The barber down the street waves to me every time I walk past. I don’t know his name and I am pretty sure he doesn’t know mine. We have never exchanged even a single word; only the fleeting gesture of a wave and a smile through a plate-glass window of his barber shop as I scurry past. We have repeated this ritual dozens, maybe hundreds of time over the past twenty years.
I am not a hirsute individual, dear readers. My balding pate is cleared of any residual hair by a wet shave over our bathroom sink on a weekly basis. Therefore, I have never had cause or reason to enter the barber’s establishment for reasons of accessing his services.
But likewise, I have never called socially whilst passing. Not once have I opened the door to his shop, jangling the bells that no doubt are attached and called in ‘I have passed by here and waved a greeting to you for more than 20 years. Today I thought I would come in and introduce myself.’
There is some odd comfort in maintaining our relationship as it is. To jangle the bells on the door would mean abandoning our safe, distant acquaintance of two decades. I make the assumption there is a chemistry between us, or at least a connection. Otherwise why would we have originally started waving and smiling to each other?
But I resist jangling the bells on the door and have done so for two decades. One short “Hello, my name is…” would be the first words in moving the relationship from nodding acquaintance to ‘I know his name.’ It is a step I have never taken. And I don’t know why.
I started to obsess (as is characteristic) as to why I continue to pass by the barber shop without stopping.
Is it because I think I have enough friends already?
Can one ever have too many, or even just the right number of friends?
How many friends do I actually have?
According to Face Book, I have 247 friends. I never let the total pass 250. Once the total hits 251, there is a cull. This is more to control my personal information in cyber space more than anything else.
As you can see by the chart below, only a quarter of my Face Book friends are people I have seen since the turn of the year and/or family. The vast majority are people I have not seen in some time, perhaps in more than 3 decades. Many of the names in this category are people I grew up with on the other side of the Atlantic. The fact that the proportion is high is reassuring. It leads me to the conclusion that social networking is a tool to keep in touch with folks I would have (and had) lost to the ethers of the past. As a result of Face Book, I can undertake casual banter with several people I have not seen since I was an 18 year old.
A sliver of the chart reflects Face Book friends I have never met. Our friendship is the result of residual banter on various status threads or games I have stopped playing long ago. These folk are cyber-barbers, if you will: people I know but have never met.
The Head likes this *thumbs up*.
Recently, I conducted a mini-poll of my Face Book friends. I asked (without explanation)
How many friends do you have?
One person answered 10, most answered 1-3. Many specified that they considered family members as friends, but discounted such from their total.
This surprised me.
I would consider myself to have dozens, perhaps hundreds of friends. I have nearly 300 phone numbers listed on my phone. If I discount the professional entries (approximately 1/3 of the total), there are very few names that are left that I wouldn’t consider ‘mates.’ I might not see them often, I might not even text them often. But I consider them a friend.
CLOSE friends would be a different matter. I would agree with the Face Book poster who replied, ‘I have less than 10 close friends’. Another respondent to the poll asked the inevitable question that arises:
What constitutes a friend?
I have tried to distil simple criteria that separates friends from acquaintances; casual friends from close friends. My conclusion is that the question is objective and not empirical. Everyone will have a different and equally valid answer.
Therefore, I can only speak for myself. An acquaintance is someone I know and will stop to chat to if I meet them on the street. A friend is someone I like well enough to invite them to my house. A close friend is someone I would dive across to take the bullet intended for them.
Oscar Wilde identified another character trait of a close friend, in my opinion, when he observed,
“True friends stab you in the front.”
I agree. Friends might rely on social graces but close friends will deliver hard messages.
I am not sure if the following anonymous quote is true or not but I like it:
“You meet people who forget you. You forget people you meet. But sometimes you meet those people you can’t forget. Those are your friends.”
I wanted to see how this anonymous quote played out when applied to reality.
My experiment, dear readers would involve finally jangling the bells and saying hello to the barber. I parked the car on the way home from work and walked the 200 meters to the spinning, red and white pole. As I had done dozens, hundreds of times before I walked past and gave a wave and a smile. The barber stared back out the window, and as is our ritual, returned the gesture.
Instead of scurrying past, I stopped. I turned and pushed the barber shop door open, disappointed that the expected bells did not exist. Leaning in the doorway, I laughingly shared the first words ever spoken between me and my nodding acquaintance of 20 years.
“I haven’t come for a haircut,” I chuckled as I ran my hand cross my bald head, “I have passed by here and waved for twenty years and thought it was about time I stopped in and introduced myself.”
The barber had a stunned expression on his face. I was surprised to hear him speak in a thick and unidentifiable accent. “But I do know you, you are Big Steve, I used to cut your hair.”
It was my turn to be stunned. He had obviously mistaken me for someone else. He had mistaken me not just on that occasion but for the past 20 years. All those waves, those smiles had been meant for Big Steve, not me. There was no chemistry, no connection, other than mistaken identity.
I contemplated, dear readers, pretending to be Big Steve rather than explain he had mistaken me for someone else. Instead I turned and silently left the shop. Staring through the plate-glass window, I started to wave and smile but mutated the gesture into a thumbs-up sign. The barber smiled back and gave me the thumbs-up in return.
I think that signifies that our friendship has moved onto a new level.
Keep the Faith,