This is a series about
relationships – why we need them, how we get them, and how we keep
them. There will be several parts. This is the fourth – it focuses on
quantifying the quality and/or depth of your relationships. Previous parts
- identifying the target; (click here)
- how we take control of our environment to make it friendly to our efforts; (click here)
- the difference between getting relationships and keeping them;(click here)
It’s fitting that I can simply pick up where I left off more than two years ago when I was writing almost daily. That means these ideas have some durability – at least with me. In any case, it’s time to finally make good on the conclusion of this series.
Here’s a question. Is it possible to quantify the value of a given relationship? I think it is – at least in a relative sense. It comes down to concurrence. It’s about those moments when we’re on the same wavelength with another person. Though I have no evidence whatsoever to support it, I have long had a sense that we are designed to pursue these events with one another. It doesn’t matter if I’m right. You can think of this as a thought experiment, if you like.
I believe it is moments of concurrence that forge human connections. (That notion alone would catch natural selection’s eye, no?) And the more heightened the emotional state, the deeper the connection. A lightweight version of concurrence, one with only so much emotional gravitas, occurs when we agree with someone about something we like or don’t like – such as a band or a book. A deeply emotional moment of concurrence, however, occurs when we share something like the birth of a child or a crisis situation. If we think of every relationship as having something like a concurrence account, we can say that the former example adds a little to the account while the latter adds a lot.
With that conceptual model in place, we can quantify the value of any given relationship by simply doing the math. And when we do, we can envision a progression of sorts to situate specific relationships in the context of other specific relationships in terms of value.
We should say that a basic acquaintance relationship – such as that between co-workers who don’t know each other very well – is on the low end of the value hierarchy. (Yes, I said hierarchy. Those of you with an allergy to hierarchies should abandon now. Save yourself. Go on without me.) Above that, we could place new and/or infrequent friendships – the key being that the parties involved have not shared any truly emotional moments of concurrence. These are people who perhaps enjoy spending time with one another, but there’s really no depth there. Going farther, we might find relationships where mildly emotional moments of concurrence have been shared – such as being on the same winning team or being in the same peacetime military unit. Still higher, we get into real relationships, the ones that hurt when we lose them.
Here’s where emotionally-based moments of concurrence earn their stripes. Events of this kind boost the concurrence account to levels that are difficult to achieve with non-emotional concurrences. A year’s worth of non-emotional moments of concurrence can be eclipsed instantly by a single, deeply-emotional shared experience. This is where good friend relationships and new romances are situated. (Anyone who has been in a requited love relationship can attest to the strong emotional experience associated with those early realizations that both parties are in love.) We might call this the second-tier of human relationships – ones that are defined by their basis in emotional concurrence events.
Beyond just the entry-level second-tier relationship, we get into the kinds of relationships that usually accompany long-term circumstantial or commitment-based proximity – family and partner relationships, to be precise. The concurrence account is loaded with non-emotional moments of concurrence – enjoying the same dinner, laughing at the same TV shows, grooving to the same music, getting frustrated on the same vacations, etc. Peppered throughout those everyday experiences are the emotional moments of concurrence that push the account into the stratosphere. Births, deaths, graduations, first loves, breakups, and so on. (Incidentally, here we find yet another way to justify the old saw – blood is thicker than water. ) The bottom line is that this upper level of human relationships is, in my view, the pinnacle of value.
Now, after all that, there’s the topic at hand – Relationships 101 – which implies that there’s a lesson here. The notion of quantifying value is highly instructive for one very important reason. At each level, there are appropriate and inappropriate approaches to human interaction. If we can objectively assess our relationships in terms of concurrence, we can place them on the hierarchy, thus gaining insight into how we should conduct ourselves. For example, don’t marry someone with whom you have no emotionally-based concurrence.
And here, we end up right back where we started in part 1 – what do we want? We want healthy second-tier relationships, as many as we can manage (not have, manage). Assessing the ones we have allows us to see if we’re there, or if we have work to do (and we almost always do have work to do). It prevents us from rushing things, and it prevents us from misjudging what we have, which happens when we mistake emotionally-charged moments for concurrent emotionally charged moments. The former adds nothing to the account, while the latter is a big deposit.
So there you have it.
I should note that there’s at least one logical fallacy in this post. Can you spot it?