Solving the friendship problem comes down to one basic thing. Simply put: we should get together. Whenever we can, wherever we can, in whatever format makes it possible. We should get together when it’s convenient, and when it’s not.
I was supposed to interview Kat Vellos, author of We Should Get Together, but our schedules didn’t align before the end of this miniseries, and as much as I’ve enjoyed this topic, I need to wrap up. So this week, I’ll be finalizing the series on friendship by sharing some ideas from Kat’s book.
In addition to an introduction and conclusion, We Should Get Together is arranged in three parts:
- Why friendship matters and elements of good ones
- The four main friendship challenges and how to overcome them
- Bold new approaches for cultivating friendship, and next steps.
Post: IIf you find yourself craving more or better friendships, there’s a high likelihood that the people you want to be friends with are wishing for that too.
If you’re in a friendship rut or in a position where making friends and improving your friendship life is a priority, I recommend the book. Friendship takes work, and this book will demystify the work that is needed. Since friendship may be different to you than it is to me, only we can determine the needs in our friendship lives. First, you need to be realistic about how many friendships you can maintain when you consider the other important relationships in your life. Friendship is important and everyone benefits from having friends, but only you can decide how much time you have for friendships, and so how many friends you can maintain close relationships with. In friendship, the other person will be there for you and you for them. In adulthood, it’s more important to have high-quality friendships than a larger quantity of friends.
We Should Get Together is full of actionable steps in each section, and the suggestions are interesting and innovative. As I was reading the book, a friend was visiting me in Prague from Atlanta. She’s much more social than I am and has an easier time making friends, but she also found some suggestions to be delightful activities that she can try, as she’s only lived in her neighborhood for about 1 year.
I’ve named this episode after the big takeaway for me. As someone who’s travelled a lot and moved around a lot, sometimes I wonder if it’s worth investing time in new friendships when I know that I may be moving or the other person may soon leave our common city. Or what about if you meet someone on holiday and hit it off with them?
Why rob yourself yourself of the benefits of human connection, however fleeting? A lot of us spend more time thinking about living somewhere else than we do figuring out how to feel more belonging in the place we already live. But what if we did the opposite instead? What if we treated our short time here the way we do when we make a spontaneous friend on a trip in a new place—where, instead of avoiding them since neither of us is staying in that city or town forever, we dive right in and we dive deep? It certainly didn’t stop us during high school or college, when we knew for certain that we’d all be moving on after a few years. What if, when it came to friendship, we treated every new address as if it were our last? What if we opted for high-intensity short-term friendships where, instead of deciding it’s not worth it, we said, “We’re only going to be here for a minute, so let’s make it amazing”.
I think we should take the opportunities to build meaningful connections. You never know when you’ll run into the person again. I spent 9 days on pilgrimage with a friend a few years back, and we keep in touch regularly. We have some things in common and a lot where we are different, but she’s one of the people that I’ve had the most revealing conversations with. Our common religion allows us to show up for each other in a way that is different from the way I interact with many of my other close friends.
On a trip to New Orleans, I met three people, and we had so much fun together; I went out and tried things I would have never done alone. We no longer keep in except through Facebook follows, but I am so happy I met them.
By now, you should be familiar with the benefits of friendship as discussed in previous episodes. If you’ve accepted the invitations previously shared, you’ve taken a look at your friendship and identified some areas for pruning, fertilizing, or other maintenance. By now, you should have an idea of whether you need new friends or need to spend time to deepen or maintain your existing friendships. Let me add one more consideration to help you design your friendship life.
The Seeds of Connection
According to Kat, there are four critical elements in friendship, although they may be of unequal importance to you or can even shift importance as you go through various stages and experiences in life. The first three are ones we can control, while the last one is not something we can typically control.
In my interview with Coach Lee, I talked about wanting friends that I could meet up with on an ad-hoc/last-minute basis. My favorite time in Prague was when I had a couple of friends living within 10 minutes of me. We would go for walks together, sometimes do groceries together, stop at each other’s homes, etc. When I lived in Japan, a friend and I would frequently drive to school or grocery shopping together, although we both had cars. One of my favorite memories is our Monday breakfasts to start the week with a fun activity. I like a bit of notice before people drop by (at least an update that they’re on their way) but having friends in close proximity is important to me; it allows the opportunity for spontaneity.
On the other hand, I have some very close friends that live thousands of miles away from me. The need for proximity to maintain a relationship is mitigated by the depth of the friendship. What do you need? Do you need to cultivate more friends within walking/driving distance from your home, or is your friend distribution satisfactory? This is important as relocation is the number 1 reason why relationships fizzle out.
Home is anywhere people notice, and care, when they don’t see you around. Having friends in close proximity transforms a generic neighborhood into an extended home.
How often do you want to meet with your friends? It’s a matter of both timing and repetition. For each of the people in your friendship circles or quadrants, are each of you satisfied with the frequency of your meetups and conversations? If there is an imbalance of needs, are you willing to compromise, so each person’s needs are met? If you can’t compromise, each of you has a decision to make on whether to continue the friendship. You need to meet often enough to be able to develop attachment and familiarity.
Spending time with friends doesn’t have to come at the cost of accomplishing adult responsibilities—combining the two can actually make each task more fun and fulfilling
Commitment is a measure of how we show up for each other. It deepens and strengthens through the core behaviors of openness, caring, trust, dedication, and reciprocity.
Openness means being available emotionally and physically. Who are the people you can call when you need help last minute? in the middle of the night? during the evenings/weekends? A lack of dedication was the second biggest barrier to making and maintaining friendships from Kat’s survey while writing the book. Making plans, reaching out, and doing activities for you and your friend shows dedication. Reciprocity means showing up for the other person how they need you to show up. It doesn’t mean each person in the friendship has to provide the same things, but rather that each person is getting what they need from the relationship without undue strain on any party.
