Making Friends

Hussein Hallak
10 min readDec 15, 2023


Loneliness is a serious problem, and it’s not new.

Growing up in Syria, my mom was very protective of me. Her top concerns were cleanliness and manners. So much so that when I was 2 years old and getting sick a lot, the paediatric doctor begged her to not wash my pacifier if it falls on the floor; “he needs some germs in his system for his immune system to learn how to fight them.”

My mom let off a little when it came to my exposure to germs, but when it came to who I got to hang out with, she remained strict. From kindergarten to 6th grade she put me in a private Armenian school in downtown Damascus. I was one of 30 Arab students among hundreds of Armenians.

My parents were secular, so I had no. conception of being Ismaili, Muslim, and aside from not being able to attend Armenian classes, I didn’t really see a difference between myself and the other kids.

We all sat with each other, went on trips together, prayed in Armenian every morning, celebrated Armenian hero’s and martyrs, went to Armenian church and received Holy Communion.

As far as I knew we were the same. I made friends, had crushes on some of girls, and I was bullied along with Armenian kids like me for being a well mannered, soft, and gentle kid.

My well mannered upbringing, fear of confrontation, weak small body, and fear of my mom’s anger if I did something wrong, led me to avoid engaging or fighting back. I just recoiled and focused on my studies graduating top of my class.

The graduation ceremony was not a celebration for me and my friends. We cried that day. It was the 80s in Damascus Syria, we had moved to the suburbs and we had no telephones at the time. Graduation meant I would never see my friends again!

It wasn’t until I was 15 when I moved to a school next to my home that I started to make friends that I could see after school because they lived next to me.

Up until then books were my closest friends. I spent most of my time playing with legos, creating imaginary battles with toy, and enrolled my unsuspecting younger sister to play the background voices in the imaginary plays I recorded over my parents favourite cassette tapes. Until they discovered that I did!

Loneliness was the norm in my life growing up. But today I’ve managed to build communities across Damascus, Dubai, and Vancouver. My contact list has thousands of people. I have direct relationships with hundreds of people. And I’m considered by some as a leading community connector.

How did someone like me, who comes from a minority Muslim religious group, who grew up protected, isolated, and distant from his friends, without access to the technology tools of today that can enable communication, manage to build friendships, relationships, and communities from the ground up in 3 very different cities.

I attribute this to three key principles.

Examine & Evolve Your Foundational Beliefs

Throughout my life I never felt I was enough, I always needed someone. I needed my mom to help me study, I needed friends to really have fun, someone had to listen to my songs, appreciate my poetry, read my writings, acknowledge and reciprocate my love.

It’s all about the other, I was never enough. Nothing mattered until it mattered to another, nothing had meaning unless it meant something to someone.

When I abandoned that belief, and decided I was enough, the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders. I didn’t need to prove anything any more to anyone. The insatiable desire to receive something in return for what I give disappeared.

It was like I was born again. I was free to give of myself and enjoy it, find meaning in what I do, and end the waiting to receive.

My life was my own again, how I feel is up to me, and I get to choose how my journey unfolds.

I gave myself permission to bring friendship to relationships, to be the a source of value, to share love, emotion, and care.

My sense of value, my joy, my happiness, came from me, from giving what I have away.

Receiving becomes the icing on the cake instead of making it up to be everything. I say hello, and if I don’t get a hello back, my day is not ruined, I’m not upset because ‘how dare the other person not reciprocate, who do they think they are?!’ I’m not spending even a moment wondering why they didn’t say hello back!

Be it love, relationships, connection, parenting, work, leadership, or community, I was no longer waiting for anything to take place or anyone to do or say the right thing for me to enjoy the gift of my life.

This wasn’t just something I said, a mantra or a mind trick. It was a foundational belief I had and continue to nurture and build my life around. As a result the people that matter most in my life love to be around me. They do not feel like they have to say, do, or be anything to please me, they can just be themselves around me, which became one of my favourite things to hear.

Understand People Are Different

People are different. It’s such a simple yet hard thing for people to get. So let me repeat it, people are really fucking different.

I mean we know it intrinsically, but we act as if we don’t. It’s as if we are so self involved, so into our own world that we fail to realize people don’t see what we see, feel what feel, or experience life the same way we do.

The people closest to you might be those who are the most different, and that is great, it’s what makes life interesting. I can’t imagine how boring it would be if I was surrounded by people like me! Not to mention how freaking annoying it would be.

I love to give gifts, write poetry, compose songs, you know real soy boy shit. I’m fascinated with art, culture, enjoy long walks, deep conversations, and I have an opinion about anything and everything.

But surprise surprise, people around me are not like that. My wife, the love of my life, is a private person, she doesn’t like sharing, it’s hard for her to say ‘I love you’ once a day, not to mention every 30 seconds which is what I want!

For her she shows her love differently, being present, going on a walk, traveling together, talking about her day, a soft kiss when she feels safe and cosy.

For the longest time, the only way I appreciated and received love was if someone did the same things I did. Like spending hours picking a unique and meaningful with a had made card with poetry I wrote.

