The 3 Levels of Knowing a Person
Think of someone you love. Think about how you’ve met, what you talked about. Think about the evolution of your feelings until today.
I’m here to write about things so I’ll write today that it evolved through three levels. They often appear in a linear and continuous way, but exceptions happen everywhere. See for yourself.
The first level is the facts level. The small-talk level. The level of asking questions to get to know the product description of a person. 99% of all first-time conversations between two people begin with this type of interaction. Studies, work, hobbies. Where do you come from. What do you do in life. You know the lyrics.
Sometimes these questions are asked to fill in the blank of an awkward silence kind of situation. This happened to me multiple times when I was hitchhiking. If I catch a ride, I wouldn’t feel too good to just push my head against the window and stare at the fleeing countryside. Even though sometimes, when it’s the 6th ride of the day with 5 exact same conversations before, that’s the only thing I want to do. I ask these questions for the sole purpose to make the situation in the car more comfortable, but they are essentially uninterested.
Most of the time though, I, or actually we, ask these questions to get to know someone socially. I call them “box questions”. We ask them to put our interlocutor into social categories, into boxes. That’s how our mind works. Rich or poor. Religious or not. Educated or not. Based on these questions, we have a general idea of who we are dealing socially.
And you can say that you know a person like this. As an acquaintance.
The second level comes when the conversation doesn’t die after the first level, when you try to move past small-talk. You feel comfortable talking to your interlocutor, and you get to know his personality. I call the second level the personality level. You get to know the character, her beliefs, her passions, her fears, all her education and upbringing that made her into what she is today.
Most of your friends are in this level. You spend time together, you laugh, you drink, you talk. It feels natural. It feels good.
And you can say that you know a person like this. As a friend.
All the online dating websites try to match pairs on this level. You fill in your personality, and the algorithm gives you the “perfect match”. If there’s physical attraction on top of that, then he/she must be the one. Sounds perfect, right? Well, too bad, because after one or two dates, it turns out that no. Bummer… So where’s the bug in the algorithm?
I spent two years in a boarding school with a small group of friends. We ate together, we did our homework together, we spent holidays together. We knew each other pretty well, we were best friends. Yet today, we barely talk to each other anymore. Why is that?
It’s because I believe there’s a third level of knowing a person. I still haven’t decided yet how to call this level, I used to call it the spiritual level, because I consider it as a spiritual connection. There’s this scene in the movie Before Sunrise, where the girl says that if God existed, it (or He?) wouldn’t exist up there, nor in a person, nor in any object or in the nature, but in the tiny space gap between two people who can feel this connection.
But “spiritual level” sounds a bit “spiritual”, so I’ll call it the love level for now. Because knowing a person on this level is the same thing as loving this person. Family love, friend love, romantic love, it doesn’t matter. After all, if we’re using the same word for these three types of love 1, then it might mean that it’s the same type of connection.
I feel I know some people on this level. The closest people in my life, including of course my close family.
That’s why I don’t trust dating websites at all, they match only on the second level. That’s why I believe most of our friends will not stay in our lives. I often ask people that I’ve met, after about half an hour of conversation: “How many friends do you have?” If they answer “A bunch” or “800 on Facebook”, I know they didn’t understand my question, so I move on. But most of the people do understand this question, and most of them answer “zero” or “one”, “two” at most for the luckiest of them. Those are the 1 or 2 people I am talking about, the ones that you really know.
But why do I say that I know them on this level? Not only that I love them? Of course I love them, but I feel that I know them better than anybody else in the world. I know what they are going to say in particular situations, I know the meaning of the slightest of change of the expression on their face, I know their every little mannerism. Some people believe that you get bored when you can predict another person’s behavior. I don’t think so; I believe you truly love this person when you reach this stage.
The important thing is, when you love someone, the two other levels don’t matter anymore. We can live far apart and not talk for 6 months, without knowing what’s going on each other’s life, without knowing each other on the first level; yet, three days together and everything will be sunshine again2. We can fight because of different beliefs on some important life topics, we can learn about each other’s dark sides; but we love, we don’t judge, we forgive, we know this person is ours so we will continue loving them no matter what.
True friendships and best couples happen when there’s a connection on this level. When meeting new people, I don’t care anymore if our religious beliefs are different. I don’t care if there’s only a 2% personality match on OKCupid. I don’t even care if we disagree on topics like marriage or how to raise a child. I give it a chance whenever I feel it, maybe I’ll be lucky enough to get to know the person deeply.
Because it’s all about the feeling. My guy friends would always tell me when they meet a new girl: “She’s the best. She’s intelligent, passionate about history, she goes to museums, and most of all she loves Thai cuisine just like me! We totally get along!” I would be happy about them, but I would ask them about the feeling. That’s actually what I guess everyone is trying to get a grasp of when meeting new people. The feeling that we might know this person on the third level.
When meeting new people, I obviously don’t constantly think about which level I’m at, I don’t think how to get to the next level. All of this is just another way to theorize things that everybody knows deep down inside. I guess the point of this article is very simple: it obviously takes a lot of time to get to know someone on what I call the third level, but if in the beginning you feel that there might be a connection on that level in the near or far future, then go for it, no matter their background and beliefs. Even skip the two levels if you wish, they are not that important. Sometimes it’s obvious and you laugh together since the very start, sometimes it appears as an instant, but still dim, connection, sometimes you only feel a deep underlying positive impression. You are of course never sure about those feelings.
But go for it. Because the reward is a bliss in your heart. Stay close to them. Never let them go.