because you have no invites, you will create your own event and invite people.
posted by thorny at 2:35 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I know, but I get one question a week here and since I don't really have any problems worth speaking of, I figured I might as well spend it to see if there's anything I can do to improve the efficency of my process.

You are a stitch and a half, really. I hope there's a fine "Conspiracy of Dunces but with a loftier tone" book coming out of this.

You might enjoy the title story from David Foster Wallace's Girl With Curious Hair, if you haven't read it already. Actually, that story has a suggestion about friendship - offer something that the other person really wants but doesn't have. In the story, it's money and nice possessions, but it could be something else...perhaps you're a really good cook, so if you befriend someone who has a tight food budget and some other quality that you want, they'll always accept your invitations and you'll always be happy to accept theirs since they will have some unspecified quality that you want but do not have.
posted by Frowner at 2:35 PM on February 15, 2013 [25 favorites]

You don't have to ask a question every week.

It's not a good idea to be so rigid in your relationships with real, complicated human beings. I would be very, very surprised if you kept many friends if you actually came out and told them the things you've written in this question.

Maybe start thinking of friendship in a different way? Not a tit-for-tat, reciprocity thing, but more of a 'let's see where this thing goes' sort of way. I mean, yeah, if I'm the only one making plans time after time after time, I'm going to eventually stop trying. But then again, I don't go into friendships expecting the other person to entertain me or reciprocate equally every other time we do something. I just, like, hang out with the people I like spending time with.
posted by cooker girl at 2:35 PM on February 15, 2013 [7 favorites]

Oh, that's a thought: you might want to find some friends who are older than you and who will find your "wolf plus computer brain" approach gently amusing and sort of touching and who will always reciprocate because they feel that you need warm, stable emotional presences in your life. An added plus: many of them will be able to cook and many of them will have enough money to buy you a few rounds or dinner when it's their turn.
posted by Frowner at 2:40 PM on February 15, 2013 [11 favorites]

[Folks, as long as this question is up, please treat it like an actual question and follow standard AskMe rules. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 2:43 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you enjoy someone's company why wouldn't you invite them out? I understand that you don't want to be way more invested than someone else in a friendship but there is a middle ground between expecting reciprocation every time and feeling like a friend doesn't really care if you see them or not.

Some of the people you are interacting with might not see it as 'I was invited this time - now it's my turn to reciprocate with an invite' but more as 'I had a great time at the comedy club with Wolfdreams last night - I will think of him when I hear about something that he might like.'
posted by Laura_J at 2:43 PM on February 15, 2013

I read your question a couple of times and thought about it. The way you talk about reciprocity is throwing people off, I think.

You say that you will give 2-3 invitations - unreciprocated - before dropping your pursuit of a friendship. That seems reasonable.

It also seems reasonable that if you are regularly inviting someone to dinner/coffee/museums and they show up for dinner but only ever invite you to their performances, you are not on the same page.

If I were asking someone to get dinner/ coffee with me and they didn't show up for dinner but did invite me to watch their stand-up show, I would let that drop. They have added me to their email list but don't think of me as someone to hang out with one-on-one.

However, some people are not big inviters. I have some friends who do a lot of reaching out and some who do very little. That can be due to introversion, work overwhelm, depression, or just having a full social schedule already. So I don't think it's necessary to keep a strict score.

Are you experiencing a problem? Are you happy with your current friendships? Do you want to have more friends? Those details might shed some light.
posted by bunderful at 2:50 PM on February 15, 2013 [13 favorites]

Alright, let me try my deleted comment again.

I don't think you have anything to lose by being perfectly straightforward -- i.e., tell them exactly the text of your question here -- with potential friends. People who balk and think you're strange (and not friend material) for thinking this way probably aren't people who would be good friends for you in the long run anyway.

You're just laying all the cards on the table ahead of time, so they know that you're not likely to do anything unrewarded or uncompensated in the future. That's a perfectly valid -- and not uncommon -- worldview (Ayn Rand fan, by chance?), so I'm sure you'll find plenty friends who are either okay with it, or who share it, and you can happily exchange friendship tokens and balance your favor-ledgers together. Bonding activity! I promise I'm not being snarky or facetious.
posted by supercres at 2:50 PM on February 15, 2013

You don't consider these invites to be reciprocating invites of your own, but they might have (mis)identified it as being something that you would enjoy.

