I’m sure we’ve all been there: mentally sitting on the sidelines, hoping and wishing that a casual friendship that we have with someone we admire or respect will evolve into something more lasting or meaningful. In my work with clients, I often find that this process ends with hope versus something actionable, and an opportunity is lost. We become afraid of initiating, we become afraid that we’re the only one wanting, we’re afraid of rejection and judgment. One of my favorite authors on friendship expands upon our steps to advancing our friendships with a five-step technique:
Openness is crucial within a beginning or progressing friendship. This quality shows up in how we select our friends, and in remembering that if we want to attract friendly people, we need to be one first (112). Sometimes, you’ll click instantaneously with someone, but the reality is that many of your friends might show up in unlikely places, and those friendships are every bit as meaningful/impactful. Part of this can be honed in considering, how do I want other people to feel in my presence? Perhaps, greeted, encouraged, authentic, loved, the recipient of gratitude (79-80). The more we can realize that openness is really about what we bring to our interactions, versus our hand selection of who best fits in our life, the better off we will be.
Most often, initiation is an incredibly difficult wall to face. Possible reasons that initiation feels particularly difficult is 1) a lack of time 2) uncertainty as to whether the feeling was mutual 3) no instant attraction 4) hoping the other would initiate or 5) being “too tired” (106-107). The secret to overcoming these fears, in part, is by getting very real with yourself about your tendencies with other people: do you run with anxiety surrounding intimacy, approval, and responsiveness? Do you feel worthy of quality friendships? Do you see yourself as an equal to the people in your life? Are you comfortable with emotional closeness? Therapy can be a fabulous place to explore the answers to questions like these and more.
Positivity, a hyped-term, is beyond what we know it to be: it should not show up like us denying our needs, thinking only positive affirmations, or a plastered smile (128). Negativity, or sharing stressors, frustrations, or inconveniences, can be a powerful form of bonding as it signals to the other person a sense of trust that you are willing to communicate this information because you suspect they might too (129). The key here is balance. If we give space for the negative emotions, we must give space for the positive ones as well. Ways to do this in the context of a friendship might looking like finding ways to laugh with your friend, validating their feelings, affirming their experience, or creating memories together (130-142).
First and foremost, deny the instinct that many of us feel to say to ourselves, “it’s because they don’t know, if they did, they wouldn’t like you,” to the prospect of sharing darker parts of yourself (148). That being said, vulnerability is so much more than just opening our closet of skeletons in compulsive verbal rendition (as many people do – ripping the band aid and closing our eyes in hopes that the person we care for is still there when we’re done), it’s about knowing who we are when we share these things, and the inherent understanding that there is worthiness and beauty in flaws (149). Our fear of rejection is blatant at this stage of practicing friendship… the truth though, is vulnerability is most powerful and connecting at the point that it is practiced in self love.
Another word that has preconceptions that we might not even be aware of; forgiveness does not mean letting go of the pain. It also refers to so much more than the possibility that someone has done wrong against us… it is about the meaning we give to their actions, the conclusions we come to, the assumptions we make. The secret things that linger in the background of our experience in friendships: blame, jealousy, judgment, non-reciprocation, neglect, to name a few, break apart the very threads of our connections (170). Friends will always let us down, and we will always let our friends down. When we find peace within ourselves that this is a reality, we can move forward in humility together versus alone.
If you would like to talk to one of our dedicated therapists for guidance and relationship support, contact Symmetry Counseling today. We offer a range of counseling services in Chicago to support you.
Nelson, Shasta (2013). Friendships Don’t Just Happen: The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends. Turner Publishing Company.