The Utility-Consumption Model of Friendship
I am not a pleasant person to play soccer or football with. The zen and calm Aussie you’re all used to disappears on the pitch, replaced by an angry commander.
I’m not the most blessed by ability unfortunately, but my Dad ingrained in me from a young age the importance of on field communication and leadership as a point of difference. I’ve been compensating for a lack of ability with my barking instructions ever since.
“Why don’t you work!”… “Why is no one pressing with me!”… “If that’s the effort you’re going to put in, GO OFF”.
My Brother Plays in the Same Team, but Never Says a Word.
My brother is a man-of-few-words. In a casual team full of my school friends, who are all party animals and lovers of the ‘sauce’ (drink), he is the odd one out. He is quiet, unassuming, and does not drink or party.
If it weren’t for soccer or football, he’d hardly leave the house! Though ironically, he is one of the most adored players in the team…
Mitch is incredibly useful in our team. He has high utility. Whilst I wouldn’t go as far as to say that he’s a better player than I (jury withstanding on that one), he is one of the fittest in the squad, most consistent in training, and most willing to fill-in when and where needed.
He has high utility in the context of our team. If it weren’t for this, he wouldn’t be as welcome in the team because he does not quite meet the social metrics.
If he were a worse player, or less committed, he wouldn’t have such a high status in the team. If there were no soccer team, he would not likely be friends with the other players in the team.
The Utility-Consumption Model of Friendships
Credit for this phrase goes to Scott Mckeon: This is a model that helps you observe more clearly the substance of your friendships and relationships.
The Consumption component of friendships is pretty straightforward. This is the act of ‘consuming’ experiences with friends, and includes playing sports, going out, partying and even certain types of holidays.
In our soccer team there are players who are invited in because they’re good at playing (Utility), but others are brought in purely because they get along with everyone. Maybe they went to school with the other players or work with them (Consumption).
Utility and Consumption in Your World
Utility in your friendships is probably important in areas like affection, emotional support and being there for you. In other words, friends who offer you this kind of utility treat you with a little thing called unconditional love.
Consumption tends to be more accessible in friendships. It is easier to find people to go to the pub with than it is to find the right person to talk to when you are not doing well and need help.
Utility is best remembered as “being useful for something” – whether its making money, offering emotional support, or in the case of my brother, being willing to back up for a second game every single week.
Understanding the Scale
If you’re the sort of person who ‘has friends’ but still feels lonely, it may be because your friends hug the bottom line. You have a lot of shared experiences and social events together but there may be a lack of affection, support, and deep resonance.
For instance – how deep, meaningful and fulfilling can relationships be with people who you only go on wild drinking nights with? Who you only have small-talk with?
What to do if your friendships hug the bottom line
In Miki Agrawal’s book Do Cool Shit she runs an exercise developed to cut the depleting relationships from her life.
The exercise involves writing two lists side-by-side – a list of friends that deplete your energy, and to the right, a list of friends that inspire more out of you.
What follows is a pretty logical cutting process – which of course is easier said than done.
My personal strategy is turning down the volume on the relationships that do not offer enough utility particularly when it is out of close-mindedness. None of us is better than anyone else, (nor are we worse) but we have a finite amount of energy.
If you are intentional about your life, then how you allocate your energy and time is vitally important.
Implications for the Utility-Consumption Model When You Grow at Different Rates
My friend Michael, who is a bit more senior, told me a story once about his friend who’d gone through a divorce. The friend, aged around fifty at this point in time lamented “Michael, she’s just not the same woman I married”.
Michael, who is always one for tongue-in-cheek replied “I hope not, you married a twenty-year-old girl!”
People grow at different rates over time. That is fine. The easiest way to notice this is with school friends and peers. You inhabit the same cultural environment for years – you notice some academically minded students drop off because they get into girls or guys, and others start hanging out with the wrong crowd.
After school you all go in slightly different directions and start developing differently as a result. So it is not uncommon to notice what I call a ‘shrinking overlap over time’ with these friends.
In other words, people might start heading much closer to the acquaintance tag. It just happens.
What to do if the Top-Right of Your Distribution is Thin
This is definitely a position I’ve been in. As I will discuss in a follow up piece on Loneliness vs. Aloneness, the volume of friendships you have is not useful if they all hug the bottom line.
As I always say, other people are the most incredible ‘doors’ in our lives, so I personally love tools like Interest Mapping and some of the community-building tools discussed here, as these can completely turn around your experience.
None of us should settle for friends that hug the bottom line.