You choke up with sadness, and your friend sits with you without words.
You bubble with delight that you got the new job, and your friend comes for a late-notice glass of wine to celebrate.
You grind your teeth in confusion about your relationship, and your friend talks it through with you without judgement.
Friendships are important, and enrich our lives in multiple ways.
As part of a personal initiative to connect with more kindred spirits last year, I’ve been blessed to make a number of new friends. I’ve written about where to find them, but wanted to share some thoughts on creating lasting and deep friendships.
Why Do I Need Friends Again?
Friendship is something most of us take for granted – there aren’t many of us without any friends at all. But whilst having friends and creating friendships is a critical piece of who we are as human beings, it can be easy to neglect friendships when life takes over.
We’re social creatures by biology, and connecting with others helps us to be happier, healthier, and live longer.
As if that wasn’t enough, the impact of friends goes even deeper. Jim Rohn is quoted as saying we are “the sum total of the five people we spend most of our time with”, and studies seem to resonate with this. For example, one study indicates that friends can either provide moral support around resisting temptation – or that they can conspire with us to indulge together in temptation too.
What is Important in a Friendship?
For me, the quality of my friendships is more important than the quantity.
An introvert, I enjoy deep connection, and open sharing, but it takes me a while to get there.
I’m reserved, and tend to reveal myself slowly, in a fan dance of information, as I build up trust.
A fascinating book that helped me to think about this, and the challenge and opportunities of vulnerability and building connection, is Daring Greatly by Brené Brown.
Brown says that vulnerability is core to creating connection with others.
And indeed, the friendships I value most are those where I can show all the different faceted sides of myself without judgement. The people who accept me completely, for who I am – the good (sometimes I’m kind, smart and curious) and the less good (I’m not hugely graceful, sometimes I make smart-ass remarks, and when I exhaust myself, friends have to help pick up the pieces). These are the friendships where I am truly vulnerable and am still loved.
But vulnerability isn’t about shoving our secrets down others’ throats. Brown describes it as “sharing our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them.”
We need to share appropriately, with boundaries, with people with whom we have built trust. Trust itself is a layered process that builds up over time. We build it through tiny moments of connection – a shared joke, a touch when someone seems sad, the question “do you want to talk about it?”
Who Should You Make Friends With?
It’s ok not to resonate with everyone.
Not all of us like all people and that’s ok. If you’re a people pleaser, that might be hard to believe, but you can be kind, and respectful, to those you don’t resonate with, without investing time in a friendship.
Who is worth investing your time in? The people with whom hours pass without effort, who make you laugh and laugh at your jokes, with whom you can slip into deep conversation with little small talk.
Drains and Radiators
The metaphor of drains and radiators is another way of thinking about friendships and where you invest your time.
It’s something that’s part of our family conversation when we talk about outside friendships and interactions.
If we label someone a radiator, it means someone who leaves you more energised than you were before you hung out with them. If we label someone a drain, it indicates they take energy from us and leave us empty, without giving anything in return.
Because friendships, like any relationship, need balance. Which is not to say that you both need to do exactly the same things at the same time, but you need to feel that both of you are contributing in different but equal ways.
Of course, there are periods when one person in a friendship might be more give than take. After a break-up, or even just on a bad day, we might need more support from our friends, or vice versa. But if a relationship is only one way, and we’re always giving, or always taking, then it’s unbalanced, and unhealthy.
It’s taken me a while to truly realise this. I enjoy nurturing others, but now realise that accepting as well as giving help is key to friendships. I’ve accepted that sometimes I want to be looked after, and that I’m just as worthy of this as my friends.
What Are You Like as a Friend?
Developing friendships takes effort. Sometimes life gets in the way, and our friends take a back seat to work, family, or other priorities. But it’s worth investing your time in friendships just as much as in any other area of your life.
Fascinatingly to me, Brown calls disengagement the biggest betrayal of trust in a relationship. She says it’s when we turn away, and stop watering the relationship with those tiny moments of connection, that we truly let that relationship down.
We need to make the effort even when we’re busy, even when we’re stressed.
We need to listen to others’ problems even when we’d rather be doing something more fun.
We need to choose to prioritise them sometimes, instead of prioritising ourselves.
And sometimes, we need to let them choose us.
Do a Friendship Audit
Get out a piece of paper, and list all your friends. You can use your social media, your email address book, your Christmas card list. Don’t list every single person you know, but every person you consider a friend of any sort.
Then circle or highlight everyone who energises you (radiators) in one colour. Circle or highlight everyone who drains you (drains) in another colour.
What’s the balance like?
This week, try to find three opportunities to spend more time with the radiators.
Then say no, or reduce the time with three different drains.
True Friends are Worth the Work
You don’t need everyone in your life.
You need people who bring you joy.
You need people who you resonate with.
You need people who you love, and who return that love.
Who listen without judgement, celebrate at short-notice, and can be with you when you’re sad.
While you do the same for them.