but if off balance, it might push you away.

The Ben Franklin Effect says that we come to like more those people for whom we do a favor. So we like people not based on the favors they do for us, but what we do for them.

I think it is key that external justification, so a reason outside myself that I am doing said action, is subtle. A good example is doing a favor for something “just being nice” versus being told or paid to do something. The person who is just being nice is going to like the receiver of the favor much more.

So in a successful relationship (of whatever type) it makes sense, then, that this give and take must be balanced. Person A might be constantly getting a high off of doing things for Person B (under the potentially false guise that doing these things is making Person B like person A more) but I would say that there is either minimal increases in how person B feels for A, or person B might not be doing favors for A, and either will feel insufficient or guilty about receiving from A, and the relationship goes off balance. Person B might learn to expect these favors from A, and take things for granted.

So what does this mean for good relationships? It means that one sided relationships only feed one person, and might even have negative consequences for the other. Both parties, to make themselves feel good, should do things for the other. The hard part is finding relationships in life, whether they be friendships, coworkers, or lovers, for which it is contextually appropriate to do favors for the other person that actually are things that you enjoy.

I can try to think of examples. This first one is overly simple. Think of two friends that meet up to play tennis together. Each gets a lot of joy out of playing tennis, and in context of doing it for one another, both might like each other more than before, and rate each other as being closer friends.

In high school I used to bake cakes for all my friends on their birthdays. It was a “favor” in the definition of the word, had little external motivation, but I loved baking by itself, and giving my beautiful creations to others made me feel good. The fact that I had these friends for which to do this baking, something that I love, made me like them more.

So maybe it isn’t such a bad idea to ask people for favors to strengthen a relationship, or find out if it can be strengthened in that regard. From an opposite standpoint, if I ask someone for a favor and they turn me down, the exact opposite occurs. I guess it’s all about balance, again, and this second idea is probably why I don’t like to ask people for favors, ever. But in not asking, I don’t let people do nice things for me, and feel everything that comes with that.

And a beautiful idea that was said by one of my professors is the statement that “love is not always a feeling, it’s an action verb.” If you do acts of love, give affection, even when you don’t feel it, it will get you over those humps in a relationship when the feeling isn’t there. I would say that friendship is an action verb as well, and this is exactly the reason that having deep, true friendships is a rarity – it takes a lot of energy, and it’s a lot easier to expend less energy and remain on a superficial level.

Personally, I know that I put a lot of energy into friendships from high school after I went to college, and I’m very lucky to still have my best friend. However, for the so many that I lost, I learned that my expenditure was largely a waste. As a result, I don’t spend very much energy on other people anymore, unless I get some indication that the interaction might become balanced and two way. From my life experience I have learned to be weary of others as possibly a defense mechanism to avoid ultimately being forgotten. It’s a selfish strategy and sometimes leaves me lonely, but it’s a choice. And I can admit to starting on paths of friendship here, and either feeling overwhelmed by being the sole provider of energy, or just not enjoying the favors that I do enough for the other person to keep it going. I might start on a track of doing favors for the other person until it feels like some sort of expectation, and then I don’t enjoy the friendship like I used to. So I’ll just stop, and keep waiting for people to enter the picture that show an interest in knowing and understanding me, and also that I find fulfillment in doing things for. And it isn’t that I cycle through people like index cards, I find that it is very hard to find people that:

1) I can relate to
2) open up to me, show honesty, humility, a sense of realness and ultimately
3) I can trust

So welcome to my perception of my social scene at Duke University. It’s a game of continually waiting for hints of interest in friendships, leaving your room and putting up a shell with the hopes of drawing people to you and also aiming to protect yourself. And although everyone arguably desires almost the same thing, we wind up with a bunch of young people walking around in social armor. Instead of being like fingers in a mitten, we all have our own enclosure as in a glove, and in those private spaces breed insecurities, some loneliness, unanswered questions, and eventually self-justification to reduce the dissonance and make the reality OK. What we can’t see from our private spaces is that we are actually right next to each other, and going through the same thing.

I also imagine all of us standing in individual boats on a great sea. There are many of us, we float on the same water, but no one dares risk climbing aboard someone else’s boat for fear of being thrown overboard. Some speed around the sea, their boat driven by sexuality or task oriented business, and others are content to remain in one spot. And some boats are heavy, beautiful, and made of glass, some are grand and impressive to look at, but you know nothing about the person inside, others have a lot more holes, some patched and some left to slowly fill the boat with water, and some are even overturned with their inhabitant floating in the air pocket underneath. The boat with holes might not be as impressive as the majestic wooden one, but I would bet that the person inside has a lot better stories :) We want our boats to reflect who we are, but we also want them to look like what we think they should look like, and those two things aren’t always the same thing. What does your boat look like?

So when two people do find each other, I think that it is largely situational, or accidental, but the result is always something to the effect of a huge appreciation for the other person, for the things you can do for that person, and wondering how life might have been had X not happened, had your friend not crashed his boat into yours, and forced an interaction.

So maybe the people that you like the most give you incentive to do things that you love, and a beautiful feeling of fulfillment and appreciation grows in a circular manner to build the foundation for a long lasting, successful relationship.

It’s time to start crashing some boats, and taking some risks and jumping into other boats to see who is inside. This might be a lot easier for guys than girls, but that goes with the social expectation anyway. The worst thing that can happen is you get a little wet, and have to swim back to your boat.