I read an article in The Atlantic the other day about friendship during the pandemic.
It said that “the pandemic has evaporated entire categories of friendship,” but that “in the coming months, as we begin to add people back into our lives, we’ll now know what it’s like to be without them.”
I got to thinking about friendships and what it takes to create, maintain, and grow close bonds with other individuals. As we go back into the world, pickier about our friendships, who will make the cut? Whose drama have we had enough of…and who are the friends we just can’t live without?
For all my adult life, I’ve had two long-term best friends. One I met in fifth grade (30 years ago), the other during freshman year of college (1998). In discussing what makes our friendships strong, they both pointed to the same quality. One said the combination of “supportive love” and “tough love”; the other said that a good friend is “someone you can be honest with, without judgment, yet will call you on your bullsh*t.”
It is knowing when to coddle and when to pounce; when it is time for a hug and when it is time for a “Hey…cut it out!” Close, healthy, fulfilling friendships bring that balance into all aspects of their being. A good friendship is a balanced one—a friendship where there is consistency, but there is also an ebb and flow.
1. Intimacy and space.
Two or three decades with someone, and you will surely bear witness to some highs and lows. Weddings and divorces, births and deaths, promotions and furloughs, wellness and illness—and through it all, the ever-growing need for each person to experience life.
A well-balanced friend knows how to stay close and still give their friend some space. There must be room for people to be sad, to be sick, to be “wrong,” to take risks, to shift and change and learn and play. All the while, the friendship remains at a safe distance…close enough to feed the soul with fond memories and fresh perspectives, but far enough out of the reach and impact of daily demands and trivial obstacles.
2. Compassion and accountability.
None of us is complete in our emotional work. We are all growing all the time and we have oh so much to learn. But the truth is that I cannot see all of me from where I stand. That’s why having a kind and honest friend can be so powerful. There are few greater gifts than someone who will show us what we don’t want to see, and walk with us through the responsibility we deny, the lies we tell ourselves, and the chaos we create.
A well-balanced friend will reflect back to us not just our greatness…but our struggles. They hold us lovingly while stripping us of the ridiculous stories we sometimes tell ourselves. They push us to see and do things differently, without abandoning us or judging us for the choices we’ve made.
3. Vulnerability and availability.
Some days, it can be all about you…and some days, I just need it to be all about me—sound familiar? No one has it together all the time. It takes a certain level of vulnerability to admit when you need someone’s undivided attention, when you need to vent or need to be validated. It’s okay to be selfish in some moments and request that the next day or two be all about you and what you’re going through.
A well-balanced friend can put their “stuff” aside to just be there for you. But maintaining that equilibrium means that friend will soon find themselves in a similar place, needing you be available. There’s a give and take, a reciprocity, that defines well-balanced friendships. Be careful not to be someone who makes it all about yourself all the time—or, on the flipside, be the person who always wants to listen but never wants to share (always wants to be in control, never wants to be vulnerable). A well-balanced friend is good at asking for what they need while also being available to the needs of others.
Globally, people on average, have four close friends. That is substantially less than most social media followings. It is less than the average wedding or even dinner party. It is a close-knit circle of core key players with whom we share ourselves freely—ideally.
So how do we know who to put in our top four?
Well, when you think of your friendships, where is the harmony and equilibrium? Who are your most well-balanced friends?
In the closest of friendships, there is a sort of magic that takes hold; a rhythm, if you will, between the people involved…a flow! But healthy, long-lasting, fulfilling friendships involve many other variables: chemistry, compatibility, purpose, partnership, patience, honesty, trust, commitment, respect, and so much more. Like any relationship between individuals, they require attention and work and can be both rewarding and exhausting. But the bond between friends is also a sacred connection, made in this otherwise rather mundane existence; and it’s worth every effort to live in the balance!