This photo was taken the night we met. I don’t know why, but I thought to myself “I gotta meet this guy.” Maybe I was intrigued by the incongruous combination between his clear charisma and his poor taste of a knitted grandpa sweatshirt on a warm Australian river.
We were on a boat full of international people (Norwegians, British, Swedish, Germans, Americans, French…), and after mingling for a bit the group slowly broke off. I approached Jarelle, and he asked me a question that, surely, another guy has never asked another guy: “so, which country has the most beautiful women?” My face lit up like a Christmas tree and we were off! (Little did I know this was his first time out of the USA, nay, out of California).
Jarelle and I met at the end of July 2014. Joining a Study Abroad program, and not studying on the same campuses, we initially hung out with a bunch of different people, and didn’t see each other that often (most of the time, it was at the gym). I think we truly became good friends at the end of September, when we took our first holiday trip (we were with a group of 13 people), to the Sunshine Coast. The pivotal point was when I tried his do-rag; that’s really when I carved a place in his heart and undeniably, when I earned his respect.
Then it grew like a snowball from there.
There was the Halloween Party in a haunted house, before which we went looking for costumes (I went as a 50’s detective with a kick-ass stache and he went as a caramel-skinned Magic Mike).
That same month, we took a school trip to the wild Moreton island, where we memorably sandboarded an inland dune like badasses. The nights were spent playing drinking games with the whole international student crew.
In January, Jarelle became homeless. So, rather than seeing him die stung by an Australian hood scorpion while sleeping in the street, I hosted him in my room. A week later, he moved into a house next to mine, and we essentially became neighbors. While my house was a curious mix of a Spanish tennis instructor, an Indian PhD researcher in agricultural genomics, a 55-year-old lawyer, and a batshit crazy oz version of Walter White, his was occupied by two impressive Brazilian casanovas; from the moaning sounds coming out of their rooms to this one girl standing outside their door at 3am and trying to get in (still don’t know if she was trying to climb through the window…), these guys were real players. Once, they even showed us “websites in Brazil where you go to at the end of the night if you haven’t found a girl to sleep with” (that’s how they explained it)… to which I retorted in my do-goody nature “But… these are escort websites?”, which they didn’t understand.
That second semester, we regularly jogged / skateboarded to a crappy basketball court in a middle of a no man’s land 15 min from our house, and shot hoops in the scorching heat. We took a few trips to Surfer’s Paradise, and went out with the Brazilians a couple of times a month – though Jarelle noticeably never showed an interest in nightclubs. In late February, we participated in the world’s largest Toga party, surrounded by young people who hadn’t the faintest clue where togas come from but knew all about the international DJ’s on the stage.
A fork in the road
At the end of our school year, he was to go back to California to pursue his degree while I, a fresh graduate, was to go back to Europe to find a job. Keeping a relationship when your friend is far was never my forte and I ‘lost’ many friends like this (I would argue it’s the hardest part of keeping a friend). Under those circumstances, you wouldn’t fault me for half expecting Jarelle and I to slowly grow distant from each other.
But this was without counting on one key aspect: in the godfather of self-help books How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie wrote this sage piece of advice “To be interesting, be interested.” I believe this is the key point in keeping a friend across the oceans and continents. If your friend reaches out to you every week or month and genuinely asks how things are going – in other words, being interested – you are less likely to lose that friendship.
Too often we don’t achieve something because of simple inertia, and putting those small actions in place (and turning it into a habit) is all you need to make that thing grow (whether that’s a friendship, a side business, or going to the gym). We got into the habit of sharing articles, videos and books with each other, on top of skyping once or twice a months, and that was enough to maintain this support web for our friendship.
In the summer of 2015 (one year after leaving Australia), I even flew to California (after a corporate summit in Florida) to stay at his dinky student apartment in San Jose. He gave me fruits cut with his Costa Rican machete (#savage) and in exchange I opened his eyes to new Mediterranean products in his local grocery store (ricotta and spinach tortellini anyone?) and brought him to the Googleplex. He also made me discover what the student life was like in the US of A, and needless to say I was more than confused at those kooky fraternity and sorority dances.
Reflecting on that history, I inferred the following principles of friendship, which are not comprehensive at all but give an overview of what makes a friend a friend.
Layers of friendship
- You must admire your friend; aspire to be like him or her. What did I admire about Jarelle?
- His naïve and pure enthusiasm about being in a new country.
- His joy of life and excitement. He gets super excited for any random thing. That’s a running theme in one of the classic books on friendship, Zorba the Greek:
- Similarly, Jarelle is curious and inquisitive about everything, and is amazed by things as simple as caprese salads .
- A friend is not a friend if he can’t give you undivided attention when you talk together. Undivided attention Jarelle has in spades (except when he’s Instagramming), and he even takes notes on what you’re saying, like an Afro-American Carl Jung!
- A friend can teach you something. Travelling to a lot of countries or growing up having the same kind of friends can make you a little blasé, and that’s certainly what happened to me. The same way a new unexpected travel destination can reignite your sense of wonder about the world, a new person coming into your life from a totally different background can reignite your sense of wonder about human interactions.
- True friendships transcend what Seneca calls “fair-weather friendships” (basically, seeing friendships as business deals that benefit you) . “A person adopted as a friend for the sake of his usefulness will be cultivated only for so long as he is useful. […] The ending inevitably matches the beginning: a person who starts being friends with you because it pays him will similarly cease to be friends because it pays him to do so.” (Letters from a Stoic). It doesn’t pay me to be Jarelle’s friend (quite the opposite: I try to help him grow by buying him books without any self-interest, and I give him 560€ of credit to travel Europe. As Aristotle, another old Greek, said: “Friendship is a slow ripening fruit.” which implies that you have to nurture this fruit). Yet, to build up on what Seneca said, a true friend makes you feel valued, meaning that HE seeks you out for his own benefit in some way (and you notice it enough to feel good). The key nuance is that, with a true friendship, you take as much pleasure “getting value” from your friend as you take from “giving value” (however awful that sounds, it’s an accurate depiction of great friendships: you give each other advice, support each other in bad times, make each other laugh…).
- A friend makes himself available to you, and actually inquires about you. Simple right? One of the hardest things about friendships is actually maintaining them, and that means keeping in touch regularly and contributing to each other’s life. The sign of a true friendship is that this is not experienced as an effort, but more part of a natural routine. With that in mind, I’m amazed how available Jarelle is to each of his friends, and that’s how he’s cultivated a huge network (his “unstable stability” – article coming soon).
- A friend is not fake, he’s authentic. While I make fun of Jarelle’s social media personality in my Plitvice article, Jarelle is really “what you see is what you get.”
- A friend makes you laugh (or is it the other way around: laughs create friendship?). Jarelle the Wise says it best: “A loyal friend laughs at your jokes when they’re not so good, and sympathizes with your problems when they’re not so bad.”