Friendship born of experience

Published: November 28, 2008 | Last Updated: November 28, 2008 By | 2 Replies Continue Reading

A shared experience can bring people together and even create the foundation for life-long friendships. When I first arrived at my position at the National Institute of Mental Health, without any forewarning, my new supervisor told my friend-to-be Risa that she would be sharing an office with me. Surely, no one likes to lose their space and privacy so things were kind of bumpy at the beginning. But after several months we not only learned how to co-habit comfortably in the workplace, we became close friends. I remember bonding with my friend Diana when we were breast-feeding our babies at the same time. We were both on maternity leave while navigating the new waters of motherhood together. We are still friends today.

 

Some life circumstances make times more challenging to befriend than others. Perhaps you’re battling depression or addiction, reeling from a divorce or other loss, or someone you love has been diagnosed with a serious illness. At such times, it’s natural to feel like you want to crawl under the covers and isolate yourself. Yet connecting with another person who understands your experience firsthand can help you cope and feel less alone.

 

So I was excited to learn about Experience Project, an internet site that provides an opportunity for people to connect and share a sense of community based on similar experiences. I interviewed Armen Berjikly, the founder and CEO, to learn a bit more.

How does Experience Project (EP) relate to friendship?

If you accept the premise that most, if not all, of our friendships are based on shared experiences– cultures, religions, backgrounds, schools, careers, families, etc. then Experience Project provides the means to turn strangers into intimate friends.

EP harnesses technology to introduce people who could (and perhaps should) be friends in the physical world, based on shared life experiences, but who will either never meet, or never realize the extent of what they have in common. If you think about it literally, you pass hundreds of people a day, and any one of those people could be your next best friend– if only you knew who to stop, what to ask, and even then if they felt comfortable responding. EP makes that happen thousands of times a day, providing a platform where who you are is all that matters.

 

Can you provide a bit of information on the demographics of your visitors? What proportion are women?

While visitors to our site break down nearly evenly, registered members are two-thirds female. More specifically, our typical member is an American mother in her late twenties.

 

What types of experiences seem to draw women to the site? Are their experiences different or similar to that of men?

Women and men are generally drawn to the site for similar reasons– experiences around health and relationships. Broadly generalizing, the usage pattern of male versus female users differs a bit in that female members are more likely to build a community among the people they interact with– exploring their profiles, commenting on their stories– while male users are slightly more inclined to be problem-solving oriented, getting and giving input to specific questions. These generalities obviously don’t hold true across the board, and many of our most active members in the community at large are male.

 

Do you ever hear stories of women who connected on the site and became friends offline? Or are all the visitors anonymous?

Members are required to remain anonymous in their public postings-they are not allowed to post information that could be used to specifically identify them, such as phone numbers, addresses, real names, etc. However, once people begin interacting, they have every tool at their disposal to communicate with other members privately. While they can continue to use the site to communicate anonymously, and indefinitely, some members naturally want to connect in the real world. We just heard about our first EP wedding– the members were perfect strangers who met, and discovered each other, through the site. Their wedding will be attended by a dozen or so other members. Further, we know of dozens of coffee circles and even a group of members who went on a summer road trip together. So yes, EP can lead to connections offline, though we never push people to feel that they have to take it that far, and in fact do everything in our power to make sure that communicating on the site is comfortable and satisfying.

 

What were your motivations for creating the site?

I wanted to create a place where people could be themselves, and define themselves through all of the experiences in their life that they considered important, including the triumphs and the challenges. The site began after a close friend’s diagnosis with a serious illness. After building an online community dedicated specifically to that disease, I saw the real power driving the site was connecting people who shared life experiences. Further, no one person was defined by any one experience, and connecting people who share a combination of experiences provided for the most personalized support, as well as the basis for a long-lasting and meaningful friendship. With 3 billion people on this planet, no one should ever have to feel alone, no matter what they’re going through and how unique they feel their situation is.

 

 

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  1. Starrlife says:

    You work for NIMH- how did I miss that! You know that I work with adults with “severe and persistent mental illness”? I totally understand this premise and this is just how I got involved with blogging- via my cats’ illnesses, my H’s affair combined with my insatiable curiousity about people and my enjoyment of writing. Now it’s my motherhood as well as having a child with a disability. This makes up for all of the friends who don’t like telephones or the constant contact that I enjoy so much- the little phone calls talking about their days- where are all of those people?!

  2. Irene says:

    Hi Starrlife:

    I used to work at NIMH for about 15 years, with much of my work focused on improving care for people with serious and persistent mental illnesses. Nice that we’ve identified at least one of our shared experiences!

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

    Best,
    Irene

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