I have musician friends/acquaintances of my own who will invite me to their gigs. In addition to the reasons you've identified for inviting people to a gig, there can be others. They want a friendly face, they think I'll enjoy the venue, they think I like spending time with them/their interests. Also, sometimes they get free drinks/food/whatever and want to share the temporary and transient wealth.
posted by RainyJay at 2:51 PM on February 15, 2013

I don't know why everyone is hating on this question so much. OP, this is pretty much my friendship-making model. Back-and-forth invites, if they're flaky or only ever invite me to their shows I quit wanting to put the effort into being their friend. Maybe it's relevant that I'm an introvert and have a limited amount of social energy to spend, so I want to be sure I'm spending it with people who are good fits for me. I also hate going to loud, crowded shows.

When people invite you to their shows, do you say something like "that's not really my scene, but I want to hang out soon"? That would clarify that you want to be friends but aren't into going out to shows. Unfortunately, most of the people who I've met who have substantial hobbies that involve giving shows have social lives that revolve around that, so we wind up not being good matches.
posted by momus_window at 2:52 PM on February 15, 2013 [14 favorites]

if you were trying to be friends with me and never came to see my music/performance or showed any sign of supporting a hobby that you know i love but you aren't personally into, i'd "drop you without any fuss." so maybe do your artist friends a favor and leave them alone, no need to sit them down and give them a talk about how and why it's just not the most efficient use of your time to support them by attending their show, performance, exhibition or whatever. that will hurt their feelings, be somewhat awkward for you, and is unlikely to improve your life.

try something like: friend invites you to blues concert, you reply with "hey thanks for thinking of me, but i'm not into blues concerts. would love to catch up with you - would you like to have lunch next week?" etc. friend is not stupid, and friend will notice this happen once or twice, then never invite you to another blues concert again and/or stop speaking to you, perhaps, if a significant portion of their identity is Friend As Successful Blues Musician. goal accomplished.

i think what's more interesting here is why you describe an invitation to their show or performance as your friend's attempt to "selfishly try and make me waste my valuable time watching their stupid shows in order to further their careers." that's sounding harsh and aggressive. why would you want to be friends with someone when you think what they do for fun or in their career is stupid or selfish?

a final observation: "obviously I never say this out loud, but privately I get resentful about this" - sometimes people can tell this, from nonverbal cues and expressions and such. also, you might have an easier time coming up with a way of expressing your life philosophy if you figured out why you resent it?
posted by zdravo at 2:52 PM on February 15, 2013 [22 favorites]

if I go to their show it only benefits them, because the more people show up the more popular they seem, thus enhancing their chances of success in the entertainment field. It even makes me a little bit angry, because from my perspective it feels like I have gone through a certain amount of effort to plan a fun activity for these potential new friends, and their "gratitude" is to selfishly try and make me waste my valuable time watching their stupid shows in order to further their careers.

They think their shows are really good and think that inviting you will be a good time for you. They are also really busy from performing in the evenings, leaving less time for them to create separate arrangements with you, so this is their big chance to see you and hang out with you after their set/performance.

One possibility is for you to suggest alternate plans that would feel more balanced, in your mind. Or you could stop hanging out with comedians and musicians, since you obviously don't like doing what they like to do (attending and performing comedy and music shows).
posted by deanc at 2:58 PM on February 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

"Efficiency" is a word that many people would not apply to personal relationships.

Maybe you should be looking for ways to meet friends who share your systematic approach to emotions and interpersonal interaction. If everyone was on the same page, the whole process might be more... efficient.
posted by snorkmaiden at 3:02 PM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

On the one hand, I get the need for reciprocity. I do. I have a couple of friends who take everything I offer and then some. Drives me a little nuts, but for various reasons of my own, I maintain contact with them despite this.

Apart from those people, my life is filled with people I enjoy hanging out with and, I would hope, they enjoy hanging out with me. I have one friend who is a bit similar to you in that she likes it when things are "even" in her friendships, but after several years of being friends, even that's fallen by the wayside and I'm pretty sure she's lost track of what's what (and I was never doing so). Most of the time, most of the people with whom I associate do not "keep score". And we're all fine with how things are.

