With a Friend Like You . . .

It’s natural to be drawn to people with similar interests. But there’s surprising power in unlikely friendships. 

Having friends who are basically your clones is easy. You watch the same TV shows. You do the same extracurricular activities. You never argue over what snacks to share at the movies. (Though you might squabble over who gets that last handful of popcorn.) If you have a strong feeling about something, you can be pretty sure your friends will feel the same way you feel about it. That’s what makes you such good friends, right?

While it’s true that it can be comforting to be friends with people who are just like you, there are many benefits to stepping outside of your friendship comfort zone. It can take a little bit of extra work to befriend people we don’t think we have a ton in common with, but the effort will pay off big time. According to psychologist and friendship expert Marisa Franco, “Our friendships are fundamental ways to expand our own identities. The more we become friends with people who are different from us, the more we grow.” 

Friends who aren’t the same as us can expose us to new things, help us see the world in a different way, and broaden our own tastes and interests. In fact, studies show that people with friends who are unlike them tend to be less prejudiced and less likely to believe stereotypes about other groups of people. Plus, in the end, you might find out that you have more in common with your unlikely friend than you think! 

Read on as three pairs of friends who are each other’s opposites explain how their differences make their friendships special. 

Saule, left, and Zaina enjoy activities that appeal to both of their personalities.

Saule, 15, Tampa, Florida: The Rebel

Zaina, 15, Lutz, Florida: The Rule Follower

How They Met: The two friends met during their summer freshman orientation. “I was sitting at a table alone. Saule comes up to me and says, ‘I was just looking for someone who seemed lonely,’” says Zaina. They started talking about classes and hobbies and wound up hanging out together all summer. By the time school started that fall, they were inseparable.

How They’re Different: Saule is all about trying new things and having adventures. Zaina describes herself as a rule follower who’d rather live out her wild side by reading (after she finishes her homework, of course). “Saule is always interested in meeting new people and making sure there’s a balance between doing work and having fun,” Zaina says. “Zaina’s very book smart,” Saule adds. “I’m more interested in doing things that get my adrenaline pumping.”

Why It Works: Saule helped Zaina make new pals during freshman year, while Zaina introduced Saule to the world of Hogwarts. “I’d never read Harry Potter,” says Saule. “It’s actually really interesting.” (For the record, Saule is a Gryffindor, while Zaina’s a Hufflepuff.) Zaina says their different personalities balance each other out. “Anything one of us is lacking, the other has, which is what I think makes us such close friends,” she says.

Max, 19, New York, New York: The Introvert

Nick, 19, New York, New York: The Social Butterfly

How They Met: Max and Nick started walking to school together in sixth grade and have been best friends ever since. For high school, Max, who has learning differences, went to a school with a creative learning environment. Nick went to a more traditionally academic prep school, but the two remained close friends.

How They’re Different: When it comes to friends, for extrovert Nick, more is more. “I have many friendships and actively maintain them all,” he says. “I thrive at managing multiple social interactions.” Introvert Max, on the other hand, prefers to have just a few close friends. He enjoys solitary activities like jiujitsu (a form of martial arts), pottery, and playing video games. He’s inclined to say “thanks, but no thanks” when it comes to parties, preferring low-key social activities like ordering food and playing games. 

Why It Works: Although Nick sometimes has to work at fitting time with Max into his busy social schedule, he says it’s always worth the effort. “We often talk about relationships, and he presents viewpoints I’ve never thought about, stuff that no one else would ever say to me,” Nick says. For Max, being friends with Nick helps him feel more comfortable socially. “Nick’s a role model of what my social life could be,” Max says. “I’ve definitely learned from him how to handle a lot of social experiences, like what to do at a party and how to deal with awkward situations.” 

Elaina, left, and Ryan appreciate each other’s differences.

Elaina, 14, Lawrenceville, Georgia: The Indoor Kid

Ryan, 14, Lilburn, Georgia: The Athlete

How They Met: The friends met three years ago while attending an event for the community service organization Jack and Jill. “We met at an ice-skating rink and neither of us can skate,” recalls Elaina. “We both thought that was funny and bonded right away.” Trips with the organization cemented their friendship, though as they got to know each other, they discovered they have many differences. 

How They’re Different: Ryan loves sports. She’s a serious soccer player who’s played the game since she was 7 years old. Now her weeks are filled with practice and games. When she’s not playing soccer, she’s thinking about upcoming competitions. Elaina, meanwhile, is a self-described “indoor kid” who’d rather be playing cello, reading books, or coding than playing sports outside. As Elaina explains, “Ryan likes being outside. I hate it. I like being inside a lot.”

Why It Works: The friends go to different schools, and Ryan is often busy with soccer, but they say they have the kind of friendship where they can be out of touch for a while, then immediately pick up where they left off. “Ryan’s that one friend I have where if we don’t talk every day, we can still be really close,” says Elaina. Ryan, on the other hand, says she appreciates Elaina’s values. “Elaina has taught me how to be very humble and respect others, and also how to show compassion and empathy,” she says. The one area the girls agree to disagree on is soccer. Ryan taught Elaina a few basic moves but doesn’t expect to see her on the field anytime soon. “Elaina’s kind of stubborn,” Ryan says with a laugh. “So if she doesn’t want to learn how to play soccer, she’s not going to do it.” 

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