Do you have a collection of friends amassed over time across different places? Someone I know very well says hymns are like friends, you don’t throw out the old ones when (or just because) you find new ones. I read Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman fairly recently. It wasn’t that engaging a read for me – I had heard them (I think) on Brené Brown’s podcast and thought it would be more interesting – but it did make me think about the process of making friends and maintaining friendships. It is something that we take for granted and don’t talk about much. And having moved city three times in the last 7 years, I recognise the effort it takes to make friends and maintain friendships that I take for granted when I stay in the same place for a while with a regular social circle. It also made me think about the expectations we have of our friendships and how we often don’t name these.
I’m teaching ‘Meaning and Purpose of Life’ to Year 12 at the minute, and when I ask them what they want in life, the material things come first, then often family and intimate relationships. It’s only with a lot of prompting that we get to the idea that they might actually want friendships in their life. Yet this unnamed dimension is probably one of the most important, if what we know about being human is remotely true – that we are social beings and need a range of relationships to sustain our emotional and mental health. Today’s lesson was focused on Hugh Mackay’s ten social desires (from What Makes Us Tick?), which include the desires: to connect; to belong; to be useful; and for love. All of these can be fulfilled by good friendships.
Anyway, I have a lot of questions, if not many answers (and I like talking about the questions and possible answers, so if you have ideas…)! How do we decide who we want to be friends with? Why are we drawn to some people more than others? Why do we go deep with some people quickly? What makes for a special connection? Why do some relationships feel more natural than others? How do we negotiate the boundaries of each friendship? How do we manage the fact that each of our friendships are unique with their own unwritten (and often unspoken) rules? What role does intuition have in friendship? How many ‘big’ friendships do we have the capacity to sustain?
One thing in Big Friendship I was really interested in was the idea of the necessity of an investment of time in a relationship, and (though I can’t remember the exact data) that big friendships (close, intimate friendships) take significant amounts of face-to-face time to establish. A friend mentioned to me (and I hadn’t thought about it before) that I seem to construct regular (or irregularly regular) rituals with those who have become close friends – running, walking, having a drink, etc. I think it’s important that the activities usually allow for conversation whilst doing something else. A small but regular investment of time of course sustains friendships and allows them to grow. It also means that it feels like a wrench moving and no longer having the rituals. And the creation of new rituals is not easy, and usually accidental, or at least not consciously deliberate or intentional. But there are also the friends who live too far away for face-to-face time, and lack of proximity often goes along with reduced contact. So I’m also grateful for the friends that I can meet after long absences and pick up where we left off! And for the many new friends I’ve only ever met online (especially post-COVID)!
How do you make friends and maintain friendships?