Having said that, your question was how to state your expectations clearly and avoid lingering resentment.

Short of drawing up a Sheldonesque "Friendship Agreement", I think your best bet is to inform those who invite you to their shows that "it's not your thing," when it comes to being invited to performances. (Or, as someone else already noted, not to befriend people who are prone to performing.)

As to the concept of reciprocity in general, in the early stages of a friendship, you can mention how much so-and-so friend let you down by not reciprocating enough for you, and the like. That's a bit shady, but it might get the message through without scaring away a potential new friend.

The trouble with this, however, is that -- in my opinion -- true, good friendships don't depend on reciprocity. It's nice, sure, but it's not been my experience that it's 100% required. I know my friends are there for me. I've relied on them in the past and I will rely on them in the future, I'm sure. It's in those instances of need that you really discover if the friend will be a good friend. Basically, the way I see it, a friend can be assumed to be reliable unless there is evidence to the contrary. Otherwise, would they really be a good friend of yours? Thus, they *should* be up to the challenge.

Best of luck to you.
posted by juliebug at 3:03 PM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Basically what this boils down to is you're exceptionally high maintenance and selfish and don't see a problem with that. That's what your wall of text is screaming to me, any way.

Yes, the way you view people and relationships is damaging your ability to develop meaningful friendships and, in my opinion, a healthy attitude about life in general.

Stop being "friends" with people you don't actually like or feel like you could just naturally support. If this means you need to drop your entire friends group, so be it. I think you need to do some work on yourself before you enter into that arena again. It might also behoove you to stop seeking friendships with people you normally would have some level of disdain for (ie artists and musicians whose work you don't like and wouldn't support because you don't get anything out of it).

Stop treating things as transactional. Show love. Practice being a giver and don't keep score. Let go of your need to be in control. Friendships are not about you in the way that you think they are.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 3:07 PM on February 15, 2013 [48 favorites]

I don't really see a problem here. You invite someone to hang out face to face, and they reciprocate by inviting you to be part of an audience — those are really different activities, with a very different level of intimacy involved.

I think you're not wrong for drawing that line, and maybe even being too forgiving. Someone who invites you to their show after hanging out with you is implying that you owe them, that they've done you a favor by accepting your invitation.
posted by AlsoMike at 3:15 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was a working musician for a long time. If someone made a friendly overture to me, I would not reciprocate by inviting them to one of my shows. I'd assume that if they liked my music they'd already know about my shows. Instead, I'd invite them to dinner, a small party, an outing, or whatever else that would give the person some interaction with me and maybe a few other people that I suspect they'll like.

I don't think you're missing anything by filtering out people whose idea of making friends is putting people in an audience. If you're really concerned that you're missing something, I agree with previous commenters who suggest a response like, "That's not really my thing" followed by a gentle suggestion that you'd prefer doing stuff together, and then see what they propose.
posted by ceiba at 3:25 PM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

I agree with ceiba. There's an obvious and qualitative difference between "let's do stuff as friends" and "let's have you be in my audience."

However, just to make sure everyone's on the same page, you should politely turn down invitations to be in the audience, and say something like "that's not really my scene, but I'd love to actually hang out with you, do you want to catch dinner the next night?" or whatever.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:30 PM on February 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

Seems to me that you've got it backwards: empathy is what drives friendships, not "the principle of reciprocity" --- being invited to someone's performance is merely a side benefit of an already-existing friendship. And too, friendships aren't supposed to be reduceable to one-for-one, tit for tat accounting on a spreadsheet somewhere, either. (Not that I'm saying friends shouldn't do things for/with each other: just that there shouldn't be some sort of 'I invited him last time, it's his turn this time' requirement.)
posted by easily confused at 3:48 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a musician. When I invite people to shows of mine, I do it because I think they will enjoy themselves. I do this even if they have high standards and are difficult to impress, because the groups I am in are very good and perform on a high level. I don't view these invites as some sort of chit or token that builds up on a scale until we reach some sort of impossible tipping point; they're just invitations. Sometimes people aren't into the kind of thing I do, sometimes they're busy, sometimes they don't have the cash for tickets.

