With the blank canvas of a new year stretched before us, we give fresh attention to how we will invest our time and energy. Perhaps you set goals to lose weight, exercise more, take your vitamins and even tame your cuticles. All good things. But investing in friendship holds the potential for lifelong returns. Good friendships require care and time, but that investment is definitely worth the effort.
I recently sought your feedback on friendship, and several of you helped me out by completing a survey. While most of you expressed general satisfaction with your friendships, you also admitted to feeling lonely sometimes or often. You told me it’s hard to make friends due to time constraints and fear of rejection. You told me you’re exhausted. You’ve been hurt. You told me you wanted more than superficial friendships, but didn’t sense others shared that interest. You wondered when it might be time to let go of a friendship. But most of all, you told me that friendship matters to you — 99% of you said friendship was important to your overall happiness and sense of well-being.
This comment by one survey respondent perfectly captured the friendship jackpot.
I think it’s safe to say we all want to be this lady! It’s also a safe assumption that these treasured friendships didn’t just happen. She cultivated them.
Investing in friendship is one of my goals for this year, and judging from your feedback, it might be one of yours, too. So let’s talk. In a series of three blog posts we’ll do a deep dive into the why and how of investing in friendship. My lens on friendship is one of a “woman of a certain age,” but to my younger readers, and my male readers, stay with me. I’ll do my best to bring something for everyone.
On a personal note
You might wonder why this topic matters to me. In the last year of my mother’s life, 2021, I had a bit of a personal crisis. I had been depressed for a long time before I finally admitted it. I’d been caring for my mom for several years, and my world became smaller and smaller as her dementia worsened. And then the Covid pandemic shrunk it even further.
She died in December that year, and I spent 2022 grieving and adjusting to her absence. After years of being tied down, my husband and I were now free from constraints. Suddenly we held a menu of options in our hands. Did we want to move? We had always said we would move back to Wyoming when we retired. Well, should we reserve a U-Haul?
As we talked through the pros and cons of pulling up roots, I remember saying to him, “We might as well move. I don’t have any friends here.” It was a true reflection of what I’d been feeling for a long time, but just saying the words out loud stopped me cold. Did I really have no friends in the place we’d lived for 30 years? And if so, whose fault was that?
After some reflection, I admitted that I did, indeed, have friendships that mattered to me, but they were not filling a void in my heart. Some friendships simply suffered neglect, a natural result of my long isolation. Other friendships may have run their course. One thing seemed clear: moving across the country would not fill my friendship void. It may still be the right decision, but not for that reason. I concluded I needed to work on my friendships in my current location.
What is a friend?
In 1964, the Supreme Court heard a case about pornography. One of the justices famously said, “it’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it.” Well, friendship is a bit like pornography in that respect. We can describe the effects and character of friendship, but there’s something mystical about what attracts and binds two human spirits.
Friendship grows out of two roots: commonality and mutuality. Commonality includes shared interests, shared values, and shared history. Mutuality includes reciprocal interest and respect. It takes two to tango, so to speak. Both parties must contribute, though not always equally, for friendship to develop.
We can think of friendships in three concentric circles. The outer ring of the circle, the largest, includes people we might call “situational friends.” These are folks we encounter at work or church or the gym, and with whom we exchange friendly conversation, but we don’t know them well. It’s easy to discount the value of these mundane human interactions, but when they suddenly disappeared during our pandemic isolation, we felt it keenly. In fact, a Dutch supermarket just added a “Slow Lane” for people who want to chat with the cashier, in recognition of the fact that people need human contact as much as they need orange juice and bread.
Moving inward, the next ring we’ll just label “friends.” These are people with whom we have some shared interests and shared history. We like the same things and enjoy spending time together with some regularity. We celebrate each other’s birthdays, linger over grilled burgers on a summer night, go to concerts or ballgames, attend each other’s kids’ weddings and parents’ funerals. When your own family can’t make it for Thanksgiving, these are the folks you invite to Friendsgiving.
The last and smallest circle we’ll label “close friends.” Typically only 3-5 people occupy this inner sanctum. These are folks with whom you have significant shared history. They know you so well, they can anticipate your thoughts. You’ve been through hard times together. Maybe you’ve fought — hard — and held on to the friendship anyway. You’ve seen each other at your worst, but still always extend the benefit of the doubt. You can speak truth to each other and know it’s going to be received in the spirit of love, even when it’s hard. When your marriage is on the rocks, or you lose your job, or you get a bad diagnosis, these are the first people you call.
All three circles contribute something meaningful to our lives. The people who occupy your “close friend” circle began in the outer ring and moved deeper over time, so all three circles merit attention and investment.
Assessing your friendships
So, what’s the state of your friendship portfolio? Rate yourself on each of these 20 questions, with a 1 for Yes, a 2 for Maybe/Sometimes, and a 3 for No.
- I’m happy with the amount of interaction I have with situational friends (outer ring of the friendship circle).
- I’m happy with the amount of time I spend with friends (middle ring of the friendship circle).
- I’m happy with the amount of time I spend with my close friends (inner circle).
- In a crisis, I know immediately who I would call.
- I’ve invited someone to my home in the past two months.
- I’ve met someone for coffee or a meal in the past month.
- I belong to organizations that meet regularly around some activity (church, club, class, sport, etc). Score 3 for one or none; score 2 for two; score 1 for three or more.
- All my friendships are healthy, with no strain, unresolved issues, or undercurrents.
- I have at least one friend who can tell me when I’m out of line.
- I’ve made a new friend in the last 6 months.
- I’ve connected with a long distance friend in the last 3 months.
- I feel like I receive as much as I give in most of my friendships.
- A friend has invited me to do something with them in the past month.
- If I’m struggling emotionally, I have at least one friend that I can talk to about it.
- I have encouraged or supported someone in the past month.
- When I’m feeling lonely or bored or down, I seek out a friend.
- I’m not holding on to any hurt or negative feelings toward former friends.
- My friends encourage my dreams.
- I encourage my friends’ dreams.
- I am open to new friendships.
So, how’d you do? If you scored 20-35, your friendships are in pretty good shape. The questions with the higher scores will indicate where you may need to be more intentional. A score in the 35-50 range indicates maybe you’ve put friendship on auto-pilot or need to build some friendship skills. If you scored over 50, it’s time for a friendship intervention.
If, like me, you’ve set a goal to invest more intentionally in your friendships this year, put your score sheet from this quiz in the back of your planner or some other secure place. I’ll remind you in December to take the quiz again, and we’ll see how well we’ve accomplished our goal.
Next time we’ll dive into some specific ideas for investing in friendship. Remember, good friendships don’t just happen, and they are SO worth the effort!