What If We Stopped Trying To Make & Keep Friends and Did This Instead?

Everywhere I turn these days I run into The Study. Have you read about it yet?

Here it is in a nutshell: According to Dr. Waldinger, who conducted the longest research project on human happiness, deep relationships are the secret to our well-being.

Obviously, there’s more to a good life than having a close circle of confidants. We must consider our diet, exercise, and mental and emotional health. But the evidence is clear- supportive and nourishing relationships are the number one ingredient for building a strong foundation for our lives. We need each other. We were created for interdependence.

Convincing study or not, I’ve experienced the benefits of weaving a web of connection among my people.

There’s nothing like the feeling of being known, loved, and seen by a group of women who I trust. We all want a listening ear for the lows and someone who will celebrate with us through the highs. A few kindred spirits to walk beside us through the never-ending muck and magic of the mundane also never hurts.  

I’m the best version of myself when I have sweaty companions to run alongside me. When there’s an environment of giving and receiving and generous reciprocity flows naturally, I feel on top of the world. Nothing else seems to matter. Depression flees and joy flourishes.  

So why do I panic a little every time I hear Dr. Waldinger’s research referenced, why haven’t I picked up his book or listened to him chat with several of my favorite podcast hosts?

The reason- I still fear I’ll fail the test.

The friendship test.

According to Dr. Waldinger’s standards, I’m sure I wouldn’t measure up to what’s considered “healthy.”

The landscape of my relationships is always transforming. It looks nothing like it did in my childhood, high school or college years, my twenties, or even last year.

I can’t think of one person I’m still in close contact with from when I was younger. I don’t possess a padre of girlfriends who make it their mission to stay in touch at least once a week through text, phone calls, or voxer messages. I’ve never been a part of an intimate gathering of sweet companions who coalesce together in a new location every year to laugh, catch up, and share the drama of life.

The guilt I feel for not being a good friend is real.

In addition, I don’t want to hear I need to do more work, be more vulnerable, make more calls, invite more people into my home, or plan more soul-sister trips.

I’m not in a place to take on one more thing, even if it might be a good thing.

And I venture to say you probably aren’t either.

I’m certain Dr. Waldinger’s study wasn’t meant to fill us with anxiety, but still, I can’t help but worry I’m not measuring up and I’ll die early due to lack of meaningful connections.

It’s here where I’d like you to join me. Take a deep breath. Release the pressure you feel to always be a better friend, infusing depth and fun into your relationship circles.

Let’s collectively stop.

Stop our attempts to initiate longer talks or more frequent coffee dates with those we claim to love. And while we’re at it, let’s also heave off the heavy guilt we carry around for not having a loyal group of women whom we rely on and meet up with every year for a reunion.

Let’s press pause on our pursuit of having more fulfilling relationships and instead practice being friendly in our real lives.

We are all regulars somewhere, be it at our local grocery store, tea shop, bakery, school, library, or gym. As we make our rounds, we start to notice the same faces. Those faces come alive and begin to embody personalities, names, and stories.

This has been and will continue to be my definition of friendship.

It’s simple and organic; no extra work is required. Friendship is about noticing the people in my daily routines, acknowledging them with a genuine smile, or offering those who cross my path a heartfelt compliment.

Whether our interaction is only a few seconds, minutes, or hours, the aim of friendship is to feel interconnected with another human, not to add another person to my already cluttered contact list.

Relationships grow best under a guilt-free, relaxed, and inviting atmosphere, where there is no pressure for either person to perform only to be present.

Don’t let a scholarly study stress you out. The happiest people don’t worry about or strategize how they will make or keep friends, instead, they’ve chosen to weave kindness and generosity into their normal lives and in doing so discover a quiet web of connection surrounds them on every side.

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For further reflection:

My favorite quote on friendship from the poet David Whyte:

“But no matter the medicinal virtues of being a true friend or sustaining a long, close relationship with another, the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self: the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.”

Listen to this insightful podcast episode, “The Power of Strangers: Joe Keohane” from Wisdom From The Top with Guy Raz

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