Revealing Your Self

Food for Thought

We tried the new Thai vegan restaurant in our neighborhood with our vegan friend Warner. I love that they only have a prix fixe menu for $25 a person since I hate figuring out what to order. The waitress, however, said a full menu is coming soon. Personally, I think they should continue serving only a prix fixe menu that changes every day. I feel a small business should always offer something extreme because that is a big advantage of being small. If you only have, say, 40 seats, you might as well fill them with customers who passionately love you for who you are.

The same philosophy applies to friends. The British anthropologist Robin Dunbar estimated that each of us can only maintain around 150 friends, and he has an interesting way of defining friends in this context: “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.” What limits the number is the size of our brains, more specifically, our neocortex. If so, we should be able to allocate our brainpower in different ways. For instance, what if we lived in a tiny town of 100 people? I think we can imagine that each relationship would be deeper than average. “Joining uninvited for a drink” might change to “walking into a house uninvited”

In other words, I think it’s possible to deliberately limit the number of friends in order to increase the depth of each friendship. I believe some people naturally do this, and I’m one of them. If I don’t make a concerted effort to connect with more people, my natural tendency is to dig deeper into each friend. For this reason, I’m drawn to people at the extremes—like Warner who lives like a Zen monk—as they tend to have inexplicable depth and complexity. When a restaurant offers only a prix fixe vegan menu, you know there must be an interesting story behind it.

For the same reason, I’m attracted to people who intentionally or unintentionally reveal themselves, warts and all. I prefer people who are annoying, neurotic, rude, or egotistical, over those who never reveal themselves. The latter might be perfectly pleasant but painfully boring. I don’t have many friends like that.