It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“Trashing the same person often helps people bond. …. The power of this initial spark of shared antipathy, it seems, comes from what negativity implies. Everyone, after all, can say kind things. And everyone does. This is how we supposedly make friends: by being nice. But by going negative—thereby breaking a general rule of first impressions—you signal that you instinctively trust this new person, because you suspect he or she might feel the same way.” (“Hating The Same Things,” New York Magazine, 3/27/2011)
Like it or not, this is so true. When you meet someone you hardly know, bonding over someone you both really like isn’t all that interesting. It can help to break the ice, but bestowing compliments on a mutual acquaintance isn’t going to immediately bond you because it doesn’t say much about who you are. Aren’t you just doing what you’re supposed to do?
Hating the same thing, on the other hand, can foster a click but quick. Whether your shared enemy is a person, a celebrity or even an airline, suddenly you’re in an us vs. them situation. Which means you and this potential BFF are an “us,” a team. It’s you against the world. Or the airlines. Same diff.
The idea that sharing a dislike signals “that you instinctively trust this person” rings true with me. Just recently, I was at dinner with someone I knew only casually. I had the sense we could be best friends one day—I still have that sense!—but this was only our second meeting. We’d figured out earlier that we have a mutual semi-acquaintance (semi in that my relationship with this lady is flimsy at best), but we’d never really discussed her in any depth. Turns out were both testing the waters, deciding if it would be acceptable to voice our distate for the acquaintance in question.
When my new pal finally said those magic words—”I kind of can’t stand her”—I felt like I was able to breathe again. Not only was I relieved that she too was put off by certain behaviors (a sign of shared values?) but I was honored that she felt comfortable opening up and revealing her true feelings. She knew I wouldn’t judge or cast her aside for this little foray into negativity, and that required trust.
And now this shared antipathy has become something of an inside joke between us. Childish, but true.
Basically, sharing a dislike for someone during an early girl-date makes you feel all mischievous. Like you’re breaking the rules, but you’re doing it together. Immediate bonding.
Have you experienced this negativity bond with a potential new friend? Who/what did you mutually hate? A boss? A mean girl? Mel Gibson?