So when she dared to buy me, I would evaluate it through my len, and I saw it as less thoughtful than my gift. If she really loved me, she would’ve got me a better gift. I must be not worthy enough. I have to do more to stop her from leaving me for another she loves more!

You can see where that is going. An atmosphere of competition, a completely made up scenario. I’m all in my head, while the person I care about most is right there next to me. A disaster in the making.

I was creating an impossible situation making us both unhappy.

When I opened myself up to accepting she is different in the way she loves, the way she cares, and in almost everything she does. When I connected with why I fell in love with her in the first place, and stopped trying to make her into me, my life changed. It was immediate.

I started appreciating the little things she did so much more, I started enjoying her love and attention and to see her in a completely new light. It was the best thing I did for me and her.

People are different, some are awkward in conversations, don’t have the same command of words you do. Some love to hug, speak with passion, joke around, act silly, take joy in hanging around for drinks and food, sit down for deep conversations, and some feel more comfortable over the phone, or like to. text, and go on silent walks.

Our differences are endless, maybe overwhelmingly so. But if you are willing to open your mind, be curious and more open to how different everyone is, and to enjoy their presence in your life, appreciate what they bring without comparing them to yourself, or your idea of who they should be, then you can start to form real meaningful relationships, and truly enjoy who they are and what they can be in your life.

Embrace The Puzzle of Life

Movies are not real life. Even stories based on real life events, are still stories. They are meant to be entertaining, engaging, and by definition they omit and alter things to achieve their goal.

As a result, they send us on a hunt for a Romeo and Juliet kind of love. A Three Musketeers kind of friendship, loyalty, and sacrifice.

They are great stories, instilling in us great ideals to aspire to. But when we make them up to be standards by which to evaluate relationships and what makes a ‘true love’ or ‘true friendship’ they can have a devastating effect on our quality of life and ability to find love and make friends.

Standards are good to have, but having impossible standards are a sure way to living a miserable joyless life defined by the an unending search for the perfect friend, the perfect community, or the perfect love.

We may even give up on ‘perfect’ and settle for less than perfect, while in the back of our mind the search for the perfect love, friend, job, and life continues!

No one knows what the recipe for a perfect life, but comparing your life to an imaginary perfect life inspired by books or movies is a sure recipe for a lonely, friendless, loveless, painful, and miserable existence.

Does this mean you should give up on having the perfect life, or accepting that you must settle for less and love it?!

Absolutely not. But life is not binary, you either have perfection or not. Life is a puzzle made from a million pieces. You get to build your life one piece at a time. None of the pieces provides perfection on it’s own, but together they come together to form the perfect life you are after.

Some of my friends loved listening to my music, others liked to go on long walks and preferred deep conversations. Many enjoyed partying, while a few were reliable enough when I needed serious help. Together my friends were perfect, separately they weren’t, and that was ok.

Decide what a perfect friend is, and seek to find him or her in the many friends you have. A friend for those deep conversations, another for the long walks, another to help you with your house move. Build the puzzle from different pieces, and bring them together bring them together to a gathering and nurture a community of friends.

And when it comes to love, don’t demand your lover fills all of your life, you don’t have to do everything with them. You do not have to spend every waking moment with them, and they do not have to be THE person in your life, they are a puzzle piece, how big, and which one is up to you and them.

Same thing with work, community, friend groups, and other elements of your life. Each is a puzzle piece and as you continue to grow and add those pieces, your life becomes fuller, more joyful, more fulfilling, and much more worthy of living.

This also means that it’s ok if you are young and have just a few pieces. Life has so much more to offer and you get to add to it’s infinite puzzle as you evolve as a person and as your thinking, feeling, and being evolves.

By examining your foundational beliefs, shedding the ones that don’t serve you and adopting those that do. Understanding people are different, appreciating those differences, and building on them. And by embracing life as a puzzle you build piece by piece with every interaction, every relationship, and every person, you are well on your way to build an enjoyable, fulfilling, and meaningful life.

At the heart of my approach is the rejection of the BS of ‘this is who I am’ and accepting that you are not a inanimate object, you are a living breathing being, meant to learn, grow, and evolve.

Your choices of how to think, what you say, and how you act, are yours. Yes, shit will happen, and life will almost always knock you off your feet and throw all it can at you. But your choices are always yours. Make better, higher, more evolved choices.

Finally, remember to pull people up with you along the way. Some of us are just not that lucky and have very limited choices to make. Life is much harder for some of us, more than the rest.

When you stop demanding of others what you demand of yourself, understand they are different and probably leading a very different life; embrace that everyone is a piece of a puzzle you can add to your life even in a small way, you are more likely to bring joy, value, and support to people’s lives more than you could ever before.

This is how communities form, how we can get back to a more supportive, communal, compassionate, humane, and joyful life, where everyone can thrive.

Artwork: Bedroom in Arles by Vincent Van Gogh (first version, 1888). Oil on canvas, 72 × 90 cm (28.3 × 35.4 in). Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Source: Wikipedia