“We cultivate the complexities of our friendships,” wrote Jeff Hall in his research on how we create intimate friendships. Hall took it upon himself in 2018 to study how people go from complete strangers to best friends. I have mentioned his research on numerous occasions: he purports time well spent as the ultimate factor for deep connections. But as I dug more into his work, it wasn’t just about proximity to people that made deep connections, it was also about the things you shared with those people that mattered.
We can all think of someone, perhaps a co-worker or someone on the sidelines of your social circle that you do not particular want to be friends with. You may have spent a lot of time together and have some shared memories, but this does not equate to being deep friends.
It is the conversations with those you joke with or have meaningful catch ups that contribute to a faster, more in-depth friendship.
Thus, our ability to open up with someone will determine how deep and how quickly those friendships are formed. This is probably not new information for most of us, but I want us to rethink the idea of “meaningful conversation” and our varying roles we play in creating deep friendships.
Some of us may have low barriers of entry for in-depth conversations so our expectations for “deep friendships” are easier to establish. Others of us have complex perspectives on what creates a deep friendship which makes the growth of those friendships more complex, as well. Hall discovered that for most women, the definition of a deep friendship was someone who could “offer emotional nourishment and support.” (Lydia Denworth, Friendship, p.158).
So what? Let’s make the complex less complicated…
Your definition for deep friendship will be different from those around you.
Your culture, family background, and personality will all play a part in how you define deep friendship. Many of our friendship miscommunications come from not understanding the complexities (or lack there of) of each other’s definition. Some friends may define deep friendship as someone you can text all day long. When they meet a kindred spirit who does not text with the same frequency, they will become frustrated. They may even determine that they have no “deep friendships” at all because their specific expectations are not being met. Others may call a “deep friendship” someone they only talk to once a month on the phone. While others may find that level of communication a deal-breaker.
Understand what your definition is of “deep friendship” and then ask your friends. See what they come up with as answers. It may reveal a lot to you about how they prioritize different friendships and how you can meet in the middle to create supportive, close connections.
How you communicate matters.
To take the next step towards depth in any friendship is to have meaningful conversation—sharing your life with someone else. These means asking thoughtful questions, remembering the little things and following up. If you are like me and need help in initiating meaningful conversation, get help.
- Buy conversation cards (really liking these from Concrete Conversations).
- Ask them to read a book with you (extreme readers call these “buddy reads”)
- or listen to a podcast together to discuss.
- Perhaps, you can even do a bible study together for a few weeks.
You’ve got Google, use it!
Going deep with friends is a risk but, intimacy is where the beauty of true friendship is found. Jesus was fully intimate with his twelve disciples, and still his bud, Peter, betrayed him and pretended to not know who Jesus was at a moment when Jesus needed him most (see Luke 22:54-62). We can’t expect intimacy to be seamless, consistent or mutually shared every time.
Building deep friendships is a journey. It is indeed complex. Have grace for yourself if this takes time. Be okay letting go of friends you’ve invested in but overtime it fizzles out. Whenever I become frustrated about the depth of my friendships, I rewrite the narrative and say, “this is a new opportunity to go deep with some of my other friends.” Having a broader definition for deep friendship allows us to realize how many fruitful relationships we actually possess and be grateful for the women who are willing to go deep with us.