Expectationless friendships are free friendships
“You’re good friend and good person — would be hard to not be happy with just you being happy.”
July 2020 marked a seismic shift in my character. My reawakening, if you will. One of the reasons for this that I, over the course of two months or so, met a few incredibly important people (among a large, large array of other lovely and interesting people), and formed friendships that were largely alien in quality to any friendships prior.
What makes these friends people different from all other people I’d met before? Why are my friendships with them so special? Three reasons.
The first reason why is an understanding of determinism. Determinism a philosophy that says, for all the grievances you have with others, all the things they did wrong:
All you know is that they did react the way they did… And that it made sense from their internal perspective
Arguably, that was the only kind of response they could have right there in that moment
And when you meditate on this question enough, you realise: your enemies aren’t innately evil; everyone is the direct cause of hundreds of factors they didn’t choose like a) their childhood b) their genes and c) their brain and so much more meaning that anger towards individuals is completely unnecessary, and suddenly, you start loving everyone.
I think, I think this is what people mean by “unconditional love”, eg. towards their children. Because parents watch their child grow up and are with them for almost every step of their story, they become incapable of hating them ever because they understand what could have caused any grievances, and that they are innately “good”.
Usually as humans we only become empathetic when the entirety of someone elses story is laid out for us, or when they’re in our “ingroup“. But when you understand determinism, you don’t need these conditions to be true to apply love, because you already know everyone is good and almost all stories are tragic, so you can act with love to everyone and never need to get angry.
The best part is when your friends understand that you are deterministic. Suddenly unlike most of the relationships before, you are free because there is nothing you can do that will make the other angry. This is not to say that you exploit them, but that you can act freely, knowing they know you are deterministic and have good intentions, no matter what you do.
In media, you’ll groan at when characters get into a big fight over a silly misunderstanding. It’s such a waste of time yes? Why not assume that your friend had good intentions?
Precisely. Do so in real life, for everyone, no matter how little you know of their story. For their story is rich in detail and reason, every action they take seems the best to them, and their story is very likely to be tragic. Most are.
I often joke about these friends that I could come up with them and say I killed a man and they would understand. Thus even the slightest desire to ever lie to any of them is totally unnecessary.
High self esteem seems to be exceedingly rare among people these days. Luckily, most of these friends had loving parents growing up so they are very comfortable with themselves, their journeys and their actions. This is not to say they are pompous and arrogant, quite the opposite in fact. They are all incredibly humble, despite just how intellectually and emotionally strong they all are.
The difference in self-esteem how this makes people come across is astounding.
In one episode of the greatest show of all time (Community), one character’s ex comes into town, and they have to try and figure out just what makes him so irritable. His secret? Brain damage. He feels no shame, and has nothing to prove to anyone.
When we have low self esteem, we put a bit of ourselves into everyone we meet, and let their actions dictate how we feel about ourselves. People with high self esteem don’t do that — they are one, unified unit and as such need very little from you, making you free.
When interacting with someone who has high self esteem, you are free, because it is very hard to hurt them. You are free to tell them the truth about themselves if you happen to have feedback because they know they are good, which they are. You needn’t sugar-coat or filter your words.
When interacting with someone who has self esteem, they have little to prove to you and that fact will radiate off of them.
I’ve known for a long time of the advice to ‘find someone who loves themselves’ and semi-dismissed it as sentimental stuff, but I’ve now earned the generalisation — it rings deeply true.
People love to dump expectations on you, and expectations are a cage. Expectations, in all forms, make everyone unhappy, because they require restricting reality in a certain way for us to be happy, rather than being happy with what is.
When your friends put expectations on you, it confines your freedom. It makes their love optional. It makes the power balance in the relationship one with them on top, with you suddenly working to please them. Expectations in friendships are cages.
This is not to say that friends shouldn’t egg each other on, but that when you have an expectionless friendship, the egging on is mutual, and based on what both value. If your friend doesn’t value what you do and you assume your values are right while theirs are incorrect and override their judgement of their own life anyway, you’ve just taken it apon yourself to design the behaviour of the other, in the same motion killing the foundation of the relationship.
When you make an agreement with a friend, this is different, because agreements are expectations with mutual consent. Thus when I set challenges with my friends this doesn’t count.
One of the three friends and I work together on a variety of projects, and I remember explicitly when he once said to me: “Keep in mind I have no expectations of you. If you want to quit working on all the projects together and be a NEET, I’m fine with that. I just care about your happiness.” Or something along those lines. And he meant it, and I was free. I could trust that he did not mean this in a passive aggressive way, or because he felt he was forced to say it to be a Good Friend. He said it because it was true, and he wanted me to be happy — and this was deeply freeing.
Some of you may revolt at his lack of drive, or think it is your friends’ job to coerce you into doing things.
Coercion is bad. If you try to make a change when you’re not ready, you will fail. Friends jobs aren’t to push you to where they expect you to be, but give you potential finishing lines, so that when you are motivated to start the race you have some sense of direction.
In general, I like to use the stages of change model when trying to make a change. The research basically says that if people try to change when they’re ready to change, they’ll do it the first time, but if they try to change before they’re ready, it will take multiple attempts.
Expectationless friends respect your judgement, and are constantly giving you outs. They are constantly asking “what do you think?” and constantly, constantly saying “feel free to ignore me if you think this advice is terrible”. This is a sign they respect your thinking and your intelligence, and that you are equals (which is amazing, since they are all smarter than me!).
Expectationless friends impose their preferences on you so very lightly with so little enforcement so that when they do say “I really really think you should do this” you can actually trust their judgement.
Give a man a taste of freedom, and he will become unemployable.
Returning with fresh eyes to my previous, existing friendships, I feel like a prisoner — the product of expectation after expectation being dumped on me. Where the love and appreciation is conditional.
In my current state, I am not nearly a good friend as these three — I aspire to be. As it stands I have a bad habit of chucking expectation cages on my friends too and I am making an effort to do this less, I encourage you to too. If it turns out you actually just don’t like your friends, make an effort to find new ones. There’s an endless supply of kind, happy, smart people. Find them.
Thank you to all my friends who have no expectations of me!