Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.
“Friendship is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”
― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
I have bonded with people who became my closest friends over the shared love for some activity, or through shared experiences. They enrich my life and we support each other through thick and thin.
And while some friendships can be toxic, healthy friendships can help you cope with stress more effectively, provide you support through the challenges life throws at you, and even enrich your romantic relationship.
Your friends might have radically different life goals and habits, making you realize that what seemed a good fit at first, may put you out of your depth a few weeks or months down the line.
Here are some questions that can give you good insight into how a person thinks from the very beginning. They will help you draw your boundaries even if the answers aren’t what you expected, but you end up being friends with them.
1. What do you like to do while hanging out with friends?
I once met a lady at a conference who I immediately fell in love with. She was smart, funny, open-minded, and seemed to love her independence as much as I did.
We became friends, and later that evening, she asked if we could hang out. I was too smitten to say no, and when we met at the pre-decided location, my jaw fell open.
She’d chosen a restaurant so posh, I’d never seen the likes of it before. The walls were shiny white, glimmering with pretty floral decorations all over. The people inside were seated on rich velvety futons, all of them dressed in their finest formal wear.
In my baggy jeans, crop top, and sneakers, I immediately felt self-conscious.
I wanted to turn around and leave. But, my friend tugged me in and ordered a delicious meal. I was feeling so out of place, I could barely enjoy myself much. The worst part? The menu didn’t have the prices of the listed items, and I had no way of knowing how much the total amount would be.
When the waiter handed us the check, I had to bite back a gasp.
There was no way I could afford this, not even if we split half. Thankfully, my friend was gracious enough to pay it all by herself, but this outing was enough to make me realize this friendship was way out of my league. Either I’d have to buckle up and start earning ten times as much as I normally do, or I’d have to swallow my pride and let her pay for me each time we went out.
Later on, we tried going out for activities that didn’t cost as much, but the more time we spent together, the more apparent it became how much our upbringing and privileges were different. Turns out, we had very little in common except the sparks that had so generously lit up our first conversation.
How this question will help
The way a person answers this reveals a lot about how they spend their time when you’re together. It’ll also give you a fair idea about their hobbies, and whether you two will have a good time when you hang out.
It can act as an effective filter in who you choose to be friends with. After all, you don’t want to pretend to like some activity and then end up feeling miserable each time you hang out with them.
2. Where do you see yourself in five years?
I asked this question to my friend Sai when I first met him. He said, “I want to build a business that makes a massive impact on the Indian cybersecurity scene. In five years, I’ll probably be among the most influential people in the country.”
This was 2017 and I didn’t really have any goals for myself except pursuing a government job and centering my life around it. But Sai’s answer pushed me to dream big and carve a reality for myself that’s unimaginable compared to accepted societal standards.
I started taking my writing seriously. I published my first book in 2018, and in 2021, I’m planning to quit my full-time “stable” job and pursue a career as a writer and entrepreneur.
If you told the teenager Anangsha that she would build a business around her passion someday, she’d have laughed and called you crazy. But Sai helped me rewire my brain and influenced me to think out of the box. The way he answered this question made me realize how much I wanted to be like him and how there was so much positivity to gain if I became friends with him.
How this question will help
I get it. This isn’t an HR interview and you aren’t hiring them. But this question can help you understand what goals your potential friends have in life. If they inspire you and force you to dream bigger, you should definitely keep them in your life.
But if they aim for something that you feel might push you down rather than motivate you, maybe you can reconsider the friendship.
As Miriam Kirmayer Ph.D. writes in Psychology Today, “Having someone we can turn to for support can make setting goals significantly more enjoyable and keep us motivated and accountable. That said, although the support we receive from friends has the potential to be hugely influential, not all types are created equal. Some can even be quite counterproductive.”
3. What’s your opinion on Surfboarding?
“Surfboarding” refers to any activity you struggle to exercise self-control with.
I used to be an impulsive shopper. There was a time when I got multiple calls from delivery people each day. Nothing was a luxury. I felt I needed all those items — resulting in a closet overflowing with clothes, make-up, and shoes that still made me feel I had nothing to wear each time I had to go out.
But since November 2019, I’ve put myself on a clothes-buying ban. I decided to wear each item of clothing I owned until it could be worn no more and not buy anything else until then. It’s been three years, and I haven’t shopped for anything new.
A few of my friends are impulsive shoppers like the 2019 version of Anangsha. Seeing their stories on Instagram or hearing them talk about that cute new collection of yet another beauty brand was too much for me. Of course, I didn’t cut ties with them, but I drew my boundaries and asked them to not talk about shopping around me.
Turns out, aside from fangirling over how beautiful that new dress was, we had very little in common. There were awkward silences in the conversation that dragged on way too long, and over time, we lost touch.
How this question will help
Friends play a very important role in helping you stick to new habits or break out of old ones.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that friends bond by providing each other moral support to resist a shared temptation. The researchers established that when it came to resisting temptations — like eating chocolate — sometimes friends were more likely to become partners in crime as they decided to indulge together.
On the other hand, friends also commonly conspire together to enjoy indulgences. A 2007 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that obesity spread through a “deeply interconnected social network” of more than 12,000 people. The findings underscored the link between social ties and health behavior.
If you’re trying to build a new habit or break out of a toxic one, the attitude of your friends towards that habit will affect you deeply.
Pick your “surfboarding.” Then, be very picky with who you choose to keep around you while working your way with building or breaking your “surfboarding” habit.
The bottom line
Friendships are deeply personal and no advice can be generalized to fit the bill for every connection you make — platonic or otherwise. That said, these three questions helped me choose my friendships more wisely, and made it easier to set ground rules in the relationships.
It might feel wrong to be “judging” a person and asking them questions before even being friends with them. But as Edna Buchanan quoted, “Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.”
A friendship is a long-term, if not lifelong commitment. There’s nothing wrong with choosing the most compatible family members for yourself.
I create content in many different forms related to self-improvement, body positivity, and feminism on several other platforms. Join my email list to make sure you don’t miss out on anything new.