Before a few days, I happened to meet an old school friend on my college campus. What was exciting was the fact that we were meeting after about thirteen years. And it’s even more amazing because I hadn’t thought about him or expected to meet him ever in my life. The last time I saw him, he was a chubby,  ten-year old who was very “fondly” nicknamed complain box. However, I don’t think that is the case anymore since he barely attends his lectures. That’s the very reason why we had no chance of meeting around in the campus in the last few months that I have been here.

The brief couple of seconds after we recognised and walked towards each other, I thought it was going to be real awkward. But the wonder of seeing an acquaintance from a far off world and time made it pleasant. We naturally talked about our common friends in school and mundane things that made us nostalgic. Right in the middle of our conversation, one of his friends came up and asked, “Hey, coming for a smoke?”

He nodded. He looked at me and asked if I wanted to join. Before I could come up with an excuse, he made things easier for me.

“Hey, do you smoke?” He asked.

“No.” I knew what was coming.

“Oh.” He said, and smiled. And the invitation to join them was no longer open. And we parted ways a couple of minutes later. And, I wondered if people who smoke bond quicker than people who don’t? Or, is it difficult for people who don’t smoke to bond with a group of people who are regular smoke-buddies?

Smokers have been classified into two kinds: addicted smokers and social smokers. While addictive smokers are contingent on the sedative effect produced by nicotine, social smokers usually smoke “in groups” or when they are out “to chill”. Studies have shown that social smokers smoke only about 20% of their cigarette since for the majority of their time, they are socialising and talking to the group of friends they are hanging out with. Their relationship builds over a very short span of a time and I cannot comment on how deep it is, but it always seems like they have a secret to share which isn’t even a secret.

This phenomenon has been very humorously and subtly touched upon in the eighteenth episode of the fifth season of the F.R.I.E.N.D.S series titled “The One Where Rachel Smokes”. Rachel, played by Jennifer Aniston, feels very often in her new job that she couldn’t really be a part of the important decisions made by her boss and her associate since majority of the decisions were taken in the smoke room. And it wasn’t intentional on the part of her employer. In fact, they didn’t even realise that Rachel, who was a non-smoker was left out while they were working during the smoke break. She then starts smoking so that she could accompany them and be a part of the work-related conversations. It’s very hard not to believe that this isn’t a very subtle form of peer-pressure that works on a semi-conscious level.

A bond or friendship develops between individuals usually on the basis of similar ideas, tastes, outlooks or perspective. Most friendships get stronger when individuals feel that they have someone who thinks like them or behaves like them. In Phaedrus, a play by Plato in 360 BC, he wrote “similarity begets friendship”. But with the evolution of the social structure where we have separate friend circles that befit respective social situations, it’s not a surprise that we have coffee friends, intellectual friends, gym friends, work friends and now, smoke friends too.

But, the non-smokers don’t have “non-smoker” friends. We don’t share a bond that they share. What is it that brings them closer? Is it like being friends with a bibliophile because you are, too? Or, are they friends because they think that by being around people who smoke, they are validating their practice of smoking which is harmful, health-wise? I am positive that most people would deny the latter but I believe it’s a valid question to ask, considering it’s a prevalent social phenomenon.

In a hyper-connected and intellectual society where people complain about the superfluous nature of relationships and are looking to bond with other people on deeper levels, how strong and deep is the relation that people who smoke together share?