As the song says, sometimes you just want to go where everyone knows your name. Sometimes, you just want to hang out with friends in an environment where you can kick back, be yourself, and not worry that people are judging what you say and do. That’s one of the reasons that those of us who are really into things such as Doctor Who or Stargate SG-1, or My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, or Magic User’s Club attend conferences dedicated to our favorite movie/book/series and hang out with other fans.
It’s a lot of fun.
It’s especially fun when our involvement in a particular enthusiasm is new. One of the reasons why is that when we first discover a new book or series or band that we really like, often most of our existing friends have never heard of it. And we may try to get them interested, and it doesn’t grab them quite the way it does us. And we may think that maybe this new thing isn’t as cool as we think it is, or maybe worry that we’re boring our friends. So if we then find some people who are as enthusiastic as we are about the new thing, we suddenly feel validated. “Yes! I’m not alone!”
But the sweet spot is where we have found a new thing, found new people who seem nice and like this new thing as much as we do, and where at least some of our closest friends also like this new thing as much as us. That’s a win-win-win!
Sometimes that triple-win can be misleading. Let me explain…
You find a new enthusiasm, and you find a bunch of other folks who are just as big fans of this thing as you are. And some of your existing friends also like this new thing. You hang out together with these new friends and your existing friends. And during the course of this hanging out you meet more folks who are interested in the same thing, and you and your friends and all these new folks are having a really good time. You have such a great time that you want to do it again and again.
But at one of the later meet ups some of your long-term friends who were with you before can’t be there, and a funny thing happens—the fun doesn’t materialize. Oh, there are people having a great time all around you. And no one is saying anything upsetting or offensive. No one is being unfriendly, and you can’t even say that any of your new acquaintances are saying or doing anything that different than they were before. But it doesn’t feel the same.
As one friend described such a situation at a My Little Pony convention, “I felt as if I was surrounded by somepony else’s friends instead of my own.”
Sometimes we enjoy an experience because we’re sharing it with someone we know and love. Our friends are laughing and enjoying themselves, and it makes us happy when our friends are happy. The happiness we’re having at the event, plus the happiness of our friends, is greater than the happiness we’d be having alone. So later, when we have a nearly identical experience without our friends, the level of enjoyment is noticeably lower than before. The actual event is still just as enjoyable, but it can be a big let down by comparison to the previous event.
Sometimes we become different people when we’re with our friends. I know that several of my friends bring out my better traits. I’m less likely to be a self-absorbed jerk when I’m hanging out with folks I love. And I was very careful to use the verb “to be” rather than to so “to act like.” Because I do think there is a difference.
Yes, there are times when inside I feel one way, and because I’m trying to make a good impression, or not make a worse impression than I might already have, I am more careful about how I act.
But that’s very different than what happens when I’m hanging out with people I know, love, and trust. I’m not consciously acting, I’m being a better person.
Anyway, so sometimes when we’re hanging out with a mix of both old beloved friends and new acquaintances, it’s not just the additive result of friends’ happiness plus our own, it’s also that we’re being a more interesting and engaging form or ourselves. This makes the new acquaintances more likely to be engaged in a positive way with the conversation and activity. Conversely, if our friends aren’t there, prompting out better selves to be evident, our other selves may be much more off-putting to the new acquaintances.
And sometimes, our friends are just so incredibly awesome, that they bring out the best not only from us, but from the new acquaintances.
In other words, social interaction is a lot more like alchemy than math. It’s weird, complicated, unpredictable, and often irreproducible.
But I keep trying. Because even if we don’t always transform the lead into gold, sometimes we still wind up with hilarious stories to tell our friends.