My three year resolution is still in effect. I have lots of projects I still want to start, like losing weight, working on debt, and picking out some hot sneakers, which is in direct opposition to the prior point. However, I’m not allowed to start any such long term, large scale projects until 2018. I’m still looking to stabilize. It’s tempting to think that I’m fully ready to start building up again, but I’m still in clean-up mode. A lot of people who start off with unfortunate childhoods never end up turning things around, so I don’t want to get cocky and start off on another adventure before I’m done wrapping things up. I don’t feel ready right now, even though I quickly and frequently get anxious to start working on new projects.

This week I want to talk about vibing with people. When you’re on the same frequency, you resonate with each other. Waves show similar behaviour. When they have the same frequency, they can add up. When waves are 180 degrees out of phase with each other, they subtract.

Constructive interference

Destructive interference

Destructive interference is what happens when we’re out of phase by 180 degrees. But what happens when we’re in between those values?

When we’re at different frequencies, in physics, it’s called a beat.

freq_beat = |freq1 - freq2|

That’s how we harmonize in music, when complementary notes are played together. Some combinations sound better than others. They can sound beautiful or terrifying depending on where we are in the greater context of the song.

Time domain measures in [seconds], but the frequency is the inverse, 1/[seconds]. If it takes me 10 minutes to eat a Big Mac (time domain), then I can eat 6 Big Macs per hour (frequency domain). Frequency domain is weird. It’s like the Upside Down in Stranger Things, and just as terrifying. Rules that apply in the time domain that we all know and love all look very different in the frequency domain. It’s the same world but a different way of looking at it. There’s a limit to how we can intuitively visualize waves in the time domain. Observe:

I’ve been thinking about frequencies and vibing as it pertains to relationships. Some people you get along with, and some you don’t. If you look from the time domain, waves kinda all look sorta similar after a while.

However, when you start looking at your interactions with people as waves in the frequency domain, it’s a lot easier to see that you’ll never get along with everyone. This is a stark reminder because I think I’m so great that everybody should love me.

When someone stands with you, they’re choosing to be on your wavelength. We all have some emotional range, so we can adjust ourselves based on who we’re with. I laugh more around certain people, and around others I don’t talk much at all. Our identity is fluid based on the circumstance. At the extreme end, some characters are very rigid and don’t adjust themselves for anyone. On the other end, there are those that morph so much that they’re almost unrecognizable even by their loved ones. Last week I wrote “This is Me,” where I decided to stop accommodating others so much by inconveniencing myself. I’m still the same agreeable Jon you know and love, but I’m not bending over backwards anymore just to artificially boost a connection.

How do you know if you’ll harmonize with people around you? With waves, having the same fundamental frequency allows for resonance. If a guitar string vibrates, another string at standstill will begin to vibrate because of the first string’s energy. The fundamental frequency of 100 Hz will resonate with any whole multiples, like 200 Hz, 300 Hz, 400 Hz, etc. What does this look like in daily life? We can observe this at pretty much every concert, where the musician plays a song and everyone grooves to it at the same time. On a personal level, I’m friends with people who differ in age from me pretty widely, and even though we have very different experiences, we still get along great. Some people are a few years younger, some more than 10 years older, but we can still find ways to relate with each other. We’ll have similar values, senses of humour, personalities. Your physical rhythms might even be similar, observed by such behaviours as a head nodding in agreement.

I’m using age here as one filter for the entirety of a person, but we can generalize each person’s unique vibe into the concept of timbre. Most musical instruments can play the same frequencies, but they all sound different. Even instruments manufactured one after the other will sound different, and that’s all summarized as its timbre. Everyone has their own unique voice, but those voices can be grouped into similar sounds like how instruments are grouped into brass, strings, wind, etc. People will vibe with each other based on similarities. Shocking insight, I know.

We attract types. There are people who I think are amazing, and I wonder how their coworkers don’t feel lucky to be around them all the time. Some friends always seem to date jerks. There are people who I think I should be friends with on paper, but for some reason it just doesn’t work out in reality. We have similar values, experiences, compatible personalities, and yet it doesn’t really click. I met someone new with whom I thought I should get along, but they have too many connections already to fit in someone new, regadless of compatibility. He’s a spitting image of somebody that I used to know, with whom I had a similar problem.

Let’s say you have only a few slots within your inner circle of friends. There are those that only allow people in if they’re the same as them. Think "Mean Girls" or the cliquey popular kids from high school. You have to be from the right race, gender, socioeconomic class, physical ability. I don’t necessarily care to argue with my friends all that much, but agreeing with someone all the time gets boring. Besides which, my head gets a bit dizzy from nodding in agreement so much. I like surrounding myself with people who have vastly different experiences from me. I don’t exactly know what’s the common thread between people I attract, but I have noticed a trend of people who have been deeply hurt before but who also overcame the pain. I used to suppress my troubles, so the people I attracted back then also did the same. But now that I’ve processed a lot of it and come out the other side a kinder, more compassionate person, I’m starting to befriend those kinds of people.

