The Relationship “Onion”

The Relationship “Onion”We’ve arrived at the “R” of our Core Assets – Relationships. Humans are social beings by nature. Forming good relationships is among the most difficult and most rewarding things you can do. Love, affection, companionship, friendship, and other variations on closeness are necessary for our well-being and touch us to our deepest core. Poets and scientists alike continue to search for the perfect way to describe or evoke the experience of love and connection. The jury may always be out on singular definitions, but one thing is sure: we need each other.

A very useful way to look at the structure of relationships in our lives is to think of an onion. It has many layers, just like the circles in which we associate. The inner core of our connections is comprised of our best friends, lovers, and immediate family. Most likely this is a haven for only five to ten people in your life. In this inner core you encounter your most significant emotional experiences.

Once you move out from the core, the middle layers of your onion represent a large percentage of the people you know. These aren’t your most important confidantes, but these are friends with whom you seek to spend a regular amount of quality time. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and other extended family members usually have middle-layer places in our lives.

You might envision the next outer layer as being made up of current and former colleagues. These are the people you work with or, if you are a student or teacher, the ones who share your academic environment.

Neighbors are another layer. You live nearby, and thus feel a common bond. You may help rake their yard on occasion, and they may share a meal from time to time.

After that come the communities through which you travel. These may include religious organizations, ethnic affinities, and special interest groups like a writers’ group or an investment club.

The outermost layer represents your acquaintances. It is tempting to believe that someone you see at the coffee shop once in a while is inconsequential, but even these simple, more distant relationships play roles in how you construct your sense of belonging. After all, an onion with only a core would be missing many of its subtle flavors. An onion with only an outer layer would be hollow. Sometimes the wise words of your best friend may feel like the only thing that matters. On another day a smile from the guy who is always working behind the counter at the hardware store might make all the difference.

The nature of relationship dynamics does a very good job of giving credence to the saying “the only thing constant is change.” No matter how much you may want some of them to stay exactly the same, your relationships are never static. Are all the relationships you had ten years ago exactly the same today? The chances of that being the case are rather low. By the same token, ten years from now you can expect friends and acquaintances to have again shifted significantly. You will lose touch with some people while others will move closer to becoming core connections.

Working through all layers of the onion today is the web of social networking. No discussion on contemporary relationships would be complete without it. The impact of Facebook, Twitter, and myriad other Internet and social media sites is nothing short of revolutionary. Texting also contributes to the prevalence of instantaneous communication at any time of day or night. The high ROI of being plugged in 24/7, which includes making and rediscovering friends, the exploration of ideas, and business networking, can be counteracted by problems like time consumption, privacy concerns, and ironically, decreased communication skills. Do we want to continue on a path that reduces the art of the love note to this?

OMG, gr8 2 c u last wk! I rly like u. C u agn irl?

idk, mayb 2mrrow?

I am not suggesting we turn back the clock on social networking, even if that were possible. You may land your next job or meet your next great love online. I do want to stress that no online chat or text-speak can take the place of face-to-face interaction and nuanced conversation. I focus on real-life relationship building in the next post.


Sanjay Jain is a US-trained Board Certified physician, with over 15 years of clinical experience. He is the author of the new book, OPTIMAL LIVING 360: Smart Decision Making for a Balanced Life (Greenleaf, February 2014). Sanjay represents a new wave of thought leadership and expertise developed not only from his medical and financial education, but also his life experiences. Follow Sanjay on Twitter at @sanjayjainmd and visit his website at

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