Wish You Had More Friends?

Wish You Had More Friends? January 6, 2019

All my friends on Facebook told me they loved this recent meme:

How do I know they loved it? Well, they clicked the like button. Also, I know they’re my friends because that’s what Facebook calls them. All 4400 of them.

But more seriously, this whole friendship-in-adulthood thing is a struggle. Am I right?

Let me confess to you why I find friendship to be a struggle, and perhaps you can relate.

So I’m a pastor. I’m also a dad. I spend a very significant percentage of my day with parishioners, with community members, and then with my wife and children.

It’s probably good for me to remember, when thinking about that Jesus meme, that Jesus didn’t have a day job, and didn’t have a spouse or children. Also, the disciples did mostly bail on Jesus when the going got tough, so…

But back to the topic. Luckily, I tip towards the extroversion side of the introvert/extrovert scale, so I get energy from these relationships. Nevertheless, I only kind of tip towards extroversion.

By the time I invest emotional energy and love and attention and time into all of these professional and familial relationships, I’m ready to go hide out in a coffee shop, read on the couch, or go for a long solo run.

Also, if I carve out time for friends, it feels precisely like I’m carving out time. It’s an evening I’m not helping with bedtime, or time I’m not doing one of the myriad good things I’m supposed to be doing for my day job. Our culture has trained me to consider friendship a luxury somewhat at odds with these other “more” necessary things.

Caveat: All of this might be an elaborate admission than I’m not that great at friendships, or at least I worry by comparison I’m not. We’ll circle back around to this.

On another level, I do feel like I’m participating ambiently in the lives of many, many people. Because social media. There are probably a few hundred people whose lives are fairly well known to me because I see their posts, and this really is new compared to life (hard to remember it now) before social media.

Before social media, I had no idea what my pastor did Monday-Friday. Now, I know a lot about what pastors are up to midweek, and maybe my own congregation feels like they know even more than they want to know about my Monday-Friday!

However, I’m just not convinced passively reading one another’s updates constitutes real friendship. It’s a kind of relating. It connects us. But…

So How About That Elusive Real Friendship?

I have this one friend who lives in Minnesota. He’s probably my best friend. We talk on the phone at least once a week, and try to call each other even more frequently than that. We send each other all the things, like texts and e-mails and gifts and such. Also whatever we’re writing at the time, and stuff we geek out about.

I feel like we really know each other and are known by each other, even though we don’t live geographically proximate. Proximity is an important factor in many friendships, but it’s not essential.

We also just really like each other. So there’s that. I’ll come back to that at the end.

Perhaps one essential mark of friendship is intentionality: I’m making this call to you, and no one else. This letter isn’t for my thousands of friends and I hope you also read it. It’s just for you.

History shelves are full of the correspondence between such friends. Think of Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keefe. Or Edward Gorey and Peter Neumeyer. Or Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell.

I think real friendship is also cultivated when the focus is on the relationship rather than the tasks. So often we’re busy doing. We’re there for a planning meeting, or parallel volunteering at school. We’re not there for the cultivation of friendship itself.

This doesn’t actually mean you can’t have deep friendships while doing the tasks. Many of us have deep friendships at work. We’re there for the tasks, but we also spend a lot of time there, so no surprise we form the deepest friendships where we also invest a lot of time. But so much depends upon whether we turn towards the friendship itself, and the cultivation of it.

But this still leaves a lot of us wondering… what counts as deep, authentic friendship? I kind of think perhaps we over-analyze this part. I don’t know that you can quantify or compare the quality of relationships. I think what works for you works for you, and each of us has a differing level or set of needs for what counts as quality relationship.

Some of us feel like a rich life is about many briefer but regular connections. Others are alive when they spend lots of time and energy investing in just a few friendships. Neither one is right or wrong.

That being said, one might argue that deep friendship involves some level of risk and vulnerability. I have been closest to those friends with whom I worked at a residential bible camp, lived in a dorm room with, traveled with, etc. I was simultaneously the most at risk of being annoyed by them and annoying them.

It’s not easy being roommates. People really get to know you. All of you.

But then this is where commitment and trust kick in. Friends stick with us. They don’t de-friend us at the first sign of disagreement or annoyance. And friends rely on a basic level of trust.

I trust, you trust, we trust together, that in spite of the present annoyance, there’s an even deeper relationship on the other side that we’re aiming for.

If I were to boil friendship down, I might say it requires at least the following:

  • Time
  • Intentionality
  • Risk
  • Trust
  • Mutual affection

It’s almost guaranteed that if you put in the time (go on a long walk a few times a week with someone), focus on deepening the relationship, takes some risks together, that kind of thing, you’ll grow and develop deeper friendships.

But friendship really is also in the end about a kind of je ne sais quois: it’s that mutual affection thing. You’ll know it when you find it. If you trust your instincts a bit on this, and then lean in on investing time, intentionality and taking risks with people you just plain like, that’s a solid recipe for having more friends.

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