The Friend Bell Curve

A friend of mine wrote:

So the issue comes up again. After a few months, the people in [Currie Hall] have all drifted into cliques. Typical of [S]ingaporeans.

But I have to disagree with him. I think he’s being a little too harsh on Singaporeans.

People all over the world drift into cliques; it’s simply part and parcel of being human. We all have some people whose company we prefer over others. Pretending it’s otherwise — that we all should treat each other on equal footing, that we like each other equally — is a ridiculous concept.

I asked another friend of mine if he intended to move out of Currie Hall. He told me that though he’d get much closer to the people he moved out with, he’d have much fewer friends.

I, having intended to move out for a long time, asked him (rhetorically) how many real friends he had here. “Not everyone here’s your friend,” I said.

He thought about it for a while, and seemed to agree with me, at least somewhat.

I continued, “I once tried to be everyone’s friend. But I found that I was spreading myself too thin. I realised I couldn’t put into every relationship or friendship equal amounts of energy. After a while, I realised that I had to focus energies on a smaller group of friends.”

“I never,” he said, pausing a moment or two, “thought about it that way. I guess I never really had any close friends.”

It didn’t really surprise me that he told me that. My friend was a diplomat, someone that had no close friends, but who made no enemies, at least not here in Currie Hall. I, too, was once such a person, and probably to some extent still am. But I made the conscious choice to limit my circle of close friends, realising that I couldn’t give everyone the same amount of “me”.

I felt it would be unreasonable to expect a 100% from every single relationship in a large circle of friends when I could only give each 60% of my energies.

“My circle of friends started out small,” I said, “small but close. Then expanded to a large circle of friends, though not really close. Over time, I found the circle of friends shrinking, but within these friends our friendships were stronger.”

I paused for a while, and then added, “it’s like a bell curve! Few friendships grow to become many, then shrink again.”

It’s just the way life goes.

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