Is mixing and matching friends a good idea?

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Do you like your friends to meet or does it give you a cold sweat? I like my friends to meet. Sometimes I even like to make friends.

For the past year, I’ve been trying to get two friends who live in a distant city to meet. Given all of their common unusual interests, good hearts and big laughs, I keep imagining how wonderful it will be when these two women finally meet. I know, of course, there’s a chance they’ll never meet, and unfortunately I have to be okay with that.

I was a fan of two multilingual men in their sixties, loving chess, adoring word games. With their circumspect consent, I introduced them generously by e-mail. I don’t know what sequence of songs and dances I was expecting but I didn’t expect total silence. This is what I got. It remains a poignant failure, like Irene Adler in Sherlock Holmes. Like pandas in zoos, these two refused to pull themselves together and make the wait public on panda cam, aka me, happy. Maybe, like panda keepers in zoos, I needed to administer hormone injections to get my happy ending. Or, you know, take a hint and mind my own business.

Some people, I know, have made a commitment to keep their friends in sealed compartments. Even hitting the top or slowly warming the bottom, like you do with jam bottles, doesn’t seem to open those seals. Their work friends never meet their church friends. Their church friends never meet their football friends. And their footballing friends never meet their families. Their guest lists are as carefully put together as a haiku. As in the Reader’s Digest– at the time of the stories of the man married to three flight attendants, only a funeral will dramatically reveal the existence of each bereaved to the other, I imagine.

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The internet is currently teeming with dire diagnoses and entire websites dedicated to evil narcissists and their love of keeping their friends apart so they can’t compare their notes and uncover the truth and shadows. It is as it can be. Apart from the really pathological variety, I sometimes wonder about this kind of social engineering with the motto “never the two will meet”. What is the advantage of this kind of social life? Guess it’s good for your nice friends never to meet the friend who knows you from the moment nada was still hanging outside your kameez in dance class? Or that your struggling artist friends don’t know your parents are paying for everything?

Sometimes while the compartments are not very tight, there is always a level of caution about mixing. When you tell an anecdote from one group to someone from another, the social promiscuity among us sails through the story with “so Malini told me,” ignoring the fact that the listener doesn’t know who is. Malini or may not even care. The socially prudent variety would say, “a friend of the volunteer group said. A cautious friend of mine made this anonymous thing so often that other friends teased her saying, “Let’s call him X.”

Another type of compartmentalization is surprisingly common in our beautiful nation. Friends against family. You don’t bring your friends, no matter how well they behave, to so-called family functions – a phrase just ripe for dysfunctional jokes. A friend is like the gana come to the god yagna, unable to control himself and guaranteed to desecrate. When you mention something that has happened to your close friend, your mother’s eyes will turn glassy. In some homes, all friends are imaginary friends. The details of the lives of distant relatives are much more real and relevant.

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Most of the time, although I should know better, I persist in my small-scale social engineering. I mostly believe that my friend’s friend is usually meant to be my friend. I once introduced myself to a friend of a friend as “you’re the guy who almost invented the Flipkart, aren’t you?” I’m the girl who almost invented Facebook. This appalling behavior was considered delightful and correct by my friend’s friend, whom I continue to think about and ask questions even though we have only met three times in our lives.

Every now and then, of course, I also have a cold sweat as I’m about to embark on an experiment. If your friend is meant to be my friend, then no, is my friend meant to be your friend? I also have this moment of “will you love my friend more than you love me?” Will my oriental dance loving daughter become your oriental dance loving daughter? Will my crocodile lover boy become your crocodile lover boy? Usually I grit my teeth, try to stabilize my wildly spinning compass, and move on. Sometimes I’m happy to report the jam bottle goes pop and to paraphrase the BTS song Butter, beautiful troubles are breaking in your heart.

Nisha Susan is the editor of The Ladies Finger webzine and the author of Women who forgot to make up Facebook and other stories.

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