Human connection can be powerful, meaningful and is much needed. We are wired to connect with others yet there are different types of connections, some seeking closer proximity and others surface level. Consider the differences between your needs from intimate partnerships and work colleagues, for example. Let’s dig into friendship.
Though men often have different types of friendships than women and seek different things from their relationships, it is still true that deeper connections predict better health and well-being in reducing the impact of stress and avoiding loneliness (many say an epidemic in the US). The culture of social media connection, though it does indeed tie people together, often does so on a more superficial level, even more of a reason it’s important to put energy into IRL (In Real Life) important relationships.
Many friends doesn’t necessarily mean they are high in quality. For those who have emotional wounds and struggle to be vulnerable with others, more surface level relationships might mask this deficiency. In fact, they may be the friend who always steps up, offers to help or organize, is the party planner. They may know hundreds of people yet aren’t close to any of them. Or they might appear perfectly happy, nice, accommodating…yet at the end of the day, people don’t really know them and they haven’t made an effort to know you. I’ve worked with people in these categories and others; those who are secretly wafting through life without deeper connections.
If you put effort into a being a better friend to others, even a select few, you will likely notice a reciprocity start to happen from those who want the same. And sometimes, despite your efforts to deepen a connection, your efforts will not be met. Some people truly operate in a more surface level state. And they are happy with it. People have different levels of awareness and introspection ability or need. Lastly, keep in mind that it can take time to cultivate and nurture meaningful relationships.
How to Be a Better Friend
- Listen well. Make space and consider what they’re saying rather than preparing for a response.
- Be curious. Deepen conversations by asking more questions.
- Know them. Retain important goals, celebratory achievements and pain points.
- Be open. Share your feelings, goals, celebratory achievements and pain points.
- Be empathetic. Try to feel how they feel and respond appropriately. “That must have been hard.”
- Give space when needed. More introverted people recharge with their alone time. Understand and be respectful of that.
- Be loyal. Keep their secrets and be their champion.
- Be reliable. Do your best to “show up” in whatever way you have committed to.
- Know yourself. Be aware of your issues and notice if they come up in the relationship. Own your stuff.
- Apologize. If you mess up, take responsibility. Repair your mistake to show them they matter and you can be vulnerable in this way.
- Be there for the hardest stuff. Life can be painful. We all need each other during these times.
- Smile. Humor is connecting, particularly for two people who appreciate the act of being funny and are receptive to it.
There are many other ways you can learn to be a better friend than the above but it’s a good start. You might find that some of the above are easier than others for you. Much of this can be related to your own history; family of origin relationships, trauma, intimate relationship history, etc.
If life has taught you that people can be trusted and relied upon, that being vulnerable is safe, it will likely be easier for you to practice this list. If your experiences have been less secure, encouraging or there is relational trauma, it could be challenging. Sometimes people with difficult histories can have a less secure sense of self. Consider additional resources like therapy or other helping tools for support if needed.
In California? See my California Online Therapy practice if you need support around this.
Out of California? The Psychology Today Directory is an excellent resource. Just type in your zip code.