Women & Friendship:
The ABC’s of Making & Keeping Friends
“Make New Friends, But Keep the Old…”:
Today and tomorrow I’m attending one of the largest women’s conferences in the world at my alma mater, BYU. Sitting beside my BFF, Leonore, and surrounded by thousands of remarkable women and their BFF’s reminds me of the power of women & friendship.
Leonore and I have been friends for almost 10 years. We met at church two days after I moved to town. I was holding my newborn daughter and stood up to introduce myself: “Hi. I’m Christi. My husband, OJ, and I have three kids. We just moved back to Phoenix from Los Angeles, where we’ve been living for four years for graduate school. Two weeks ago today I graduated with my doctorate in psychology. One week later I gave birth to my third child. Five days later we moved here. I guess that’s it!” Needless to say I had been feeling quite overwhelmed by all of this, so I was happily surprised and very grateful when Leonore came up immediately after, introduced herself, and invited me to a party later that week!
What prompted Leonore to be so friendly to me? First of all, she’s a very friendly person. But moreso, she was looking for a good friendship too and took advantage of the opportunity. The way she tells it is: “I heard Christi stand up and say, ‘Yeah, I just graduated with my doctorate and had a baby and moved,’ and I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve got to be friends with her!’ So I just ran over, introduced myself, and invited her to a party.” Leonore is definitely an “A” friend. I’ll explain what I mean by “A” friend a little bit later, but first, I’d like to talk about friendship a little bit.
Friendship Facts & Tips
I can’t tell you how often the topic of friendship comes up when I’m working with women in therapy–women who feel like they have no real friends, women who worry their old friendships just aren’t working anymore, women who stress over finding “good” new friends, and women who feel guilty that they can’t live up to what their “good friends” need. When we were children it seemed so simple! I watch my 4 and 8 year-old daughters make friends in minutes wherever they go all the time! But for us “grown-ups” friendship can be much more challenging.
So what are the facts on friendship? How can we create a circle of friends that is healthy for us? Is it really even that important? Here are a few facts and tips that might clear things up.
1) Friendship is important, especially for women. Girlfriends fill a void that partners or spouses usually can’t fill. Sharing tips, emotions, and advice; laughing, crying, and venting, there’s just something about women being with other women that can let us know we’re not alone, help us recharge, and motivate us to go home even better than before.
2) Each person’s friendship needs are not the same. Most of us do not understand this principle. We think that we should all somehow feel the same about friendships and have the same needs, forgetting that each person’s friendship needs are just as unique as we are! Some of us need companionship for frequent outings and events, while others need only one or two close companions to talk things over with on the phone. Some friends need continual contact, while others you might not see for months and then pick up right where you left off (like Leonore and I!). We must learn to be more understanding of the other person’s needs and to accept that even though our needs are different, neither way is “the right way”. We can work to compromise and meet in the middle, or sometimes we may need to accept that our needs are too different and the friendship just isn’t working, and that’s ok too.
3) Friendships change over time. Life events can change a friendship. For instance, when one friend has a baby and the other does not, it can distance the two worlds so much that the friendship simply drifts away. Friendships often fall apart in times of crisis or great stress too, when one friend is suddenly in great need and the other is not able or willing to fill those needs. Whatever the circumstances, friendships do change as our lives change. Remember that this is simply part of growing. As I learned on Pinterest, “As you grow up you don’t lose friends, you just learn who the real ones are” (http://pinterest.com/pin/134756213820487705/)!
4) It’s ok to let go of friendships that no longer work. You will know whether it’s worth the effort or not to keep the friendship. If it’s not, then just wish your friend well and hope you might meet up again in the future. It may be a relief to them too or it may disappoint them. Either way, it’s ok if it is done kindly. (Disappointing others is ok too; it’s part of life). Then, move on. As the children’s song goes, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.” Keep the old friendships that are still working, but don’t be afraid to seek out new friendships that might better suit your needs at that time.
Often we’re uncertain what a “healthy” friendship even means. We may think that everyone needs to be our BFF or we may feel like we need hundreds of acquaintances to be “healthy”. Let me just clarify: Healthy is relative. It’s different for everyone. So how can you know what is healthy for you? Allow me to explain the ABC’s of friendship. This helps me create strong, healthy friendships and it will hopefully help you too.
There are A friends, there are B friends and there are C friends.
Your B friends make up the bulk of your friendships. You like each other, you have fun together, you hang out. They’re good people that make you feel good too—that’s why they’re your friends! B friends are good to have, and you can easily maintain dozens of B friendships at a time.
Then there are your A friends. This is the smaller group of people who you not only like, hang out with, and have fun with, but these are the friends you really “click” with. These friends know you in and out; they really “get” you. But even more, these friends truly inspire you, they push you to be better, and they make you a better person. You will naturally have fewer A friends than B friends. It’s just the way it is. And research shows one, two, or three A friends is all you really need. I repeat: one, two or three A friends is all you really need. Remember that next time you feel like you “only have a couple close friends”. That’s the way we women, for the most part, were made to be.
What about the C friends? These are the friends who, for whatever reason, bring you down, who try to get you off track, or suck you into their own drama so often it helps no one. While you’re kind and friendly to C people, you need to be careful not to spend too much time around them. Exercise caution if you find yourself surrounded with C people. It’s ok and even healthy to set boundaries with friends who are not a good influence. After all, how can you become something you are trying to be when you are undermined at every turn (the same goes for family members like this)!
Quantity vs. Quality
In her book, MWF Seeking BFF, journalist Rachel Bertsche quotes journalist Valerie Frankel’s writings on friendship: ”‘Psychologists have long described four major types of friendships…1) The acquaintance, someone you’d chat with on the street or at a local cafe, who gives you a sense of belonging; 2) the casual friend, a ‘grab lunch’ pal who often serves a specific purpose, such as a tennis or running partner, 3) the close buddy, an intimate trustworthy comrade you can say anything to; and 4) the lifer, who’s as deep and forever as family.’ Franke’s resaerch found that women should have 3 to 5 lifers, 5 to 12 close freinds, 10 to 50 casuals, and 10 to 100 acquaintances”1. Again, the numbers of friendships each of us needs will vary greatly. I say that it’s not the quantity but the quality of friends in your life that really matters. You can have hundreds of acquaintances and still feel lonely. Or you may have one “lifer” and feel happy as a clam.
Friendships come in all shapes and sizes, and they matter. Learn what you need from your friendships. Know that it’s ok to seek out friends that can fill those needs. Remember that you don’t need hundreds of friends and you probably won’t find even dozens of A friends. Take charge of who you let into your inner world by carefully selecting your friendships. After all, you become like your peer group, and if you never surround yourself with friends who lift you higher, how will you ever learn to fly?
I would love to hear your thoughts on friendship! What makes an “A” friend to you? Have you ever had to let a friendship go? How have your friendships changed over the years? Leave a comment and let us know!
1Bertsche, R. (2011). MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend. Ballantine Books; New York, NY.