Should You Court Your Friends?

Ann Friedman has a fascinating article in New York magazine about why it’s smart to court your friends, to make a deliberate effort to “woo” the right kind of people — which will change for each of us, of course — into being our friends just as we would a romantic interest. Speaking of a friend who courted her in this sense, she says:

These days, she freely admits that she actively pursued me for friendship, just as I admit I sort of had to be wooed. It’s a story we tell — interrupting each other, adding little details — like any cute couple recounting their origin myth. Because just like romantic relationships, so many friendships begin with one person pursuing the other. And I’m here to tell you it’s not desperate or weird. It’s smart…

But most of our courtship narratives are still romantic, which really tends to obscure the importance of friendship’s early stages, and downplay the thought and skill that goes into cultivating meaningful platonic relationships. We tend to second-guess ourselves when we feel that jolt of friend attraction…

“Nearly all friendships are based on a spark of mutual attraction. Some people describe platonic love-at-first-sight stories, wherein they were instantly drawn to a new acquaintance and just knew they would befriend her,” says Carlin Flora, author of Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are. Still, she says, “We often drift into friendships, especially when we’re young and in a work or school setting that makes it easy to automatically ramp things up without having to make a concerted effort to develop the friendship. The main point of my book is that we should be more conscious of how and whom we befriend, since these people have a huge impact on our life trajectories.”

This really got me thinking about my closest friends, how we met and how we ended up bonded so closely. At least I can’t think of a situation in which I actively tried to pursue someone as a friend, but I have actively pursued someone as a romantic interest and they turned out to be a dear friend (and vice versa; I’ve had someone pursue me initially as a romantic interest and it turned into a great friendship instead).

I think of my three closest friends. One of them is my oldest friend. We’ve been best friends for a little over 30 years now. We met when he moved to my city in high school and we were introduced by a mutual friend that we both quickly realized we didn’t like very much. It was an accidental meeting, but we bonded immediately. And it isn’t just our history together that bonds us. I genuinely like him. He’s one of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever known. When I went into the hospital last year, he was the first one there and immediately became the central communication hub, letting everyone else among my friends and family know what was going on and probably driving the doctors and nurses crazy with questions. If someone on his life needs help, he is there immediately. I really admire him in so many ways. I love him like a brother, probably more deeply than I love any of my many actual brothers.

The second, we met online about 15 years ago. We talked for quite some time before we ever met in person and it was like our brains meshed, if that makes sense. There was just a connection. And my interest was initially romantic. Over time we forged a friendship that is incredibly deep. She probably knows me, especially my flaws, better than anyone else. All those things you have inside your head that you don’t let anyone see, the dark parts that we don’t like to talk about, she knows them (and I know hers). It’s never been an easy friendship for reasons I’m certainly not going to go into here, but it has a depth and value to both of us that I can’t begin to describe and I can’t really imagine not having her in my life. Our love for one another has gotten us through a lot together. Like the first, she is extraordinarily kind and generous — and one of the funniest people I know.

The third, now that I think about it, perhaps “courted” me as a friend. She had read my work online and asked to be introduced to me by a mutual friend, initially with some romantic interest. And I find it hilarious that we met for the first time by having lunch at a truck stop, given that we are both serious foodies. But the connection was immediate. We share a passion for equality and bacon, not necessarily in that order. I find her incredibly inspirational. I’ve never known anyone with such an ability to stay positive in the face of difficulty. She faces down medical problems with a smile and never complains. And just reading her schedule exhausts me. In a given week she may be wading knee deep into a river on Monday to take testing samples, volunteering at a blood drive on Tuesday, getting chemo on Friday and then organizing a charity marathon on the weekend. She’s simply an extraordinary person who has enriched my life so much over the last few years.

What was the point of this again? I don’t remember. I just know that I’m very, very lucky to have friends like these. And if you have to go out of your way to cultivate friendships with people like them, it’s certainly worth it.

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  • Friend wooin’ is easy:

    Gerald Ford: “Say, Homer, do you like football?”

    Homer: “Do I ever!”

    Gerald Ford: “Do you like nachos?”

    Homer: “Yes, Mr. Ford.”

    Gerald Ford: “Well, why don’t you come over and watch the game and we’ll have nachos, and then some beer.”

  • lofgren

    I tried to woo some friends but I kept getting “boyfriend zoned.”

  • frog

    It doesn’t seem strange to me. I have friends who we just became friends and that worked out and we’re still close 30+ years on. But I have other friends who I met and liked, and then worked hard to spend time with, first via the mutual friends who introduced us, and then with or without the mutual friends.

    I know the “friends at first sight” thing happens. I have a friend who lives on the other side of the planet, but we met at a convention and hung out for two solid days. At the end, they said, “You know, I feel as if I’ve known you forever.” “Me too!” I said. So now I have this very good friend who lives in Melbourne.

    “Wooing” friends strikes me as proper friendship maintenance. Just as a romantic relationship will ultimately fall apart if the people involved don’t commit to making it work, so will a friendship. In the early stages there’s a little more, “What can I invite this person to so we spend time together?” and in later stages, you’ve worked up to regular or semiregular meetings where it’s safe to assume the other person is almost certain to say yes.

  • Ann Friedman has a fascinating article in New York magazine about why it’s smart to court your friends, to make a deliberate effort to “woo” the right kind of people — which will change for each of us, of course — into being our friends just as we would a romantic interest

    I don’t know about “wooing,” but would certainly agree that you should have friends deliberately. That is, you should choose them carefully, with due consideration.

    That’s for your own psychological well-being, but also because I think there’s an ethical dimension to it, similar to romantic relationships.

    In both cases, you’re attracted to this person for specific reasons; there are things about them you like, perhaps admire. Maybe you would like to be more like this person in those regards. In actuality the fact of your spending time with this person and associating with them will make you more like them, but not necessarily in the ways you’d expect or prefer. And generally speaking, you don’t have a lot of control over that.

    And if the relationship is anything like equal, the same will happen for them. You enable each other, not in the negative sense of encouraging bad habits but in the neutral sense of generally furthering the other person’s interests.

    So, don’t be friends with douches unless you want to enable douchiness. Don’t date or marry douches for the same reason. Unless your influence over this person is so strong that you have a reasonable expectation of converting them away from their douchitude, just don’t bother. However, do consider it within your purview to help your friends/lovers away from what douchey tendencies they may have, because as their friend/lover you are in the best position to do so. They may listen to you when they wouldn’t someone else. The right kind of relationship involves the betterment of both parties involved, not the exacerbation of douchiness through the association.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    When I saw somebody that I liked, I started talking about acupuncture and astrology and homeopathy & chi – but now they won’t talk to me at all…

  • I have few friends and many, many acquaintances with whom I am friendly. I have NO friends who are not friends by design. I trust no one, which makes the whole concept of “being a friend” a little difficult, I guess. Otoh, every one of the few friends I have is aware of my lack of trust, aware of how it came about and aware that it has nothing to do with them. They are still friends despite my lack of trust in them, in some cases for over 40 years now, and they are the only people outside of my own blood about whom I genuinely care.

    I have maintained for most of my adult life that I can be friends with people who disagree with me on substantive issues–so long as their disagreements spring from a logical source. I have at least a couple of friends who are not, well, really nice people. I can tolerate that. I can’t tolerate willfully ignorant or uneconomically emotional people–in any emotional direction. Call it limited sociopathy.

    Now we ALL know why I like bars and the intertoobz so much. {;>)