The Efficiency Effect and Friendship

The Efficiency Effect and Friendship

Excerpt from The Friendship Upgrade: Trade Clickable Connections for Friendships that Matter

One of the first things to go, because it’s “just” lunch or coffee or a catch-up conversation that can be rescheduled (and rescheduled), is Connection. With lives that often resemble the proverbial junk drawer—loaded with stuff that seems worth keeping simply because we’re afraid to throw anything away—increasing the efficiency of our essential connections feels like a logical response to an illogical load.

But this leaves us with burgeoning contact lists and no one to talk to. Flying about between responsibilities and the ever-present diversions, we have full lives…possibly edging into Thanksgiving-dinner-stuffed lives during school sports seasons! No one can argue this—or would even have the time to do so. But full feels so-o empty—because the fillers are non-sustaining obligations and events.

We’re chronicling our lives instead of living them. Trying to keep friends— “Let’s do lunch”—instead of growing friendships. Our full lives feel empty because we’re partaking of the meal—the feast of life—alone.

We’ve adopted efficiency as a lifestyle instead of a temporary sacrifice. And, this heightened efficiency is often without a defined purpose—it is urgency absent direction, strategy, or goal. We strive, but never arrive.

The Efficiency Effect: A perpetual postponement of intrinsic rewards, including, but not limited to, interpersonal connection—stemming from a valuation of Momentum over the Moment.

We’re chronicling our lives instead of living them.

Try selling this one. If the rest of your life were a paying job, it would be as if you punched in early, worked evenings and weekends, skipped vacations, and sneezed your way through—in sickness and in health, right? —waving off any compensation with an, “Oh, that’s OK. You can pay me later.”

If we were describing your passion, i.e., “This doesn’t feel like work!”—beautiful! But when the wide-angle shot is of you racing on a hamster wheel, hoping that a finish line complete with palm trees, an umbrella drink, and your closest friends will come into view…it doesn’t look like such a smart choice, does it? Postponing enjoyment, fulfillment, and connection—our essential human goals—for indefinite periods of time, will eventually deplete our resources and reserves, leaving one sad and hungry little hamster.

Identifying Negative Efficiencies

1) Acquaintances Over Friendships

Whether the news is good or bad—we want to share it. It seems instinctive to verbally replay momentous events with another human being.

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody Tweeted, did it really happen?

But for a disconnected person, it can feel like a stumbling grab for the stair rail that isn’t there.

Our utilitarian approach gives us many casual acquaintances, but virtual proximity is no measure of emotional investment and true attachment. Many of us look well-connected on Facebook but have few listening friends.

Sometimes out of desperate need, the lonely will try to tap into online sympathy and mine those virtual reservoirs of contacts with a “TMI” post or two— “Why can’t a smart, fairly attractive mature woman find a decent, faithful guy?” or “Be strong and know that (blah, blah, blah…plagiarized quote of the week),” but such monologues of misery are discomfiting and, ultimately, perpetuate the disconnection. These heart-baring seekers need real listening friends, and contrary to popular instinct, there is not an app for that. You can’t pull slow-cooked ribs from a microwave oven.

All of us have need for human-to-human contact on the things that matter, and sometimes, even on the things that don’t. It isn’t always about the content. More often the value is grounded in the connective aspect of conversation. With our cell phones, laptops, and social media accounts, it seems like there should be an endless supply of ears just waiting to listen. But unless you work to develop some texture in the relationships and build depth with a few chosen contacts—there are often few to none. A recent study published in the American Sociological Review reported one in four of its respondents described themselves as living without access to a confidante. And when immediate family members were excluded, less than half had someone with whom to share their most important personal information![1]

All of us have need for human-to-human contact on the things that matter, and sometimes, even on the things that don’t.

Unfortunately, those personalized subject lines in your email inbox are more likely to be filter-hopping scam spam than actual personal communiqués. Have some big news? Who are you going to call? Oh sure, you could reach out to the co-worker you lunch with, but, be honest—it would be a bit of a stretch without plastic forks in hand.

And that mom you “batter, batter!”-ed with through baseball season…maybe you even began saving one another adjacent seats in the bleachers, but your boys attend different schools, and it’s unlikely you’ll bump into one another anywhere at this point. You might have knocked around the idea of getting together after that last playoff game, but it got busy, and now, it’s two months later. I wonder if she’s still dealing with that crazy neighbor and could, maybe, use some sanity-saving commiseration?

It would be kind of weird to just call out of the blue without any games on the calendar though.

Our busy lives frequently relegate potential friends to the default “acquaintance” status. Subtitle: Missed opportunity.

We have a lot of these.

Our teams lack depth. If family ties are weak, broken, or non-existent, many of us have no bench. Fumble a big client call? Having trouble with a romance? Who will care? Besides your boss in the first case…and maybe in the second if there’s any overlap.

It becomes a reach toward who will tolerate you and your concerns instead of who can talk…really talk—and listen—with you.

Several years ago, I stood in my master bedroom, tears streaming as I scrolled through phone contacts, thinking, There has to be somebody I can talk to. But there wasn’t. An out-of-state aunt and cousin were wonderful about providing long-distance support at my lowest points, but those phone calls highlighted to me that my life had a huge, cavernous space that could never be filled by one person alone.

I had allowed myself to grow disconnected on a large scale. I was happier to slip in and out of school meetings and my home rather than risk an awkward revelation of my life’s messy moments. And there were a lot of messy moments—the three-year divorce process, a heart-breaking affair, deaths of loved ones, a mini-series worth of extended family drama. My life looked nothing like I’d expected or wanted it to be. Answering the simplest “How are you?” felt complicated. Sifting and sorting through what to share with whom required more energy than I had access to. It was far easier to head for the exit with a quick wave—or worse, to slip out unnoticed.

Isolation was self-perpetuating, and over time, I bumped into obvious points at which connection was needed and missed...


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I’ve read her books but listening to her adds a dimension that enables the audience to behave differently leaving the room than when they assembled… more eye contact, a focused effort to meet the new person, even a more courteous exit from the parking lot.

Mary Angela Miller, Founder, KeepSafeFood, adjunct faculty OSU Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

Something remarkable happened today. In a very short amount of time, Heather was able to get these women to share things that were very personal. As someone who’s in the business of connecting with people, I was amazed by how quickly and deeply it happened… Check out Heather’s book, The Friendship Upgrade if you’re looking for an honest account of what it’s like to find community in today’s world.

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Heather’s presentation on Creating Space for Real Connection provided our Lifelong Learning members some powerful insights and validation to cope with the loneliness and disconnection we all experienced during Covid. Her recommendations helped us move toward reconnection with our community as we re-establish our lives. The members enjoyed the discussion.

Janna Trout, Curriculum Chair for Life@Elon, Elon University, NC

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