Friendships take a long time to forge. I’ve written here about the idea that we should expect to invest 400 hours before we really feel like we know someone, and are known by them. That’s a big number–but also a relief, in a way, because it recalibrates our microwave expectations to the low-and-slow reality of how deep friendships really work.

But sometimes (probably rarely), the initial connection is so strong it’s surprising.

Now: Three very important potential problems to consider before overly trusting or romantically normalizing this:

(1) The first problem is that this is relatively rare–and yet we’re tempted to expect it as normal. Then we experience disillusionment and doubt as the years go by, slogging in small-talk with no real intimacy in sight. (2) The second problem is that first impressions can be terribly wrong. What we were sure would be a kindred spirit turns out to be an infatuation (romantic, or otherwise) with the misleading first impression. (3) The third potential problem is that we tend to look for fast friends with people who look just like us–which could lead us to overlook the possibility of a surprise friendship with someone who doesn’t look just like us.

C.S. Lewis’s Lucy character from The Chronicles of Narnia is friends with anyone who will be friends with her. She’s loving and lovable. Lewis riffs on the notion of fast friends (or at least the potential of a fast friend) near the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Lucy is on a ship at sea and notices that there are Sea People living below the surface of the water. Most of them look angry and a bit hostile, but she sees a girl–a girl very different from herself, yet alike in other ways. The briefest encounter of shared understanding communicated in a knowing look leaves Lucy convinced that they would be friends, given the opportunity. It’s a lovely picture–and I think (with wise and appropriate expectations) it can inspire us to connect, be willing to put in the time, and to thank God for surprise friendships whenever or wherever they occur.

Suddenly [Lucy] saw a little Sea Girl of about her own age in the middle of them–a quiet, lonely looking girl with a sort of crook in her hand. Lucy felt sure that this girl must be a shepherdess–or perhaps a fish-herdess–and that the shoal was really a flock at pasture. Both the fishes and the girl were quite close to the surface. And just as the girl, gliding in the shallow water, and Lucy leaning over the bulwark, came opposite to one another, the girl looked up and stared straight into Lucy’s face. Neither could speak to the other and in a moment the Sea Girl dropped astern. But Lucy will never forget her face. It did not look frightened or angry like those of the other Sea People. Lucy had liked that girl and she felt certain the girl had liked her. In that one moment they had somehow become friends. There does not seem to me much chance of their meeting again in that world or any other. But if ever they do they will rush together with their hands held out.

C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 203.