Tier 2
Joe Clark ~~ Nov 17, 2002

I've had the occasion recently to meet a number of interesting people through various activities. While I have come to enjoy the process of meeting new people, I have noticed a small inconvenience in the process that can seem disheartening. Technically, I just keep this to myself and don't worry about it too much, but because I like to blab about my insides sometimes, I'll tell you about this issue I've noticed.

I think that in getting to know people, there are several "tiers" of friendship. I'm not talking about the tiers that are inherently found in established friendships (you know, the old "best friend" or "okay friend" or "acquaintance" or "why don't they stop stalking me" categories). I'm talking about the initial stages of friendship, when we iron out in some sense how we will relate to one another. This is an important stage, as a mistake in this area can permanently change the outcome in the future.

So, what I've seen lately is that I'm fairly capable of taking on the task of building a "Tier 1" pre-friendship with people. Given the right circumstances (such as people who actually have time to carry on a conversation and a small enough group that I actually have a chance to communicate), I can ask all the introductory questions about background, occupation, favorites, etc. These are the tier 1 questions, the questions that tell us who this stranger next to us is, the questions that indeed turn the stranger into someone we feel like we understand in some sense.

Now, here's my issue. I tend to be slow about moving from tier 1 to the next level. Tier 2, which I haven't defined completely yet, includes some of the deeper issues. As a mild example, say that I met someone and they told me, "I got fired from my job." Tier 1 would let that topic slip away, since it might lead to other topics that are not exactly appropriate for a tier 1 friendship. Tier 2, on the other hand, would test the waters and (carefully) ask what happened. Tier 2 is secure enough in the conversation to ask some of the tough questions (or on the other hand, willing to make a fatal mistake -- ie, if they're a worthy person they will forgive an honest question).

That being said, let me also say that I *am* intensely curious about the tier 2 topics...I mean, they are where "real life" comes into play in many cases. Tier 2 is how you *really* get to know someone, inside and out. But I shy away from Tier 2 questions usually, since I tend not to want to push people away before I even really get to know them. But such is the problem -- how do you get to know someone without risking pushing them away? The simple answer, I suppose, is that you don't, and sooner or later you have to just ask the deeper questions.

Another dumb thing that I find in analyzing tiers in friendships (mostly with people of that other gender -- how typical of me) is that whole playfulness thing. I mean, some people can jump fairly quickly from "What's your name" to "What's your outlook on life" to "Where are you ticklish at?" (or alternatively, "What are you doing tonight?"). I don't, or won't. It's sorta upsetting sometimes when other people do move quickly like that, when I see the story yet again that I *meet* people and these Tier 2-capable people *befriend* them and quickly leapfrog my basic level of friendship.

Actually, jumping from mild tier 1 talk to something like, "What are you doing tonight" --which is a restatement of that evil, "I'd like to get to know you better" line -- is something I'd like to do sometimes. But, unlike some people, I don't. I don't want people to think that I entertain tier 1 only to jump to tier 2 or 3 or whatever (even if there is some idea of that in my mind). I don't want people to think that I have ideas of "I'd like to get to know you better", because people tend to run away when you say stuff like that. But other people say it, and the receiver of such a line doesn't run away....so I guess there is a way to make it work, for some people anyway.

So, to put it simply, meeting new people is an interesting but confusing task. It can seem to be a slow process, but I would do well to just take my own pace, and not bother thinking about the pace of other people. If a friendship is meant to develop, it will, with whatever pace is natural and appropriate. If the other person really is playing Tier 1 because they can't wait to get away -- well, what kind of friend would they be anyway? "Live your life, don't think too much, don't ask for too much, but don't be afraid to reach out, either." On the other hand, how many friendships do we allow to wither and dry up (or to keep at arms' length for an indefinite period of time) simply because we aren't willing to test the waters of something better and more scary? But never mind that. :-)