This piece is part of How Google Drive Can Make Every Corner of Your Life Easier
First I organized my spices. Then I organized my friends.
In the early days of the pandemic, facing a glut of alone time and not yet numbed to the chaos, I resolved to get my shit together. Besides alphabetizing my spices, I Kondo’d my socks and cleaned the grout in my shower. I filed away over 200 items in the “Miscellany” folder on my computer — the doodad drawer of desktops. But I still felt no peace.
My home was optimized, but my personal life was a kaleidoscope of anxieties. In some ways the pandemic had eased social anxiety: Nobody was at a bar without me. But all my conversations had gone digital, and digital chitchat stresses me out big time.
I overthink every text message and Slack: If someone doesn’t respond immediately, they’re mad at me. If they don’t use exclamation points, they’re mad at me. My pandemic interactions were constant but ungratifying — my friends and family had been reduced to a slew of notifications. At all times, I felt like I was both neglecting my loved ones and being neglected. I had to triage.
I think often about a 2018 essay in which writer Mary Traina shared some post-breakup advice her father had given her: “It happens, kiddo,” he told her, “You guys were great and I liked him, but now you’ve sorted him and you have to move on.”
The idea that you don’t have to give someone space in your mind — that you can simply sort them into another category — was so seductive to me.
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The need to prioritize the people in your life who matter most has never been greater than in quarantine: Everyone is going through something, and your friends and family need your unfettered support. Besides which, one can only do so many Zoom happy hours.
So I started a Google Sheet and called it “Friends and Lovers.” (Here’s a blank one for you.) I began with five tiers, but over the coming weeks, as I added people who popped into my head, I found it necessary to create micro-tiers. I ended up with 15 categories.
Tier 1: Close family and critical, lifelong friends
You’ll know which friends are T1s based on their responses when you say you’ve made a Google doc to rank everyone you know. T1s will say, “You are evaluating your relationships! That’s good!” Or they will say, “You’ve always been like this.”
Tier 2: Very dear friends
They’re almost T1s, but you haven’t known them long enough to solidify a lifelong bond.
Tier 3: Current romantic partner(s)
At any moment a partner may do something, like wordlessly catching you in his strong, callused river-guide hands when you slip on some wet rocks, that causes him to shoot up to a T2 or a T1. Until then, I recommend keeping romantic interests tertiary at least.
Tier 4: Circumstantial, beloved friends
People whom you really enjoy under specific conditions. I am my own T4.
Tier 5: Work friends and mentors
Colleagues can move up when they’re not colleagues anymore. In the meantime, it can be helpful to remind yourself that the disappointment of a co-worker should never occupy the same mental real estate as the disappointment of a T1.
Tier 6: Delightful personal acquaintances
You feel totally aligned with a T6 whenever you talk to each other at parties, but neither of you will ever actualize on making plans.
Tier 7: Delightful professional acquaintances
Peripheral work peers who bring you great joy, but whom you don’t actively seek out because they seem like they “have lives” and “maintain healthy work-life boundaries.”
Tier 8: Crush, suspect requited
I have two T8s.
Tier 9: Cherished exes
At first I banished my former lovers to the bottom with the resolve of Mary Traina’s dad. But once they were all down there together, I felt a visceral pang: it was like in middle school when I would hide my mangled, loved stuffed animals in a dark cupboard whenever my friends came over. Some exes, via nice memories or occasional catch-ups, still make me very happy.
Tier 10: Acquaintances by proximity
Your chatty neighbor. Nothing binds your tenuous acquaintanceship except your mutual loathing for the guys who bike up your street at 5 a.m. every morning, shouting — shouting — a conversation into the headwinds. (Those dudes: T1000.)
Tier 11: Reluctant mentors
People whose advice you value enormously, and whose approval you strive for at all times, but who do not necessarily give a shit about you.
Tier 12: Crush, suspect unrequited
I have 70 T12s.
Tier 13: Embarrassing exes
Tier 14: Enemies, personal
Tier 15: Enemies, professional
The greatest insult — and the greatest compliment — I can bestow upon another.
There were some qualitative surprises. I have 17 T1s, which is many more than I feel like I have when I’m leaning over the sink eating dry Grape-Nuts on a Friday night. I realized, tending to this list, that I also feel very warmly towards almost everyone I engage with on a regular basis: I have no T15s at present, and I only have two T14s, neither of whom I’m likely to see again.
I knew that if I was to make such a Google doc, it would have to be fungible. And that’s why a Google doc — rather than a Word doc or piece of actual paper — is the perfect format for a list like this. I know ranking your acquaintances may seem sociopathic (if you’re judgmental, which I bet you’re not unless you’re trying to be a T14!), but my list system is very flexible and forgiving. A T9 recently remarked that I can’t hold a grudge for more than a few hours, and he was not wrong: that very T9 was a T13 mere months ago, but he has used flattery and memes to claw his way up. And if a T15 likes one of my tweets, they might jump to T7 soon after. A T6 might become a T4 with only a “just saying hey!” email.
That’s been the really lovely revelation of nursing my Google doc during a pandemic: People have only moved up. Current circumstances have stripped away so much pettiness and resentment, and have calcified my friends’ best qualities.
And I have never felt closer to my > T4s.