I was reading an article at Psychology Today entitled Friendship: The Laws Of Attraction and although I easily scoff at psychology and pop psychology for the most part, look past the writing style and a few kernels of truth is hidden. I don’t have many friends, but the ones I have I value very highly. Making friends is the easy part. Why do we make friends with one person in our yoga class but not another? Because we’ll start talking to most people given the right set of circumstances and we’ll keep talking until we run out of things to say. Self-disclosure and reciprocity are natural next steps. Neither are steps I take easily or without thought or first. I still remember the beginning of every friendship I’ve had and all of them started with someone else taking the first step of self-revelation. I sometimes think about those acquaintances that I regret not talking to; the neighbour that lived next door for two years and borrowed my whole kitchen from milk to wine glasses as well as my piano to tune his guitar, but neither of us made it past the casual small talk, curious as to what I may have missed out on.
The “give and take of intimacy” is stated to be the next step in maintaining a friendship. The friends we keep are honest, but tactful; knowing when to offer unconditional support and when to disagree because we’re wrong. It’s rarely about practical help or support, “study participants judged as peripheral the ability of a friend to offer practical help.” I am immensely appreciative of practical help and support. I recall with great fondness the moments when friends showed up at a bad time and did the dishes or took out the bin without needing to be asked, but more than that, I value that it’s the same friends who on good days leave their cups on the coffee table in the lounge, knowing the difference. It’s the hanging out with me regardless of mood or state of health or whether we have something to talk about, that really make them friends.
The most interesting part of the article for me was that our friends are the people who understand and support our social identity, i.e. our sense of self within a group. “Best friends often were part of the same crowd.” I find this interesting because all my friends play World of Warcraft. It’s not necessarily a big part of our friendship, we don’t always play together if at all and conversation is not centred around it, but we all play on a regular basis. I prefer keeping conversation out of wow, mostly because I have limited time to play and I’d rather play than talk in my game time and I cannot do both. I can chat, but I cannot converse. I do log in outside of playtime to park my druid in Dalaran or Sholazar or Grizzly Hills so that I can chat and right up there with the joy of raiding is carrying on a conversation whilst farming or doing dailies, but I don’t have time for it every day. I can only play so much and it’s such a temptation to be in-game that I succumb and jump into a pug or a battleground and before I know it, it’s three hours later and my joints are screaming at me.
According to the article, “there are four basic behaviours necessary to maintain the bond”: self-disclosure, unconditional support, interaction and being positive, and luckily “studies show that physical proximity has little effect on the ability to keep a friendship in working order”. I’ve gone shopping with a friend over the phone on a regular basis – she in her store, I in mine and both of us on our mobile phones. I’ve watched TV and gone for a walk, had a smoke break and a glass of wine and have written and read pages and pages of lengthy emails. Modern technology has made close friendship possible regardless of physical distance. I don’t think any friendship can cross the distance without real time communication, whether it be messenger, wow, vent or phone calls. I regret the lack of physical closeness, something is lost when you can’t have a glass of wine in the garden, give someone a hug or share a take-out pinching each other’s food, but it’s not something that make or break a friendship.
My thoughts of friendship bring to mind a quote from Henri Nouwen:
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.