However, my work as a musician is a big part of who I am and what I do. If someone had no interest in discussing that part of my life until I'd "earned" it transactionally, or if someone viewed one of my performances as something that offered no benefit for them whatsoever, then I would probably write them off as a jerk who was more interested in making sure he had the upper hand than in being my friend.
posted by KathrynT at 3:51 PM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's not as if that other people don't believe in reciprocity, it's that reciprocity is something that arises naturally out of the process of making a new friendship. So while I can see where you get your idea of one-for-one from likely in your observations in how other people make friendships, I feel like you need to take a more organic approach instead of setting hard rules. It seems like you apply these rules to yourself as well, which is making you unhappy at times too. To be a good friend, you need to be good to yourself as well!

When you meet a new person and have adequate time to talk to them (i.e. maybe not upon first meeting them, but after you meet them once and then suggest you have coffee together and then do so and have a nice talk), you can generally get an idea of their interests and who they are. From there, if you're interested in pursuing a friendship from them from what you have seen, you keep their interests in mind and start inviting them to do things with you (i.e. you're doing them already for fun) that you think they would be interested in. If they refuse without giving you a good reason or multiple times, then you recalibrate their expectations of them - you can probably assume that they're not interested in doing said event and narrow things down a little. If it gets to the point where they're constantly refusing things you do, you can probably safely assume that they have few interests in common with you and stop inviting them to things. Which isn't to say that you should stop being an acquaintance with them, it's just that they're probably not suited to being your friend.

Of course, this "expectation" goes both ways, and I would probably think that this is similar to how most people have internalized the concept of building up a friendship. Where reciprocity should come into play naturally is that you should both be keeping an eye out for things that might pique your new friend's interests. However, the reason why it's not particularly smart to put any hard rules on reciprocity is because there might be a whole whack of social dynamics that can throw rules. For instance, you might be more interested in them than they are, which is not necessarily a bad thing - they might be a really cool person who you want to know but already has a lot of friends to pay attention to, so you go out of the way to arrange things to let them better know you so you can get closer. Or perhaps they're in a slow time of the year where they're not doing anything out of the ordinary that they can invite you to - it's generally a really bad idea to go to things for the sole sake of inviting new friends, especially if you won't enjoy it.

And since this expectation goes both ways, that means you should be rejecting the invites go to things you don't want to do, by the way. The reason why they keep inviting you back is because they think you ARE enjoying it because of the unsaid expectations here (I mean, if you weren't interested, you would be rejecting their invites and they'd be recalibrating their expectations, right?), and it's really, really bad to start off new friendships on resentment.

To give you an example - I recently met a new friend who I mentioned that I liked video games to, but have only been playing PC games recently since I'm a university student without a TV. She invited me to her house to play with her console, which I had fun doing. During our conversation at her house, she mentioned she wasn't doing anything for Valentine's Day since she couldn't find a date. It turned out that a friend wanted to have dinner with me on that day (totally platonic), so I invited her over to the dinner we were going to have and we had a blast. During that dinner, I talked about this new store that opened up at the start of the year and she expressed interest - I'm now going to invite her to check it out with me this weekend.

If I had refused her invitation to go gaming with her, she would have probably assumed "oh, he's not interested" and would have changed the nature of her invitation the next time around. Similarly, if she doesn't want to go to the store with me, I'll assume she's not interested in that, and invite her to different events the next time. But since we only have so many types of things we do in our lives, the fact that we trim down on events means that if we keep saying no to each other, we'll naturally stop inviting each other out. Which doesn't mean we still won't have fun talking to each other whenever we see each other in our shares spaces - she's just not the type of friend who goes out and does things with me.
posted by Conspire at 4:26 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'll start with the second part of your question first. For the example you provided, I think it's okay to say, "Hey, I appreciate the show invite but I'd rather spend a little more face-to-face time with you. What about dinner next Thursday?" It is direct without being too confrontational. I would definitely agree that not mentioning that they want warm bodies at their shows, even if it is true and they confessed it under a polygraph given by their respective, forbidding clergy; it's a no-no. About as direct as I would approach it would be a, "I will be there to show my support! But we really need to go out with your significant other, Pat, soonish."

