Some friendly advice – when it comes to friendship, seek out the blunt misfit rather than your carbon copy

Friends are there to make us feel less lonely; if they didn’t reassure us that there were others out there like us, what would be the point?

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On a night out, one doesn’t often see pinstriped bankers and football-shirted scaffolders sharing a drink and a laugh.

Poets rarely socialise with pharmacists. And nor do soldiers with social workers.

Yet these unsurprising divisions aren’t limited to professions or backgrounds. Friends are there to make us feel less lonely; if they didn’t reassure us that there were others out there like us, what would be the point?

It’s hard to decide whether the Yale University study reported today is not terribly surprising. What’s harder to decide is whether it’s reassuring or unsettling.

Nice to feel your friendship group has the imprimatur of the Ivy League, perhaps – but  it’s always strange to be told that your genes are in one sense as responsible for your choices as your brain is. In truth, it’s hard to grasp how much our genes have to do with more superficial similarities when we’re sitting in the pub.

But there is a metaphorical correspondence that’s worth keeping in mind. While it might be good for us as a species to have friends who act as a kind of “functional kin”, to use the term coined by the study’s authors, it’s  not at all clear to me that it’s a prescription for personal well-being.

We all know those awful cliques whose members lack the imagination to meet anyone unlike themselves, who have identical interests, jokes, haircuts.

Indeed, we’re almost all part of one. But probably we can also all think of that friend who thinks a bit  differently, who cuts unapologetically across your Facebook circles, who drags you to a gig you never would have thought of, who doesn’t give a stuff about your career plans, who thinks your girlfriend is an idiot.

This friend is an unsettling presence, but doesn’t half liven things up.

So – sorry, genes. When it comes to my friends, I’m going to be the selfish one.

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