I Saw the Sign

Yesterday at yoga class the teacher played a soundtrack full of songs I didn’t know. But my friend, who has much more sophisticated music tastes than I, told me afterwards that it was a fabulous playlist. Apparently our teacher had us downward dogging to a hidden track on an indie album that, again, I’d never heard of.

“I love that song! She’s my best friend and she doesn’t even know it,” my friend said.

When someone shares my favorite book (The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien) I think it means we are friendship soul mates. By this logic my two closest pals should be Amanda Peet and Matt’s ex-girlfriend.

Back in the early days of this blog’s life, a reader commented about her “major BFF chemistry” with her new hairstylist. The clincher? The same cult film changed both of their lives. Reader wrote, “I have yet to find another female—or person, really—whose approach to life was transformed by Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a punk-rock musical about a cheeky transsexual German immigrant.” That certainly does sound like a special bond.

It’s fascinating how we put such weight into arbitrary similarities. Although, really, they aren’t entirely arbitrary. If I met someone who loves Glee, I wouldn’t think it meant we were destined for BFFness. Everyone loves Glee. But of all the books in the world, for someone else to choose The Things They Carried as their single most favorite? The only reasonable explanation is that we must think alike, share values and thus, of course, be best friends.

Authors Ori and Rom Brafman write about “the seductive power of similarity” in their book Click. “When we discover a shared similarity with someone we’ve just met—and…it doesn’t matter in which areas the similarity occurs—we’re more likely to perceive the person as part of what psychologists call an in-group.” They go on to explain that we think of in-group members as more attractive and better people.

The authors say that it doesn’t matter what people have in common. “Sharing a strong dislike of fast food, for example, was just as powerful a predictor of attraction as favoring the same political party.”

Is that really surprising? Sure, aversion to McDonalds tells you less about a person’s character than political affiliation does, but the chances of someone sharing your political party are pretty high. If I met someone who shared my political views (and almost everyone I meet in Chicago does) I wouldn’t assume we could be friends based on that alone. But if I met someone who hated mint and strawberries? That’d be too unusual. I’d have to befriend her.

I’m guessing my friend was right. I bet she and the yoga teacher—with their way-too-cool-for-me indie music tastes—would hit it off.

Do you think you can pinpoint a potential friend based on random shared tastes? Have you ever had that “we’re meant to be” moment, in which someone is as passionate about an obscure obsession as you are? Or is this an entirely silly notion perpetuated by romantic comedies and the like?


Filed under The Search

14 responses to “I Saw the Sign

  1. I’m still laughing about the fact that your BFF’s should be Amanda Peet and an ex-girlfriend! And that someone’s life was transformed by Hedwig–that’s just too good.

  2. Speaking from the experience of using OkCupid, that’s what their quiver feature and icebreakers are built upon.

    You read a profile, scanning for interests. When you see one obscure thing that matches that one obscure thing you love, you jump for joy and message them.

    Similarly Ice Breakers asks you to send an anonymous message to someone who also likes “x”. I know I get exasperated if the “x” is “Neil Gaiman” or “Ender’s Game” yet again, but if it’s something more unique in my profile, I get very excited.

  3. I think there’s something to this – I have some friends who love the same quirky things I love, which has helped bond us. But, of course, you can’t build a friendship solely on one shared similarity – there has to be more to it than that. (Example: the girl from my graduate-school program, with whom I shared a love of literature, but that was IT. I finally gave up on being friends with her after she canceled on me for probably the sixth time.)

  4. Well, not *everyone* loves Glee…

    I’m one of those people whose brain seems to have become a huge repository for random and sometimes obscure TV/movie/lyrics quotes that pop up fairly often in everyday conversation, so I do relate better with people who have similar interests as me, just because my references aren’t totally lost on them.

    Shared interests mean that you both invest similar amounts of time in similar things. The too-cool-for-you-indie music people probably listen to the same online music stations to find the next cool band that no one’s ever heard of, or they might get their music recommendations from someplace like NPR (I’m guilty of this), which would suggest other things they might have in common.

  5. Christina

    I am a believer in “the power of similarity,” but not the “in-group” mentality. Recently while volunteering I met a woman, and I asked her about her interests. She answered, “jello.” Oh, I explained that I meant hobbies like movies. Origami was the answer. She’s a very sweet woman, but definitely no clicking there!

    I also just met another woman and we started chatting about working out and how we both don’t like going to crowded gyms. A friend of mine was there and said she LOVED gyms. I explained I’d rather work out at home, that I love Billy Blanks (this woman was so excited because that’s who she works out to). Except that when it’s time to, and before I could finish this statement, the woman finished it for me, “except when it’s time to do double time, he always stops and we’re supposed to continue!” Exactly.

    Later when she told a funny story of an attractive man hitting on her at the grocery store (he actually asked for her number!), only to find him in the next aisle with a wife and kids she said she wanted to…she couldn’t find the words, so I offered, “TaeBo kick him in the jugular?” (Really, I’m a peace-loving gal.) Her eyes got big and she said she uses the word jugular all the time. Random. After sharing more stories and finding out we had a lot of random things in common, she asked if I wanted to go out for coffee. So, apparently there are those who put weight into arbitrary similarities.

    • Love that story. Those are the kinds of similarities that would have me in friend-love. Sounds like a match!

    • Natalie

      I want to know if the girl being asked for her number said anything to the wife.
      This sort of thing happens to me. I don’t know if I should say some kind of hint to alert the women of their potential health being risked. Or should I say something to the women in front of their men on how wonderful a person they are and make it some kind of guilt thing the men should feel so they stop sneaking around.

  6. I have a few items like that.

    1. If they are a writer.
    2. If they are a vegetarian or vegan.
    3. If they are an activist of any kind or work in the non profit world. (Well, if they were an activist working against LGBT rights or anything else I was in favor of, then not so much.)
    4. Atheists/agnostics rank high on my list of people I bond with.

    One of my closest new friends is a vegan and a fiction writer. It’s heaven. We eat the same food and talk about writing.

    • Lorrie Paige

      I’m totally with you there on numbers 1 and 2.

      I’d personally add for my 3 and 4 (all in no particular order):

      3. If they LOVE the Arts in all its ways.

      4. If they are Christo-Pagan (if I find a local, she would be a miracle!!)

  7. Suzannah

    o’hell yeah!!! similarities show similiar trains of thought…and the greatest friends are the ones, who right next to on the train, and hold your hand, while you look out the window!!
    Hopefully munching away on some Tacobell;-)!!!

  8. Marcia

    Interesting string of comments. Now what I want to know, Rachel, is … what was the name of the soundtrack? I think your instructor and your friend might be a match for me!!

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