Also, are their shows really that bad? No pleasure to be derived from them at all? Or is their music just not your thing?
As an aside: you said "Sometimes I invite them to something fun ..." but you didn't mention if it occurred to you that your friends might not also be wondering, "Guy invited me to another one of this 'things.' Every warm body makes him look better," just as you are seething about them. Reciprocity cuts both ways, so make sure that you're measuring up, too.
As to the first part of the question, I am failing to find a tactful way for you to make clear your need for reciprocity to prospective friends. However, consider Goodheart's Law: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure." You won't get a very honest picture of whether or not someone will make a good friend if they know that's what you will expect of them; a percentage of the the people who are likely to be bad friends will try to game the system, like teaching to a standardized test.

The thing is, you don't know who is going to be a good friend for a while. Character, bone-deep character, is hard to suss out and that takes time. As much as bean-counting acts of kindness and favors returned, the tests of friendship are also about crises. Who is going to give you back money you loaned to them? Who will leave you high and dry on the side of the road with a busted alternator, six months after you hauled ass early from work to rescue them with a can of Fix-a-Flat? Some of the people most likely to leave you in the lurch are the first to proclaim they will do anything for a buddy.

Some people's reaction to this knowledge will be to create artificial crises, tests, to weed out the undesirables. That's a mark of insecurity and it leads to a cycle where that is always happening, with catastrophes on the regular, leaving everyone to wonder what the plural of apocalypse is. Don't go there.

Give it all some time and cut everyone, including yourself, some slack.
posted by adipocere at 4:37 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Honestly, you lost me at the first half of the opening sentence - right at the word system. My friendship is not a cog in a system to be measured and bartered. I suspect most people think like I do on this. If you you like hanging out with someone, be friends. If not, don't. Anything else is over thinking it.
posted by COD at 4:39 PM on February 15, 2013 [12 favorites]

Why is it such a privilege to live up to your expectations and standards? Or to put it another way, who died and made you god? I'm serious - what about trying to appreciate people for who they are, instead of measuring whether or not they are good enough for you. It would probably be much more pleasant for everyone.
posted by citron at 4:44 PM on February 15, 2013 [9 favorites]

Your methodical approach seems to be working for you.

I agree with celiba and fingersandtoes, politely decline and suggest an alternative, then see what happens. If a compromise can't be found (activities that you BOTH enjoy doing) and that's important to you, you're probably better off just letting them go.

If equality and consideration are high on your list of values and that's not the case for 'potential friends' (no matter what their interests or field), it's unlikely to be a mutually satisfying friendship.

I interact with people who have a single, all-consuming passion/interest (and are not interested in anything else) by keeping the friendship casual/sporadic.
posted by praline at 4:45 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Why not just turn them down for their shows? Sorry, but you hate live, local comedy and music. If they don't invite you bowling instead, y'all weren't meant to be friends. If they do, you don't have to deal with hating their show and feeling unwarrantedly angry that they didn't reciprocate or add up who owes whom properly. Problem solved.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:47 PM on February 15, 2013

I have quite a few friends that are wonderful, valuable people that are unintentional home-bodies. Why does Who plans the activity matter? I get not wanting to pay for stuff all the time and i get not feeling welcomed, but generally when I decide i want to do something, I call Whoever I feel like seeing. New people are fun, and if it gels into a long friendship? Great.

You seem to have to have your friends prove something before you can just enjoy their company. That's a little weird and I cant imagine it feels really great.
posted by Blisterlips at 4:55 PM on February 15, 2013

Friendship is not a science. It's an art.
posted by sunshinesky at 6:04 PM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

It sounds like, for the most part, you are happy with your friendships. If I'm reading this question correctly, you have multiple close friends who stand by you in tough times and are there when you need them (and presumably, the reverse is true as well!). That's awesome, and I wonder if part of your question here is why more of your new acquaintances aren't moving into this 'close friendship' category. I think at certain times in our lives, we are more in a 'close friend building' phase (say, when you move to a new place or when a particularly close friend has a kid and has no time for you anymore, etc., and at other times, we kind have all the really close friends we need. If some acquaintance turns out to get closer to us, that's awesome, but it's not necessarily something we need to actively seek out. Since it sounds like your 'close friendship' needs are already being largely met, I would see your acquaintance network a little more casually than you seem to be approaching it. I think you might be happier if you stop auditioning everyone you meet for "close friend potential" and just enjoy their company for what it is. If you guys end up hanging out and having fun, yay! If not, that's okay too! If you think what they do for a living (or serious hobby) is stupid and a waste of time...maybe don't force it and let that person find friends who enjoy their scene?

