Friday, October 2, 2009

Staying Friends

It's easier to make a friend than to keep a friend. Similarly, it does not take too much effort to fall in love at first sight. Staying in love for years or even decades is quite a different challenge.

Friends come and go; so do relationships. Breaking up is traumatic and often makes people feel inadequate, even toxic.

Why does it happen? One reason is that we tend to want our friendships to mirror our family relationships. Not because family ties are so wonderful or gratifying, but because they are indissoluble. You do not choose your family; you are born into it. Worse yet, it does not matter how you behave. Your parents, siblings, and children are yours forever.

Behave that way towards your friends and you will find yourself with fewer and fewer of them.

We choose our friends. We like to think that we choose them freely. We try to be on best behavior around them, because they can distance themselves or even drop us.

Friendship requires far more work than family ties. Instead of making family the prototype of human relationships, we should try to treat our family members like friends. That would surely improve everyone's family life.

So, how do you stay friends. Dr. Irene Levine has some good suggestions, though she comes at it from the wrong angle. Instead of encouraging you to build your character, she wants you to become aware of your "toxic" qualities. Link here.

Being self-conscious about your toxicity will not make you a better friend. It will induce you to waste too much mental effort fighting with your demons. You would do better to build up what is good about you.

Happily, Levine's toxic qualities can easily be turned around to give us some guidance about how to stay friends.

She lists the following: neediness, volatility, moodiness, bluntness, invasiveness, and insecurity.

Each has more positive face that is worth developing.

First: instead of toxic neediness, try reciprocity. As Levine put it: "Friendships need to be reciprocal. Even an ideal relationship may not be balanced every day or even every year. But there's a give and take that evens out over time."

Reciprocity exists on many levels. From gifts and favors to information and feelings... friends are constantly involved in exchanges. If one or the other friend fails to reciprocate, the friendship will be compromised.

Second: instead of volatility and moodiness, try emotional constancy. We have so often been told that it is good and healthy to express emotion that we have ignored the value of emotional constancy or temperance. People who throw tantrums or create dramatic scenes are not good friend material.

Being even-tempered is the opposite of moodiness. Make it a point to remain on an even emotional keel. No one is going to want to have lunch with you if he does not know which of your many personalities is going to show up.

Third: instead of bluntness and invasiveness, try discretion and tact. Respecting your friend's zone of privacy will make you a better friend.

When you disclose something to your friend and he does not reciprocate, do not turn into the grand inquisitor. He does not owe you a response. If he does not reciprocate that means that you have gone too far. The best approach is to change the subject.

Were it not for the fact that the therapy culture has been teaching people to blurt out what is on their minds, we would probably not have to emphasize that you need to think before you speak and that you should consider the effect your words might have on your listener.

If speaking your mind is going to offend your friend, you can either forget it or reformulate it. If you make it a habit to speak your mind freely and openly you will soon find yourself friendless.

Fourth, instead of insecurity, try confidence. Levine identifies two extreme behaviors as toxic. Bragging too much and being too reticent.

The difficult part is finding the mean between these two extremes. A person who is confident and secure can speak when need be and be silent when need be. He can speak his mind without giving offense and can be silent when that is appropriate.

He is not begging for attention or acting as though he does not deserve any.


Anonymous said...

Would a friend not telling you she has adopted a child _ or that she was even planning too, even though you invited her to your wedding - count as too reticent?

Jack said...

Sometimes love at first sight leads to friendship and a long-lasting relationship. Sometimes. Here's proof -- -- it's a very short video about the moment one woman first saw her future husband and 'just knew.' Almost 50 years later, they're still married. If you like it, click to vote for it and she might wind up as an "aha moment" tv commercial. And check out some of the other videos, too. I think you'll find them quite inspirational.

All the best,