BY ROSIE WITTLEDER, GRACE ATTENDER
Friendships. We are all made for them. We were built to live in community, not in solitude. It’s something all of us crave, but there are many of us who don’t have those deep, lasting connections. For me, developing close female friendships wasn’t something I knew how to do well when I was growing up. I didn’t trust most women, or people in general, and I had a hard time putting myself out there. I was friendly to most people and had a lot of friends. But really tight female friendships? Not so much. It wasn’t until adulthood that I discovered the value of having these kinds of “kindred spirit” friendships.
So what does it take to cultivate this kind of friendship? Here are three things I have found to be true:
As much as “instimacy” (read: instant intimacy) sounds fun and exciting, it’s not how deep bonds are formed. To find a friend and instantly be their best friend? That doesn’t typically exist. It may be fun and last for a bit, but things can fall apart when a bump in the road comes.
This happened to me when I was younger. I met someone and felt like we hit it off. Then a small mishap happened. It seemed like something we could resolve with a small conversation, but that wasn’t the case. I learned that some friends might not be able to hang in there when the relationship requires work. I felt hurt and upset. But I also learned that it’s important to hold off being overly open with someone before the friendship has had time to mature and develop.
Going step by step, over a long period of time is hard. Most of us are not patient by nature. But the chances of developing a long-term friendship is exponentially higher when there is patient, steady progress. Even though it feels mundane or slow moving, this is how trust is built. Real connection comes as a result of logging many miles together, over multiple seasons of life.
Have you had that experience where you hang out with someone, have a good time, and then don’t communicate again for a while? This is pattern I know well. I would engage meaningfully with someone, then not touch base again for a long time. Nothing went wrong, I just didn’t have practice in consistent attachment. Subconsciously, I was probably afraid to get too close to them, so I’d back up without realizing it.
A little over ten years ago, I met this girl named Sam. She was kind and engaging from the start. I felt comfortable with her, but mostly I thought she was funny. A few days after meeting each other, she emailed me and asked if I wanted to get together for coffee. So we went to Starbucks and had a lot of fun together.
I knew I wanted to do something different with Sam, so I asked her if she wanted to do coffee once a week. And that maybe each time we met, we could take turns sharing about ourselves, our lives, our stories?
Just recently, I asked Sam what she thought when I first proposed this. Her response? “Honestly, I thought it was really weird. I had never been in a friendship setting where there was any kind of structure or taking turns. But I really liked you and wanted to get to know you, so that outweighed the concerns I had that this was going to be very awkward.”
I remember when it was my week to share that I would be out in the car thinking, “I really don’t want to do this. Am I getting sick? Maybe I shouldn’t do this. Maybe I shouldn’t be here. Is the weather looking bad? Yeah, maybe I should get home right now when I can. For my safety, of course.”
The excuses would vary, but I still kept showing up. It was hard to share about myself for a big chunk of time, over many weeks. To not hide behind a façade or keep someone at a distance. But when we were done meeting for the night, I was always so glad I didn’t chicken out.
Those months of Starbucks dates propelled our friendship forward. Mostly, they helped me learn the value of consistently connecting with someone, even when it feels uncomfortable.
Accept Conflict As The Pathway To Intimacy
Engaging in conflict is so dang hard. Sam and I have had our fair share of conflicts over the last decade. We had our first one several months into our friendship. We were in my car on our way back from a conference. I explained something to her that she apparently already knew. She responded with something like, “Yeah, I know. I graduated from UCF.”
At first, I was confused. What did this have to do with UCF? I was also worried because I knew she was upset and annoyed. It was tense as we sat there in silence, both trying to understand what had just happened.
Finally, I asked her if I did something to upset her. She paused, but then she was courageous enough to be honest. She told me that it felt like I was “talking down” to her or treating her in a way that made her feel less than.
She didn’t run, she didn’t hide, she didn’t lie or minimize. She told me the truth. And although I hadn’t meant to talk down to her, I saw her perspective. She also explained how this incident triggered some experiences she’d had in the past.
I remember feeling so much closer to her after that. I knew more about her, her story, and her areas of her vulnerability. She was kind and brave enough to share with me how I impacted her, and gave me the chance to make things right. Instead of letting it turn into something bigger. This is the biggest gift a friend can give. The gift of being known. This is how conflict leads to intimacy. And now, this is a memory we often reference with fondness and laughter.
That was a light, “quick fix” type of conflict. But we’ve had others that have been much more layered and complicated. One time, I came and stayed with Sam for a week. We were planning a retreat together for a group of girls--something we had never done before. (Tip: If you want to stretch your friendship, try planning a big event together that neither of you have done before. And live with each other for the week leading up to it. It’s a guaranteed relationship maker or breaker.)
We worked our butts off all week preparing for this retreat. We were exhausted on so many levels. And the night before the retreat, we were putting the finishing touches on things. As we reviewed the schedule, she and I had different opinions about a few things. She didn’t like something on the schedule, but I needed to think about the group as a whole. When I tried to explain my viewpoint, it seemed like she was shutting me down and didn’t want to listen. I was upset. Yes, I was upset about the current situation, but I also knew I was triggered. Being ignored or not considered was something I had experienced a lot in my past--it’s a sensitive area for me.
Sam and I went to bed that night in total silence. We were laying next to each other, facing outward. I wept, but made sure I didn’t make any sound. My feelings were hurt, and I was very stressed. We had a retreat starting the next day, and the two leaders of this thing were seriously at odds with each other. I cried myself to sleep. Later, I found out that we were both crying silently. And we both slept horribly.
The next day over breakfast, Sam asked me how I was doing. That was all it took for my wall to come down. I started crying right then and there. I couldn’t fake it, minimize it or keep in my pain. Through my tears, I told her how I felt and the pain of the night before. She leaned in and caught every word. She even repeated what I said to make sure she understood my thoughts and feelings. I felt so seen and heard.
Then it was Sam’s turn. She shared what she was experiencing, her fatigue, her feelings of being overwhelmed, and how challenging it felt to be doing this kind of work during the first trimester of her pregnancy. It was easy to meet her in her pain and tears, and to show her the same grace and compassion she had shown me.
That experience was one of our hardest moments together. But I felt closer to her than ever before. For that reason alone, I would do it again if I had to. The closeness and connection that comes with being Sam’s friend is absolutely worth the effort and discomfort that comes with conflict.
So what about you? If you’d like to have deeper friendships, what is one step you could take to pursue that? What are some of your obstacles in developing deep friendships? If you have those “kindred spirit” friendship(s), what is something that has helped that relationship succeed?