Picasso said once when being interviewed that one should not be one's own connoisseur.
-- Kenneth Koch
I rested the pen against my chin and contemplated the list before me. Below "Interests," I'd written, "dining, travel , art, reading." In the left margin, I'd jotted, "DINKS & atheists ideal, but not necessary," and, "avid sports fans need not apply." I tapped the pen against the paper, creating a series of purple ink dots, and looked up at David. "What about occupation?" While he considered the question, I wrote, "Occupation -- secondary." Then, in the margin, I added, "Conversation skills mandatory.""Do you think we're snobs?" David asked.
"Sometimes," I answered. "But listen, beh beh. Life is short. We're just being practical. If we're conscientious and sensible about the company we keep, we won't have to clean house as often. It's uncomfortable when we get really hot-and-bothered in the early stages of friendship just to discover three months in that a person is a flaky user or a pushy religious freak. Better to take shit slow so that when you discover stuff like that, it's still easy to back away, you know?"
David and I agree on most things, one of which is that we'd rather have no friends than incompatible friends. Before I met him, I felt the same way about romantic relationships -- I would rather be single than settle for someone who is less than perfect for me. In the past few years we've jettisoned the people we've outgrown, leaving a considerable void in our wake. More vacancies were created when some friends moved and others sloughed us off. It's natural that as people grow and change, as their interests evolve, so does their circle of friends. It's great if you can grow and change with your friends and loved ones, but it would be naive to assume that this is the norm. So we've spent some time shopping for a few new compadres .
I used to liken the task of finding new friends to dating. There was the courting period, the getting-to-know-you phase, and the dates, which were investments of time, energy, and money. But now I've chosen a more professional approach. Rather than wooing people, I'm interviewing them to fill available positions in my life -- applying the same skills to screen potential new friends that I used during my brief stint as a headhunter for admins and CEOs.
When hanging out with someone new, it's important for me to keep in mind that I'm not the only one doing the interviewing. A prospective friend might want to know how the position became available. Did the previous holder of the title quit? Was she fired? What were the circumstances? Even though a candidate initially expresses an interest in a friendship position, she may decide, upon further inspection, to decline my offer.
The trick to knowing how someone will behave in a new job is to look at the patterns in her past -- the frequency of coworker confrontations, the number of resolved versus outstanding conflicts, and whether or not she left positions on good terms. But the best indicator of the kind of friend someone might be is how she treats her current friends.
By unanimous decision, David and I recently rejected what at first seemed a promising "applicant." We had met Jeff at a social event. Impressed by his potential, we invited him to come over to our place one evening for the usual wine and cheese "interview" -- it's important that a prospective pal get a feel for the environment before accepting an offer of friendship.
Jeff was 30 minutes late, but we don't grade on punctuality until it becomes obvious that tardiness is a trend. He brought a bottle of wine, which earned him points in the "Thoughtful" category. When presented with our offering of fine fruits, nuts, and cheeses, we casually laughed off Jeff's comment -- "Honestly, I'd rather have meat."
Conversation with Jeff was a sea of mud through which we slogged, cautiously working our way around obstacles that presented themselves, such as Jeff's unwavering loyalty to Velcro and his universal aversion to women in leadership roles. Despite some of his opinions, which didn't exactly square with ours (after all, it's people's little quirks and peculiarities that add color to our lives), Jeff was still in the running. That is, until he mentioned Robert.
Robert has been his friend for many years, Jeff informed us, and he loves him like a brother. Before I could ask the usual, "How long have you known him?" or "Does he live around here?" Jeff rattled off a list of his best friend's many shortcomings. In a patronizing tone, he gave us the low-down on Robert's bad decisions dating back to the early '90s. We learned about ditzy girlfriends, moving back home, and Robert's ("poor slob just didn't know any better") recent decision to date a single mom.
Jeff mistook my expression -- mouth agape in horror -- for jaw-dropped interest in this unwarranted attack on some guy named Robert who mistakenly thinks of Jeff as his friend . Silently, I wondered, If you think so poorly of this guy, why the hell do you spend so much time with him? I'm all for shit-talking a nemesis. But a friend? To people who don't even know him? Not cool. The flag had been raised and its vibrant red cloth was billowing in our faces.
My man and I may be selective, as anyone who values their time should be, but we are also eager. We love to socialize and entertain, but prefer to do so in conjunction with intellectual stimulation. Learning new things, especially things that change the way I look at myself or the world, is infinitely more fun for me than discussing who won the game, what was on TV last night, or why your best friend sucks. This is why when an interview goes well, I am as giddy as I was when David called me the day after our first date to tell me what a great time he'd had.
Last night we had dinner at the house of Janet and Andrew, a couple we are thrilled to have as new friends. The first time we had them over a few months ago, Janet scored a direct hit with her humorous comment, "I don't want to have children right now, but if I decide later that I want a kid, I'll just get a used one."
While the four of us were nibbling the exotic chocolates and berries Janet set out for dessert, I let my guard down and made a passing comment about interviewing new friends.
"We knew we were being interviewed, you know," said Janet. Horrified she might think me pretentious, I pointed out that it goes both ways -- that when we conduct such a meeting, David and I assume we are being screened as well.
"Right. Anyway, I really wanted the job," Janet said. "That's why I sent that 'thank you' card the next day."
I noted her playful attitude and all around good-sportiness and said, "Well, we're really glad to have you on board."