We need all sorts of friends at any given time, and we need to be these kinds of friends to those who’ve enlisted us as well:

  • We need friends to roast us and keep our egos in check.
  • We need people who respect and admire us.
  • Someone to be in love with.
  • The hard OGs to kick our asses when we act a fool.
  • The soft and cuddly types that we can be real and vulnerable with.
  • The homies that peer-pressure us into trouble and shenanigans.
  • The all-day friends who know far too much about what’s happening in your schedule.
  • The responsible friend from whom we can copy homework and assignments.

Sometimes you meet a person that fits a role in your life, but they don’t want to connect with you. It’s ambiguous and painful because everyone has a different way of telling you they aren’t interested in you the way you are in them. You can get the cold shoulder or direct rejection, unreturned messages. Overall, there’s tons of awkwardness. You might try to convince them you could be good friends, but no response. Maybe it’s the other way around and someone wants to befriend you, but you’re too nice to turn them away. We all have a roster of our go-to people. There’s a nasty way of letting go of people who bring you down. Some go to school and think they’re too smart to hang out with people who have lower education. Some get rich and leave their less wealthy friends behind. Some get married and ditch their single friends bnecause they don’t have a guest to bring along to dinner parties. Some people settle down, and they judge people who haven’t done the same yet. It hurts being rejected, but I think it evens out because we’ll all get to be on the other side of the fence eventually.

I’ve been pretty deliberate over the past few years about surrounding myself with better people. Part of the challenge is in finding the right people, but I think the harder part is letting go of the decent ones. There isn’t room for great friends when your bench is full of good friends, old friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, family friends. With my music collection, I go through phases of repeating songs and playlists for a month or so, then I’ll hunt for new songs for a week. However, there are only so many songs I really care to have in a playlist, and sometimes it means deleting songs that I loved for a time but eventually which I got tired of. Similarly, relationships have seasons. When you’re in school, you generally make friends with people who are physically near you and are forced in to the same schedule as you. As you get older, you move schools, you live in different places, and then you just stop talking to a lot of those older friends. Social media gives the illusion of connection and intimacy. We can cast a much wider net of friends compared to people living before the Internet, but our hearts haven’t really changed as humans. We can still only manage to have a few really close friends.

Listening to new songs, I can tell pretty quick whether I’ll love this song or not, so I skip through them pretty fast. I made some new friends recently, and it stunned me how we’ve all quickly clicked. Normally I’d be really apprehensive about adding someone to the fold, trading numbers, figuring out the whole social network thing. (Who should initiate? how long should I wait? do I really want them to see my old pictures?) You’ve read on this blog that I was worried about losing a bunch of friends, and now you’ve also read about how some of those spots got filled up after about a year.

We have these job postings created for friends to fill, and we have to take care in crafting those job descriptions if we want to derive true enjoyment and satisfaction from our relationships. Sometimes we have ideas in our heads about what we want, but our bodies might know better than us at times. I’ve had a few friends for a long time where my body was shouting at me to stop being around them, but I didn’t get the message until a few years into it. Now I’ve had some positions vacant for about a year, only to be filled when I gave up on them. What I learned is that it’s an area where you can’t really force anything to happen. It starts and ends organically, so having my type A personality doesn’t really speed up the process by trying to control everything. It’s one of those instances where I had to use a light touch. I needed to stop being such a nice guy and to be assertive in rejecting certain applicants, but I also just needed to let it happen on its own. When I meet friends of friends and they ask how I know our mutual friend, it usually goes something like "Um, I don’t really know. We met through another person and just started hanging out, I guess." Desperately trying to fill the void did nothing for me. It took lots of deep breathing and returning my focus to living my life, and then it kinda just fell into place. Things worked out when I accepted the discomfort enough to carry on, even if it felt like an open wound. You eventually figure out who’s on the same wavelength as you, and it’s something you can’t really change about a person. If one of you decides to make a big change, then that’s how people naturally grow closer and drift apart.

Not long ago, I was worried I would lose all my friends. I thought I was going to drift into my 30’s and fatherhood with no one noticing while I kicked and screamed because I still wanted to party. I was putting out good vibrations and energy all on my lonesome, thinking no one would pick up on them until after I faded into obscurity. Things haven’t turned out as grim as I expected, and even more, they’ve turned out better than I ever imagined. A difference in frequency is called a beat, and some beats work better together. We attract types, so given enough time, we’ll fill our lives with people of similar vibes. I don’t need a ton of friends, but I do need the right ones. Life’s too short to have mediocre relationships, and the road to happiness is paved with a hundred “no’s” for every “yes.” I had terrible results when I tried to force some relationships to happen, and despite learning to let things happen organically, I also had to be deliberate in letting some friendships go and in showing up for the people that showed up for me.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le