The older I get the more important friendship feels and the less attended to it becomes. It got me wondering: what is friendship?
Is knowing how you like your coffee, friendship? Is it picking you up from the airport? What about remembering your mom’s name? Or inviting you to happy hour after work?
I have a lot of friends, but many are not my *friends* which I discovered shortly after my daughter was born and an actual friend came to visit. She wasn’t helpful with the dishes and she didn’t bring me food and she absolutely never said, “What do you need? How can I help?”
She just came over and said, “You’re coming out.” And when I said no, she said yes. I said I am too tired, I don’t want to. And she said, I don’t care. And she took me out. Against my will. And made me feel human again.
Each of us has different standards for friendship and how we show our love. I recall when my friend Sarah drove 45 minutes to bring me a FULL MONTH’S worth of homemade chili which she placed in my freezer, hugged me, and promptly left to drive 45 minutess back.
You don’t have to cook homemade chili to be a good friend, but I’ve observed a staggeringly low bar for what many consider “friendship” that concerns me. It includes some or all of the following:
- A shared history (even if you no longer like the person)
- Frequency of time spent together
- Geographic proximity
- Knowledge of specific and personal current facts about that person’s life (i.e. she always stops at Mo’s Coffee on Tuesdays and hates turmeric)
- Shared socioeconomic status
- Shared network (or they’re in an aspirational network you’d like to break into)
- Enduring irritating quirks or toxic behavior from the other person
- You have fun together
- Bonding through gossip or drama
- A mutual desire to be seen as high status, wealthy, popular, or well connected
- Attendance at the same events (fundraisers, weddings, birthdays)
- Watching sports or TV in the same room
This is not friendship. These are relationships of convenience. That is not to say they are invalid or do not matter – they do. But they are lacking the foundation on which intimacy is based.
Convenience relationships are what make up a village. My life changed the day a neighbor I barely knew, in a neighborhood I’d recently moved to, remembered that I was out of matches on Hannukah. She isn’t Jewish, but she brought some matches over the next day without asking. It moved me to my core. We have nothing in common, we aren’t close, and I barely know her, but the gesture was so appreciated that I felt like I mattered. Like someone saw me. And they cared.
These relationships make up a village and we need them.
But they are not friendships.
My friend, Dayna, and I have been friends for a decade and we share almost none of the list above. We have been discussing what constitutes friendship and we came up with this list:
- Ability to hold space for the other person
- Respected boundaries
- Psychological safety
- Open, direct, and clear conversation
- Mutual respect
- Mutual disclosure: if you’re the one always listening, and not disclosing = this is not friendship
- The willingness to confront what is uncomfortable
- Accountability (“You told me you’d be there by 5, you’ve been late now the last four times we’ve hung out. It’s disrespectful and I feel like I cant rely on you”)
- Saying hard things to that person’s face instead of to other people about them
- Sincere apologies
- It’s work
- You learn + grow from each other
- You show up when it matters and when it doesn’t
- Mutual admiration
- Shared interests
It’s fun to grab drinks with people you can laugh about stories from 20 years ago or share your frustration about the construction on Pinecrest Ave or talk about whether or not you were invited to Cole’s party and what you’ll bring to Tanya’s wedding or have a full conversation in obscure movie quotes.
These kinds of connections matter. But they will never fill your intimacy cup – which is one of the most important cups in life.
Loneliness kills more people than heart disease and if all you have are convenience relationships, the bill eventually comes due. Being surrounded by people and bouncing to-and-from social engagements does not mean you have any friends.
There is space for all kinds of relationships and you need all of them. But you can’t over-index on convenience relationships and then act shocked when you’re lonely, sad, and alone.
That we continue to act like we have this bucket filled when most of us are running on empty is a modern-day tragedy.
We’re connected, but not connecting.
In an era when we are allegedly more connected than ever – that this connection is not leading to increased intimacy means we are confused about what it means to be connected.
What it means to show up for someone.
What it means to be a friend.
I invite you to audit your own circle and figure out who is a relationship of convenience and who is a friend. You’ve hit the jackpot if you have more than 1. But if you have even one, you’re rich.
To my friends. You know who you are. And you’ve made me very rich.
PS: If you are unfamiliar with this topic, highly recommend this piece.
In that same vein, Justin Baldoni’s Man Enough movement is singlehandedly pioneering the future and, I believe, will solve this problem. Here’s his TED talk on why I’m done trying to be “man enough.” It’s a great place to start.
PPS: Yes, I know, part of this is a semantics game and “there are many ways to be a friend.” BUT I’d like to challenge us to raise the bar for what we expect of others and ourselves. Intimacy, connection, and partnership are privileges and gifts. And they are ESSENTIAL. They are the things that make life worth living.
It breaks my heart to think that so many people live in a hyperconnected world and feel disconnected, isolated, and alone.
To that end: I’m working on a way to connect you all (on this list) to each other.