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Is mixing and matching friends ever a good idea?

Some folks are committed to keeping their friends in sealed compartments. But is there an advantage to this kind of social engineering?

Sometimes, while the compartments are not very tight, there is still a level of caution about mixing.
Sometimes, while the compartments are not very tight, there is still a level of caution about mixing. (iStockphoto)

Do you like your friends meeting each other or does it make you break into a cold sweat? I like my friends meeting each other. I sometimes even like to match-make friends.

For a year, I have been trying to nudge two friends who live in a faraway city to meet each other. Given all their shared unusual interests, kind hearts and big laughter, I keep imagining how wonderful it will be when these two women finally meet. I know, of course, that there is a chance they will never meet, and I sadly just have to be okay with that.

I was a fan of two chess-loving, pun-adoring, multilingual men in their 60s. With their wary consent, I introduced them lavishly on email. I don’t know what song and dance sequence I was expecting but I didn’t expect total silence. Which is what I got. It remains a poignant failure, like Irene Adler to Sherlock Holmes. Like pandas in zoos, those two refused to get their act together and make the waiting public on panda cam, a.k.a. me, happy. Perhaps, like panda-keepers in zoos, I needed to administer hormone shots to get my happy ending. Or, you know, take a hint and mind my own business.

Some folks, I know, are committed to keeping their friends in sealed compartments. Even whacking the top or slowly warming the bottom, like you do with jam bottles, doesn’t seem to open up these seals. Their work friends never meet their church friends. Their church friends never meet their football friends. And their football friends never meet their families. Their guest lists are as carefully composed as a haiku. Like in the Reader’s Digest-era stories of the man married to three stewardesses, only a funeral will dramatically reveal the existence of each mourner to the other, I imagine.

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The internet is currently full of dire diagnoses and whole websites dedicated to evil narcissists and their love of keeping friends separate so they can’t compare notes and discover the truth and shadows. That is as it may be. Outside the truly pathological variety, I wonder sometimes about this kind of social engineering with the motto “never shall the twain meet”. What is the advantage of this kind of social life/lives? I suppose it is nice for your cool friends to never meet the friend who knows you from the time your nada was always hanging outside your kameez in dance class? Or for your struggling artist friends to not know that your parents pay for everything?

Sometimes, while the compartments are not very tight, there is still a level of caution about mixing. When you tell an anecdote from one group to someone from another, the socially promiscuous amongst us sail into the story with “then Malini said to me”, ignoring the fact that the listener doesn’t know who Malini is or may not even care. The socially cautious variety would say, “a friend from the volunteer group said.” One of my cautious friends would do this unnamed source business so often that other friends would tease her by saying, “Let us call him X.”

One other kind of compartmentalisation is surprisingly common in our lovely nation. Friends versus Family. You don’t bring your friends, no matter how well-behaved, to what are known as family functions—a phrase just ripe for dysfunctional jokes. A friend is like the gana coming to the god’s yagna, unable to control itself and guaranteed to desecrate. When you mention something that happened to your close friend, your mother’s eyes glaze over. In some households, all friends are imaginary friends. The minutiae of the lives of distant relatives are far more real and relevant.

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Mostly, even though I should know better, I persist in my small-scale social engineering. I mostly believe that my friend’s friend is usually destined to be my friend. Once I introduced myself to a friend’s friend as “you are the guy who almost invented Flipkart, right? I am the girl who almost invented Facebook.” This appalling behaviour was seen as delightful and correct by my friend’s friend, whom I continue to think of and ask about though we have met only three times in our whole lives.

Once in a while, of course, I also break into a cold sweat as I am about to embark on an experiment. If your friend is destined to be my friend, then oh no, is my friend destined to be your friend? I too have that moment of “will you like my friend more than you like me? Will my belly-dance loving girl become your belly-dance loving girl? Will my crocodile-loving boy become your crocodile-loving boy?” Usually, I grit my teeth, try to steady my wildly spinning compass and go through. Sometimes, I am happy to report, the jam bottle goes pop and to paraphrase the BTS song Butter, lovely trouble breaks into your heart.

Nisha Susan is the editor of the webzine The Ladies Finger and author of The Women Who Forgot To Invent Facebook And Other Stories.

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