I would also maybe think a bit about your particular definition of reciprocity. I absolutely agree that reciprocity is important for any relationship - not in a tit-for-tat, score-keeping way, but in the sense that one should not feel constantly taken advantage of by their friends. However, it seems a little narrow to define that reciprocity solely in the context of planning events and sending out invites. As an example, I think I tend to be more of an 'inviter' among my friends, but they show reciprocity in other ways - listening when I had a bad day, giving me hugs, sending me funny shit they find on the internet, making me laugh, knowing exactly how I feel when I complain about a certain situation, etc. etc. I'm also not much of a planner of the bigger, more elaborate events...I'm much more likely to text someone and say, "Hey, are you free, wanna grab coffee?" or to spot a movie trailer and think "Oh, Jenna would love that! I should call her!" I tend to do those style things, and I have other friends who are more 'planners' and do less-frequent but more planning-intensive events. So I would focus a little less on how many times each person has done the inviting and how amazing said invite is, and just focus on whether you feel like you're making a good connection and feel like both you and the other person are getting something positive out of the relationship. If the friendship solely consists of a 'friend' inviting you to their events and then ignoring you while you nurse a drink at the, that sounds really not fun and I wouldn't stick around for it either! But if someone is just a little scatter-brained and you're the one who thinks to pick up the phone, but once there the friend is present in the moment and you have awesome conversations, then who cares about who made the invite?

Just my two cents, hope it helps!
posted by rainbowbrite at 6:44 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm on the fence about some of these responses, because they seem to be misunderstanding the question as "how can I make more friends?" I have plenty of friends and I don't need more, per se - I'm looking for a way to improve my filtering process, not to broaden my net. I recognize that this may be hard to see because I'm fairly outspoken on Metafilter, but rest assured that I'm doing fine in this regard. Even if you don't believe me (and you're perfectly entitled not to), for the sake of the question please assume a hypothetical instance where I have a ton of friends. I know some people on Metafilter dislike me (which totally doesn't bother me one bit) but I'd appreciate if we could stick to the main point of the question.

Also, it's worth noting that when I make a new acquaintance whom I feel might not understand the way I roll, I usually do in fact specify "Terms and Conditions" for the friendship. I may not phrase it in exactly the way I did here, but I am very careful to say something like "Reciprocity is very important to me, so while we may not have a perfect one-to-one ratio of invitations, I do expect that it will be relatively equal. If that's a problem - whether because you're too busy, or because you simply feel like it's a lot of effort, it's OK for both of us to simply say that this friendship won't work and walk away on good terms." The trouble isn't that I am failing to specify requirements for the friendship, it's that people sometimes feel that inviting me to those shows meets those requirements, and it totally doesn't. My question is how to phrase it in a way that doesn't hurt their feelings, because artists naturally tend to be sensitive about their work, and saying something like "It's crap and I don't benefit from it" obviously wouldn't go over well. There were some answers that I thought really dealt with this well, and I've marked them as best answers.

I also recognize that this question may come off as arrogant, and that's fine. I give a lot when it comes to my friendships, and I'm entitled to expect the best in return. If people don't like it, they're always free to walk away. As I specified, this is not a question about how to make more friends - this is a question about how to better identify the worthwhile ones.

In any case, I'm really thankful for the time and effort people put into these responses. I know that even if some of these seem like "tough-love" responses and others may not fully grasp that a person like me can in fact have a very healthy social life - but regardless, the fact that you're taking the time to answer in the first place is a sign of consideration and a good-faith effort to assist me, and I genuinely do appreciate that.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:06 PM on February 15, 2013

My question is how to phrase it in a way that doesn't hurt their feelings, because artists naturally tend to be sensitive about their work, and saying something like "It's crap and I don't benefit from it" obviously wouldn't go over well.

