Product of Slaps and Averages

We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, according to some version of some saying. What a disconcerting thought for a daydreamer like me, who just turned 33 and only have time for another 20 or so years of conjecture before I need to actually start planning to take action.

I should be doing more with my life, and it’s not my fault. The people around me are deadweight. I have to make some cuts and assemble a superstar starting five. All NBA franchise players are thinking the same thing, minus Kyrie.

My wife gets an unquestioned roster spot, which is great because I love her but also kind of hurts because that’s 20 percent of my lineup right there and what if I meet Elon Musk at a party and he introduces me to his four best friends which would never happen because friend groups generally are in clusters of four but what if I also run into Zac Efron at the gym and purposely do hanging leg raises next to him to strike up a conversation about proper form that leads to more discussion and ultimately friendship? Then what will I do?

Let’s not freak out for no imminent reason and focus instead on filling the other spots. I will not reserve any for children. I already joke about getting a vasectomy while blacked out. If I have to commit to an actual child being one of the five people I spend the most time with out of 7.5 billion, then I will get a vasectomy sober right now.

I seek partners with the ability to challenge me, by example. Sure my bros talk a lot of trash and back up some of it, but the subject matter basically comes down to who can drink faster/more, who can lift more weight/often, and who can be more comfortable with nudity/sexuality.



This grainy picture from five years ago appears to depict one bro holding down another in a full nelson, while another straddles his chest to orally penetrate him or maybe just organ-slap his face in degrading fashion (there is a respectfully playful way to do it), while another massages the rapist’s shoulders. Also, the mattress is missing the fitted sheet. Typical shenanigans in a Vegas hotel room, but I just get the feeling there is more achievement to be had in the real world.

At an alumni event, I met the man I could have been with a bit more gumption and applied intelligence. He is my mirror image when it comes to numerous mannerisms, interests and lines of thinking. But he’s younger and more dynamic. His Mandarin is sharper and travel experiences more expansive.

He started a successful moving company for students during undergrad. He turned down Harvard Business School and went to Stanford. Meanwhile, I was busy jerking off high school football players. (Just to be clear and avoid a dramatic misinterpretation, I mean that as an expression. I was a preps sportswriter after college.)

Here’s how smart they are at Stanford. In my quasi twin’s annual fantasy football league comprised of buddies from his class, everyone votes on an elaborate punishment for the last-place finisher. The year he lost, he had to officially register and take the SATs again.

So he showed up at the testing location deathly hung over after a big gala the previous night. Nervous Asian kids 10 years younger brought backpacks full of snacks, while all my boy wanted to do was not die. And he got a perfect score on the math section. Little wonder that these days he rocks a glamorous-sounding job in finance.

This is the kind of top-five talent I should be courting. I’m not banking on any kind of osmosis, but there has to be a fair amount of truth in the five-people-closest-to-you theory.

I think most folks have fluid enough identities, and high enough social IQs, to adapt to the people who occupy their time and space. After a while, some manners of speech, habits and thinking inevitably converge.

While reviewing material for a job interview, my wife said something that struck me. One of the things she liked about being a teacher for the past decade was being the expert and understanding the material better than the people around her. Way to shoot for the moon, babe, those second-graders set a high standard with their ability to not piss themselves.

I realized this goes to the root of a lot of our fights. I prefer to be the dumbest in a room, with as big a delta as possible without compromising the quality of interaction. Every person whom I voluntarily spend significant time with, including the bros, is smarter than me in multiple ways.

When confronted with the need to process information that suggests my inferiority or shortcoming — or just outright criticism — I interpret it as help, productivity, stimulation, motivation, opportunity for growth.

My wife, on the other hand, lets criticism touch a different part of her brain, as if another human should own your self-esteem. Thus, when I express very strong perspectives on what she could do better, the discussion easily can slip from constructive analysis to nebulous outcries about not being supportive.

The thing is, I am always cognizant of being able to take it if I’m going to dish it. I don’t mind at all being criticized. I welcome it. It’s actually easier to respond to than praise because false modesty requires so much effort and creativity to appear halfway genuine.

And I don’t criticize just anybody. I’m not close enough to people to say the things I really, really, deep down think about their faults. There are only four people in the world I am willing to nitpick as much as I do to myself: wife, brother, parents. Three of them live too far away to be top-five candidates. So I guess I’m left with Elon, Zac, quasi twin or anyone who can slap me in the face in the right way.



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