It’s worth focusing on your commitment and one of the ways you can do that is by showing up when you say you will, checking in with them on important events, and generally keeping the connection alive by letting them know you are there, and you care.
Research proves—and your own real life experience probably corroborates—that friendships are more likely to survive if the friends involved share the responsibility for the friendship’s maintenance equitably.
Compatibility includes chemistry, communication style, lifestyle, socializing style, and values. You don’t need to be a perfect match in each of these, but you need to like each other and have enough in common You can take a test at weshouldgettogether.com/compatibility with your friend to determine compatibility. Another activity that Kat suggests is to discuss Heineken’s World’s Apart video (linked in the show notes). To know your socializing style, go to weshouldgettogether.com/seedsofconnection.
We make the other person feel heard when we listen actively, summarize clearly, and offer our reflections, feelings, and perspectives.– Kat Vellos
Those seeds are a good starting point but another thing that helps friendships along is the quality of our activities and conversations.
Focus on Friendship
If you want to build strong friendships, you can’t spend the majority of your time on together catching up. While you may want to know what’s going on in someone’s life, this kind of recall seldom provides opportunity for real bonding. Minimize it and make sure that you get into meaty conversations.
“I firmly believe that a robust immersion in quality connection marked by vulnerability, self-disclosure, and empathetic listening experienced in a concentrated form, can fast-track a friendshi into existance in a shorter amount of time.”– Kat Vellos
One of the ways to have meatier conversations is to ask questions. It shows your engagement in the conversation and can create goodwill. It provides opportunities to learn more about a person to find points of connection for building intimacy. It’s important to move past small talk. While some small talk can be useful in brand new relationships, it’s not necessary for building connections. Don’t get stuck in the small talk trap every time you meet a new potential friend. Kat invites us to get out of the trap of small talk and “be vulnerable first and see how that unlocks deeper levels of trust for you both”.
I believe that deep conversations, in which we disclose the more sensitive emotions, thoughts, and feelings that we’d otherwise hold inside, are superior in every way to superficial conversation.Kat Vellos
Friendship takes time. It’s important to check in with people and spend time with them. Even if you’re in a romantic relationship, make time for friends. Kat identifies three categories of friendships to nurture: mutual friends you meet as a couple, individual friends by yourself, time as a couple with friends of one partner or the other. This allows you to connect with people who know you as an individual and as a couple, and can also help you understand your partner better.
One way to make friendships in a way that is more efficient and more durable, according to Kat is to use the small group format. Intentionally build a small group of people that all share something in common that can spend time together for various activities. Plan outings with the small group. This spreads out the responsibility for organizing and maintaining the friendship. It can help to plan an unconventional experience, as that bonds people faster, according to findings by researchers at Cornell University. Make time for friends and invest in spending time with different groups of people who align with you on your friendship goals. Do a variety of planned and spontaneous activities, as the latter is often found to be more enjoyable.
So what if you find it awkward to make new friends? Kat thinks that we need to tease apart what we mean by awkward in these cases. What emotions are you actually experiencing? You can reference link in the shownotes to help you identify your emotions. And then how can you address the emotion.
For example, if you’re afraid that you’ll run out of things to say, brainstorm some questions to ask but also try to ask questions related to each response from the other person in the conversation. You will get better with practice. But if you need help, there are lots of ideas in the book of questions you can ask or you could work with a coach. One of the tools a coach may use is exposure hierarchy, where a task is broken down into small steps.
Kat shares two methods in the book for supercharging friendship: QQ10 for Quality + Quantity in 10 days and The Friendship Incubator for 90 days. In both cases, she provides a framework that you can follow.
My hypothesis was that if two people who have decent chemistry commit to ten consecutive days of quality time, then they’ll be able to form the kind of closeness that typically takes months to build.
Don’t get seduced by the false idea of friendship on social media. Seeing friends’ updates can actually inhibit your closeness, as you are less likely to have an in-depth conversation where you relate if the thing you relate with was shared on social media rather than in person. However, social media creates a false sense of intimacy, letting us think that we know more than we do about another person or are closer to them. Quoting Sherry Turkel, Kat writes, “relationships mediated by digital devices “give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship”.
If you notice that social media is inhibiting your connection with friends, some ideas from Kat are to reach out to friends for more details about their posts, the stuff about their recent trip that they did not share on social media, for example. Or you may find that you need to quit social media entirely.
Following someone doesn’t make you friends with them. Make sure that you acknowledge the boundaries and the nature of relationships you may have with the people you regularly listen to or follow.
To end this episode, I’ll share four challenges from the book. You can do one or more of these:
- Pick two friends who you want to be closer with. Ask if they’re up for increasing the frequency in your friendship
- write a love letter to a friend
- Set time on your calendar for friendship as previously advised by Paul Sanders or for nothingness or for self-care
- Say yes to spontaneous/last minute invites and no to scheduled invites for a week, a month.
We should get together in new ways: openly, unguardedly, honestly, curiously, empathetically, vulnerably, creatively.
I wish you happier, more satisfying friendships.
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- Feelings Inventory
- Sharing Extraordinary Experiences Fosters Feelings of Closeness research
- A Helpful Guide to Becoming Unbusy
- The Surprising Power of Questions
- The Bored and Brilliant Challenge
- BBC podcast The Why Factor episodes on friendship.
- Emotions Are Data article, including feelings chart
- Forlight coaching
- Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
- How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny O’Dell
- Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Shelly Turkel
- Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life by Dr. Richard Florida
- We Should Get Together by Kat Vellos