Today I witnessed, yet again, the phenomenon of the ‘More Interesting Mutual Friend‘.
This little vignette plays out hundreds, if not thousands, of times every day, in offices and at parties and in bars all over the world. There are always three players. The first two are acquainted, but there’s something… not quite right with them. Maybe they don’t know each other well, or perhaps there’s been some previous unpleasantness. Maybe Person A caught Person B with their finger jammed up their nose, and Person B knows they were caught, um, red-handed. So to speak.
(Green-fingered? No. Too graphic. Moving on.)
Or maybe the two had a fight, or one knows the other cheats on their taxes, or maybe they had a secret torrid affair that ended in tears, cheap red wine, and court-enforced restraining orders. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. The point is that Person A and Person B know each other, but really aren’t all that comfortable chatting together, or being alone together, or even standing near each other without an easy escape route.
That’s when Person C comes in.
(Or ‘Person 3’, or ‘III’, or ‘Colonel Mustard’… I don’t really give a shit what you call these people. Just pay attention.)
Person C is the More Interesting Mutual Friend. Person A knows Person C, and they get along quite nicely. Regular chums, they are. Ditto for Person B and Person C. So when this third actor comes moseying into the scene, the relief of the first two players is palpable. The tension and discomfort just melts away — Person A can safely talk to Person C, and Person B can chitter back and forth with Person C, and as long as Person C is talking, A and B don’t even have to look at each other. As the saying goes, ‘Two’s a creepy, stilted, nauseating conversation, but three’s a party!’ Or something like that. Maybe I’m thinking of a different saying.
Anyway, it’s an interesting phenomenon, and I got to see another example of it today. I got on the elevator at work — on the fifteenth floor — and started riding down to the lobby for some lunch. On the twelfth floor, a woman — petite, thirties, glasses — got on. We stopped again at ten, and a man — thirties, athletic, snappily dressed — entered. Here’s what happened as we passed the next few floors:
Him: Oh. Hey. How are you?
Her: Good, good. Um, good. You?
Him: Pretty good, pretty good.
(Uncomfortable silence as we pass three more floors.)
An older lady of no relevance (to this discussion, anyway; I’m sure she’s pertinent to somebody out there) got on the elevator at seven. By the time we neared the fifth floor, it was clear that something more needed to be said between the two, just in the interest of politeness. And so something was said. Namely:
Him: Um, nice pants.
Her: Oh. Thanks.
That’s when we reached floor five, and the More Interesting Mutual Friend got on. There were five or six of us in the elevator at that point, but the two I was listening in on nearly leapt at him, so delighted were they to have someone else to talk to.
Him: Hey! Joe!
Her: Joe! Joe!
Him: Woo hoo! It’s Joe! Yes!
Joe: Er, hey?
Now, we’ve all been in these poor folks’ shoes at one time or another. We’ve either been the first-act schlubs, fumbling and farting our way through an uncomfortable conversation, praying that some More Interesting Mutual Friend will come along to save us.
And, whether we’ve realized it or not, we’ve been that friend, too. We’ve walked in on some horrific, skin-crawly, gnarly conversation and saved the day. We probably didn’t mean to, of course. We were just walking by to ask a question, or ordering another beer, or heading for the john. And all of a sudden, bap! Suddenly, we’re these two peoples’ best friend. It’s all ‘How the hell are you?‘ and ‘Lemme buy you a drink!‘ and ‘Gee, your hair smells terrific!‘ You just have to realize what’s happening — these people haven’t suddenly forgotten that they don’t like you very much. They’re not really your new best pal, and they’re not going to invite you over, or lend you money, or swap spouses with you. No amount of wishing will make it happen, dude. Let the dream die.
But for that one magical moment, you’re the best game in town. These folks will be hanging on every word, ’cause anything you say will be a hundred times better than the insincere pleasantries they were just exchanging. You’re the cavalry, the savior, the man in the white hat. You the pimp daddy, if only for a while.
So soak it up. Enjoy your time in the sun. Next time, you might be Person A or B instead. You’ll be the one clamoring over some half-friend who’s saving you from a more helling conversation. But don’t feel bad. It happens to all of us. Just do your time and get through it.
Or do what the guy in the story above did, and get off at the ‘More Interesting Mutual Friend’s floor, even though that’s not the elevator button you pressed. Like I said, folks, do your time — but if you see an out, for God’s sakes, take it! Dont’ be a hero. Person B wants your ass out of there just as badly as you want to leave. There’s no need to prolong the agony. You’ll be back in that nightmare soon enough. Trust me.Permalink | 1 Comment