We all want those really easy, meaningful, comfortable, and deep friendships with no drama, right? And while that sounds fabulous, the truth is that most of us are silently suffering from some form of loneliness as we just keep waiting for those relationships to fall in our laps, the way little girls look for little fairies hovering over flowers.
I want meaningful friendships for you. So very much, I do! But we have to come to the table with healthy expectations and thoughtful beliefs, rather than with hopes, myths, and limiting beliefs that sabotage us from creating substantial relationships.
1. You Hope That Good Friendships Will Be Discovered. This is still numero uno on the mistake list. In fact I titled my book Friendships Don't Just Happen to help speak to this very damaging belief in our lives.
But we all have examples of meeting an amazing woman that we connected with, loved, and experienced great chemistry with... only to never really see much, or ever again. Simply meeting each other and liking each other doesn't make for a friendship.
And on the flip side, we all have an example of a friend (often someone we worked with or continued to see in some setting) that we grew to love that we didn't necessarily have fireworks with when we first met them.
Friendship isn't finding someone; friendship is developing consistent positive behaviors over time with someone. And that doesn't just happen.
2. You Stop Developing New Friends. You hear me say this repeatedly, but it bears the repetition: We are losing half our close friends every 7 years.
That means that life changes such as moves, career transitions, relationship changes, and different life stages each bring a shift in our friendships that frequently leave us drifting apart from some friends.
Realizing that friendship development from stranger to close friend can sometimes take a year or two, we don't want to wait until we need close friends before we start them. We never want to stop paying attention to progressing other relationships from our Left-Side to our Right-Side of the Circles.
Just for an example, let's pretend that our Committed Friends are at 100% with us-- as vulnerable, as close, and as involved as we want. While we may not need to foster any other friendships to that same place right now, we certainly don't want to leave them all at 10%, 20%, or even 40%.
Because the truth is that life happens and there are events that will leave those 100% friends less available (i.e. friend moves away, starts traveling a lot for work, has a baby/gets married and gets caught up in her life). They might go back to 20% or 40%, and the question that begs to be asked, then, is whether you have other friends at 50% or 60% that, with more time and connection, could develop into more meaningful friendships.
We want to make sure we're always welcoming new people into our Circles and fostering some of them into deeper Circles so that we have meaningful friendships at all levels, at any given time.
We need to see friend-making as an ongoing way of life, rather than as something we do once and then forget about.
3. You Think Mutuality Means Equal Initiation. Oh so many friendships never get off the ground due to the fear in us that whispers, "I invited her last time, the ball is in her court now." So not true.
We all have strengths to give to our friendships; and initiation and planning are just that-- a strength that we all have in varying degrees.
I'm good at thinking up things to do and reaching out when I have the extra time and head space. I never think, "Oh I had them over last time... it's their turn." I think, "Oh I want to see them again, let me email them to see if they can come over!"
And they reciprocate in the friendships in plenty of other ways. They thank me for inviting them over, they helped make a night of meaningful conversation and memories, they asked about my life, they showed interest, they shared their stories with me. I got what I needed: time with friends.
Mutuality is important. But mutuality is not 50/50 in each task, but it's whether we both are contributing to the friendship, overall.
If you're the one who wants it, then make the ask. Don't let your fear of rejection stop you from initiating what you desire.
4. You Compare New Friends With Close Friends. I used to do this all the time! I'd go out with someone new and conclude that the time with them just wasn't what I was looking for. What I wanted was meaningful conversation, easy time together, lots of validation and affirmation, and just a whole bunch of obvious commonalities. What I often got was two people trying to get to know each other, both showing up with their own insecurities (expressed often by one talking too much or both being very polite and image conscious), both wishing it felt more deep and less awkward.
What I'd conveniently forget is that all those things I wanted come with time together with someone. My closest friends have gone through serious life with me and we've had so much vulnerability, history, and time together that it always feels super meaningful.
The awkwardness, or lack of intimacy, isn't a reflection on that person, but rather on that relationship. In other words, time spent with someone doesn't show what they can become, only what it is now. And right now it's two people meeting each other so it's actually quite appropriate and normal to not feel like best friends yet.
5. You Create a Story About Your Friends Actions. And this is the most common mistake that happens when we start feeling sour about a friendship-- we assign meaning to their behaviors that usually either devalues our friend (i.e. "she shouldn't make that choice or have that priority") or devalues our friendship (i.e. "she must not care about me or prioritize our friendship") when usually neither of those are the intended message.
When we are feeling the love toward someone, we are generous with them, often assuming the best about them and their actions (i.e. she must be busy!). When we're feeling like we have unmet needs that they aren't tending to, often we jump to conclusions that end up putting a wedge between us and them (i.e. she doesn't value me!").
Those stories are damaging. They cover up the fact that there is probably a need there that needs articulating and expressing; and instead comes out in the form of judgment which never helps pull people together.
When we feel ourselves start to devalue people we love, we need to see that as an invitation to step back and own everything we can about what's going on. Good questions: Am I mad at her because I might be jealous? Am I judgmental because I'm insecure about my own life so somehow attacking her choices makes me feel better about mine? Am I feeling neglected because I need more support in my life and I'm erroneously thinking it needs to come from her (remember it's our responsibility to make sure we have built up a circle of support so no one person needs to be everything to us all the time!)? Am I looking for her faults to justify pulling away for some other reason? Am I keeping a list of wrong-doing without ever taking the time to share with her what I need?
We all too often start pushing someone away when it's actually a relationship that has a lot of our invested time and resources in it. I want to protect my investments, not walk away from them too easily! Far more meaningful, usually, to salvage a relationship than to start over!