Struggling With Friendships
Struggling With Friendships
Dear Tacit,

I am struggling with friendships.  I feel like my expectations are different from what others seem to offer as far as regular connection goes.  What is wrong with me?

Signed: Struggling With Friendships

Dear Struggling With Friendships,

Nothing is wrong with you!  Like with any relationship, friendships take a lot of work.  They require (from both people involved) clear communication, consistent effort, and a willingness to be vulnerable.  And if any of these 3 ingredients are missing, break-downs and misunderstandings are far more likely to happen.

There are also different levels of friendship.  And there are 3 main types of friendship styles that stem from an individual’s natural personality type.  If the two people involved in the friendship are coming from different points with either of these aspects, it is likely that there will be some confusion or hurt feelings that result.

Let me explain… the nature of friendships can differ based on the level of closeness, mutual interests, and the length of time spent together.  And the progression of a friendship depends largely on other aspects going on in a person’s life – a person may not have the time or ability to grow the relationship (because of family distractions, financial worries, health-related stressors, or any other number of behind-the-scenes factors that they are dealing with), even if the desire is strong!

Here are some common levels of friendships:

Acquaintances or Casual Friends: These are the people we enjoy being around when our paths cross naturally or organically – when we “happen” to see them.

Work/Activity Friends: We spend time with these individuals when a mutually shared interest (or a role we have in life) brings us together on a regular basis (a sport our child plays, a group we join, being colleagues at work, etc).

Social Friends: These are the friends we make the effort to spend time with beyond the role interaction that conveniently already exists – we feel a deeper connection is possible and we want to see if that can develop further.

Close Friends: These are the friends with whom we have formed a deeper emotional connection. They are the ones we confide in, spend more time with, and trust with personal information.

Best Friends: Best friends are like confidants and partners in crime. They know us intimately, and we can rely on them for almost anything. They may feel like family and are often considered lifelong friends, regardless of when the connection became so cemented.

Lifelong Friends: These friendships are formed during childhood, adolescence or early adulthood and can hold a special place in our hearts. Early-life friends have witnessed our growth and development, and the shared history we have often creates a unique and lasting connection, even if our life paths take us in different directions as older adults.

(I want to also mention a newer level of friendship that has developed over the past 20 years or so… Online Friends: With the rise of social media and the internet, it has become common to form friendships with people we meet online. These friendships can be as genuine and meaningful as in-person ones, though they may lack face-to-face interaction. And they also progress though the levels of intimacy that in-person connections do, although often more slowly.)

Within these levels of friendship progression, there are also 3 different ways that individual’s approach and engage in friendships, based on their unique personality traits. It is important to note that these friendship styles are not rigid categories, and individuals may exhibit traits from multiple styles, depending upon their current life circumstances.

  1. Independent Friendship Style: These individuals value their autonomy and individuality. They often prioritize personal space, freedom, and self-reliance. They maintain a few close friendships (with people who matter the most to them, even if it might not always seem that way) but they just do not feel the need for an extensive social circle. Independence is highly important to them, and they may not rely heavily on their friends for emotional support or constant contact.  This type of friendship style is relatively low maintenance – but don’t misjudge the value that these individuals place on those they do bring into their inner circle.
  1. Acquisitive Friendship Style: These individuals are highly sociable and enjoy expanding their social network. They are often outgoing, enthusiastic, and open to meeting new people. For them, making friends comes naturally, and they are comfortable in various social settings. They enjoy being part of multiple friend groups and are willing to invest time and effort in cultivating many new friendships.  They prefer to spread their emotional investment among many, gathering support as needed.
  1. Discerning Friendship Style: These individuals have a selective and cautious approach to forming friendships. They value trust, loyalty, and deep connections. They are careful in choosing their friends and may take their time to develop a strong bond. While they may have a smaller circle of friends, they deeply value the quality and intimacy of those relationships.  They often value long-term friendships and may be hesitant to let go of close friends even in difficult times.

Sometimes we forget that the people we are drawn to might have a different friendship style than we do, or that they are at a different readiness level for the depth of friendship we are looking for because of other factors in their lives.  We take it personally when we don’t receive the same levels of effort or vulnerability from the people with whom we want to have a friendship.  But we need to remember to look at the connection from the other person’s perspective – not just our own.  They may be giving us 100% of their friendship even if it looks/feels different than what we are expecting (or giving). That doesn’t mean we are not just as important to the other individual as they are to us.  They really do/can still care as much as we do, just through a different lens.

Take care!

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