Friendship is possibly the most important part of BYOM – without it, this platform wouldn’t exist. Without it, these interviews wouldn’t happen. Without it, this community wouldn’t grow. Maybe because we find friendship itself fascinating, or because we both understand how important our friendship is to each of us, we spend a lot of time thinking about it.
We also spend a lot of time thinking and talking about the flip side of friendship, including ideas like loneliness and isolation, or an expansion of the idea, like community and connection. We’ve started to wonder, are we collectively making it hard for people to be our friends?
Lately, I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how hard it is to make friends, or how difficult it can be to find a community. Maybe you decided that you’d outgrown your old friend group, and it was time to branch out. Maybe you graduated from college and your friends have recently scattered to the four winds. Maybe you moved for a job, and now you’re in a new city with tenuous professional contacts and a Tinder profile. Whatever the reason, that process of cultivating new relationships is difficult.
We know that people want to have friends (except for sociopaths, but that’s a whole different ball game). We’re social animals, constantly seeking connection, affection, appreciation. So why is it so difficult to find genuine connections?
I’m positing that it’s partially because we’re making it hard for people to be our friends.
Do you respond to texts and phone calls? Do you initiate conversations with people you don’t talk to often, but want to? Do you travel to see your friends, or invite them to come visit you? Do you send letters, yes, real letters, to people you hold dear? Do you join new groups or try new things with people that aren’t already your besties? Are you open to saying hello to a stranger in the elevator? Do you put your phone away when you’re in public, so that you can relate more openly and actively to others? Do you hold people in the same regard that you hold yourself?
If yes, you may be making it hard for others to be your friend. And when being vulnerable (or as Brené Brown says, “putting out a bid for connection”) is already so difficult, when you pile up additional barriers, people are unlikely to try to overcome them. The fear of rejection is just too great.
For me at least, the stronger my relationships with my friends, the more inspired and activated I am to become a better me. I may change my mind on this, so don’t hold me to it forever, but the equation seems to go something like this: I love my friends, and they love me, so I learn to love myself. This positive feedback loop makes all of better people, or at least makes us want to be. It’s not about proving yourself as much as it’s about honoring the love you’re shown, being good to and for the best ones. Does that resonate with your internal tuning fork? It’s on the verge of resonating with mine.
We’re so caught up in pursuing our careers, developing ourselves as individuals, establishing a personal brand, and embracing the selfishness of youth and near-youth that we have lost sight of why it’s so important and what it takes to be a friend. I’m not saying don’t pursue your career or invest in yourself – of course, do those things – but don’t do them to the exclusion of developing friendships. In fact, developing real connections is likely an essential and overlooked element of achieving personal success in those areas.
I’m not going to blame social media; I think it’s reductive and inaccurate. Social media is one of the easiest ways I stay in touch with my best friends, who live in Cleveland, San Francisco, New York, DC, New Haven, Columbia, and yes, even Charlotte. However, there is a level of self-awareness and narcissism inherent in social media that can make going outside yourself and your comfort zone more challenging than it probably should be.
“In our social scene, it’s totally okay to just watch Netflix and make self-deprecating comments on Twitter/Insta/Vine/Snapchat about your deficient social life. And we still want to be friends with that weirdo, because that weirdo is us!”
Plus (or maybe because of social media) millennials are notoriously socially anxious – even in a flippant, sarcastic way, most of us laugh about it. You’d never hear the Boomers joking about being awkward at parties. In our social scene, it’s totally okay to just watch Netflix and make self-deprecating comments on Twitter/Insta/Vine/Snapchat about your deficient social life. And we still want to be friends with that weirdo, because that weirdo is us!
But the bottom line is that we need to get over ourselves. All of us want and need friendships. And it’s hard for all of us to make the first move. But knowing that everyone craves connection and everyone is nervous about the vulnerability putting yourself out there requires, maybe you’ll be inspired to make that first move. It’s as easy as “hi, it’s been so long! how are you?”
I’ll be sending that note today. I hope you will be, too.