Do you care most about the number of people who show up for your birthday party or who like your posts on social media? Or do you prefer to focus on the people with whom you can be most intimate and vulnerable — those who make you feel that you can really be yourself?
Research shows that close friendships are necessary for optimal health and well-being. Do you find it hard to make close friends? Based on your experience, do you find that closer friendships make you happy and healthier?
In “How to Have Closer Friendships (and Why You Need Them),” Emma Pattee writes:
Like so many people, I grew up watching the TV show “Friends,” dreaming of the day I would be living a glamorous city life surrounded by a group of close friends. Over the years, I’ve made lots of friends: childhood friends, work friends, college friends, writer friends. I have friends who like to hike, and friends who like to chat over coffee and friends who live far away but whom I talk to a few times a year.
But close friends? “Friends” level friends? The “I can tell you anything and count on you always” kind of friends? Not so much. A childhood friend and I had a falling-out, never to be repaired. Another close friend moved away.
Ms. Pattee explores the question of what closeness really means:
If you look to popular culture to understand close friendship, you’ll be left with a few common tropes: the friend who will take a bullet for you; the friend you can call in the middle of the night and they’ll be there for you, no matter the inconvenience; the friend with whom you can share anything.
True close friendship (unsurprisingly) does not need to be quite as extreme. “A key to close friendship is intimacy, and a big part of intimacy is being able to be fully yourself and be seen and understood by others,” Dr. Chen said. “When people close to us don’t ‘get’ us, it’s undermining to intimacy.”
Reciprocation is also a key element to creating intimacy. Dr. Chen explained why all the people you know on Facebook or Instagram don’t necessarily count as close friends: “When we post something on Facebook and people give us affirmation in the way of nice comments or encouragement, that feels good, but it doesn’t necessarily create intimacy because there’s no give and take.” A big part of intimacy is that both people feel they are seen and understood by the other person.
After exploring reasons that forming close friendships can be difficult, Ms. Pattee presents ways to make friendships closer. Here are excerpts from four techniques she suggests:
Create a foundation of security (hint: Answer that text)
Before we can attempt closeness, we need to have security. Through his research, Dr. Levine has identified the five foundational elements of secure relationships, which he refers to as CARRP.
Consistency (Do these friends drift in and out of my life on a whim?)
Availability (How available are they to spend time together?)
Reliability (Can I count on them if I need something?)
Responsiveness (Do they reply to my emails and texts? Do I hear from them on a consistent basis?)
Predictability (Can I count on them to act in a certain way?)
Let yourself be known
If you want to be seen for who you are, you have to be willing to stop pretending to be somebody cooler or smarter than you are. Admit that you binge watch “Honey Boo-Boo,” are jealous of other people’s accomplishments or don’t always brush your teeth before bed. Make that goofy joke. Share that less-than-flattering detail.
“You have to try to help people understand and accept you, which conversely means you have to understand and accept yourself enough that you believe you can make somebody else’s life brighter just by being in it,” said Donald Miller, author of “Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy.”
Take your friends on a test drive
Most of us would consider a close friend somebody we could call in a pinch. But if you, like me, have a romantic partner or live close to family, you might rarely find yourself in a pinch that requires a friend. I recently had to undergo a minor medical procedure and my husband wasn’t able to go with me. “Why don’t you call one of your friends?” he asked me the night before, naming a couple of friends who might be available. I didn’t have a good answer. Sure, these were pretty good friends, but were we medical-procedure close?
When I posed this situation to Dr. Levine, his suggestion was simple: Take them for a test drive. “Ask for help even when you don’t need it so that when you truly need them, you’ll feel more comfortable reaching out and you’ll have a better sense of how they will respond.”
Accept that closeness isn’t one-size-fits-all
I asked the same question of everyone I interviewed for this article: How much closeness do we need? Each person gave a different answer, each of which boiled down to this: It’s not that simple.
Dr. Chen said that it varied from person to person; some of us need dozens of connections, some of us need only two or three connections, but we all need some closeness to others. Dr. Johnson emphasized that building intimate connection in our love relationships is even more essential than building it in our friendships. Mr. Miller said that it had to be the right people. Dr. Levine mentioned that being able to confide in somebody or call in an emergency is only one type of closeness, and not necessarily the only important kind.
Students, read the entire article, then tell us:
How would you define a close friend? Someone you can “call in the middle of the night”? Someone with whom you can share anything? Do you agree with the author that a close friend is someone with whom you are intimate and vulnerable, someone with whom you can really be you?
How important are close friendships to you? Do you prefer to have many casual friends or just a few close friends?
What do you think are the benefits of close friendships? Are there any drawbacks?
How helpful are the article’s recommendations for making closer friendships? Which of the them might you be most likely to use? Why? What advice would you give to others who struggle to make close friendships, based on your own experiences?
Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.