You made a mistake in not marking KathrynT's response as a "best answer"-- quite honestly, if you feel like you, "waste [your] valuable time watching their stupid shows", then that person wouldn't want to be friends with you, and I'm not sure why you'd want to be friends with them. If you want to make friends with artists, then you're going to go to a lot of gallery openings, shows, and performances of various kinds. Possibly your filtering algorithm would be more efficient if you started with "don't pursue friendships with artists", and then you would be less resentful to begin with. My take on these things is that I get to go to shows and other events hosted by this new person I've met... and that's why I cultivate friendships with that crowd. That obviously doesn't work for you, so... pre-filter by not hanging around so many performers.
posted by deanc at 9:21 PM on February 15, 2013 [13 favorites]

Deanc, that's an interesting point, and I appreciate your feedback.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:43 PM on February 15, 2013

[OP, please confine your comments to answering questions or brief clarifications; this isn't everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-wolfdreams01, and definitely not the place to talk about what "Metafilter" thinks of you. Cut it out.]
posted by taz (staff) at 10:28 PM on February 15, 2013 [8 favorites]

Answering your questions:
Yes, I think you are churning decent people, but no, I don't think you are churning prospective longer-term friends.

I think your best odds for a more efficient system is to improve the input pool, ensuring that it is more heavily weighted towards "quality prospects". It's a little like lead management in sales, if I am selling pools, then I need to target people with yards, not apartment dwellers. In other words, stop trialling friendship with artists/musicians etc. This is obviously not a target-rich pool for you, so it would be more effective to dismiss it. This is, as people have touched upon above, if you and those around you are content with how life is going for you and you aren't interested in making any changes on your side that would increase the hit-rate of that pool. Perhaps a future askme could go to brainstorming more target-rich environments for you where, for example hyper-rational folks congregate, I know I've met quite a few in the big-S Skeptic movement.

tl;dr - improve efficiency by improving the quality of the selection pool.
posted by Iteki at 12:32 AM on February 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you are spending a lot of time around people with whom you don't have much to share. The trying-out of potential friends sounds like a big expenditure of time and effort too. Maybe it's an age thing. When people are really young, they seem to have this idea of friendship and meeting friends that's quasi-romantic and where the relationships are an end in themselves. Once you're out of the college mode though, it seems like friendships are more apt to form around shared activities and interests and even circumstances, like having kids. If one of these becomes a really close friendship, that's nice but not everyone you become casual friends with is a candidate.

But it sounds like you think it's worth spending your time this way. So, getting to what seems like the main part of your question:

What I'm looking for is a clear way to phrase my expections, so that new acquaintances realize that A) if they want to be friends I expect them to put as much into the friendship as they receive from it in accordance with the principle of reciprocity, and B) that I don't in any way consider being invited to their show a favor to me - in fact, I consider attending their show to be a favor to them. However, I'd like to find a way to phrase this as tactfully and respectfully as possible, so that if I have to drop them we can go our separate ways without any lingering resentment.

People have covered B) pretty well already. If you don't want to go, you just say you're not into it. Don't say you consider it a "favor." If you use that word, you're not going to sound tactful or respectful. It's true, sometimes in life there's a disconnect where you feel you are doing something to support someone and then they don't seem to appreciate it. So you stop doing it. I think you're trying to front-load these things too much, which is also going on with A). If a potential new friend started setting out expectations like you describe, I'd think they were getting way ahead of themselves and were probably more than a little control-freaky.
posted by BibiRose at 2:58 AM on February 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

OP, I don't think yu need to explain to someone who invites you to their shows but never wants to hang out one-on-one or in small groups that they aren't holding up their half of the kind of friendship you want. Politely decline to go to things you don't want to go to. There are some great suggestions above for how to do this gracefully. But really I think in this scenario they already know they are trying to add you to their audience and not pursue a serious friendship. And that is ok. Part of what they do is audience-building. And sometimes it's fun to be in the audience, just make sure you adjust your expectations.
posted by bunderful at 11:07 AM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

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