“Friends come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.”
While we’ve all had different types of friends during different phases of our lives, it is important that we have friends that are there for a lifetime or the “close friends”. They are the lucky (or unlucky) few with whom you can share your secrets, and for whom you’d be willing to bring the shovel for.
Who is a “Close Friend”?
Merriam and Webster offer several definitions of the term ‘friend’ spanning from – ‘that person whom you’re attached to because of affection’ or ‘just not your enemy’, or ‘that person you include in your connection list in Facebook or other social networking sites.’ However it does not touch on the description of a close friend.
Social psychologist and the University of California, Berkeley Psychology professor, Dr. Serena Chen, identifies intimacy as the crucial component in determining a close friendship. According to her, as long as you are comfortable enough with another person to share your inner thoughts, fully express yourself, and feel that the other person understands you, then what you have is a close friendship. But to continue cultivating this intimacy, reciprocity is needed (we’ll talk more about this later).
Squad-vantage: The Advantage of Having Close Friends
Navigating friendships can be complex, thanks to all the emotions at play. As adults, with jobs and responsibilities taking up most of our time, making friends or staying connected with close friends can be challenging. Are close friendships worth the challenge?
The short answer is yes. Very much so!
In the words of Maya Angelou – “Friendship takes work. Finding friends, nurturing friendships, scheduling facetime, it all takes a tremendous amount of work. But it’s worth it. If you put in the effort, you’ll see the rewards of positive friends who will make your life extraordinary.”
A study by Harvard as reported in the New York Times concludes that having friends is good for one’s mental and emotional well-being because they help curb loneliness, decrease stress, provide emotional support, encourage personal growth, give us a sense of belongingness, and positively impact resilience. Here’s how:
Loneliness occurs when you are disconnected from those around you. Aside from stress and depression, loneliness is also linked to several chronic illnesses. The affection and intimacy in close friendships helps to fend off loneliness and social isolation. That, in turn, neutralizes, to a degree, the effects of loneliness on a person’s mental, emotional, and physical health.
Lowering Stress Levels
Pent-up stress can cause many health problems that range from simple skin breakouts to life-threatening cardiovascular diseases and more. Close friends provide you the listening, non-judgemental ears so you can vent and release the proverbial steam. They’re the stress busters everyone needs. An added benefit – they can be the sounding boards to help you arrive at solutions to your problems.
Providing Emotional Support
Close friends are the emotional support system you can count on especially when the chips are down. They help by listening to your woes, validating your feelings, distracting you when you’re in a funk, or just being there for you as you navigate your emotions.
A close friend offers genuine encouragement, assurance, and compassion. In other words, a close friend is the one who walks in when the rest of the world is walking out.
Encouraging Personal Growth
When you want to change a habit or start a new one, close friends are the ones you need around.
They are the cheerleaders on the days your motivation is at its lowest ebb, or they can keep you in check when you’re straying from the path. They can even join you in your journey to change just to make sure you reach your goal. And all of this comes from a place of love, care and concern.
Giving A Sense of Belongingness
Humans are inherently social by nature and need to belong to a group. We strive to be in groups that accept and understand us, weird dance moves and all. Having good friends satisfies this natural need. They are the people who know you at your best and at your worst and take you as you are.
Positively Impacting Resilience
According to a 2007 study by Cambridge, people with close friendships weather life’s storms better and recover from them faster than those without strong friendships.
The understanding and support that close friends bring to the table, especially when we’re going through an incredibly distressing situation, help us recoup, recover and bounce back stronger. This resilience is something we gain from close friendships.
Building Bridges: How to Start Friendships
We’ve seen why friendships are good for us. But learning how to make friends, cultivating your relationship with them enough so you can consider them close friends and keeping them close are entirely different matters.
To make genuine friends, you have to be genuine too. Be yourself, do what you love, and make the first move.
Friendships are founded on common interests or experiences. That is why when you stay true to yourself and pursue your interests, the possibility that you’ll meet like-minded people you can connect with is high. When you find that person, the next natural move is extending a short and casual invitation to spend more time with them. You can ask them out to watch the movie you both wanted to see, go to the restaurant you’ve both been waiting to try, and so on.
The fear of rejection can hinder you from inviting a potential friend. But remember, nothing will start if you just wait. Initiate the conversation and extend that invitation. It’s better to make an effort now than regret the missed chance later.
Making It Close: How to Have Close Friendships
According to prominent psychologist and founder of the International Center for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy, Dr. Sue Johnson, close friendships may feel like something that just naturally happens, but in truth, you need to invest time and effort to make it happen.
There are four essentials to a closer friendship: make them feel secure, pay attention to them, be true to them and yourself, and reciprocate.
Make Them Feel Secure
Neuroscientist and psychiatrist Dr. Amir Lavine suggests making your friends feel secure with you as a means to further a friendship.
To foster security in your close friendships, you have to be there for them when they need you, spend time with them, respond to their messages and calls, and be consistent with your actions.
Pay Attention To Them
Paying close attention to a friend can give you more insight into their personality and help to empathize with their emotions and experiences. Giving someone your full attention makes them feel they are important to you and conveys that you are there for them.
So when you’re with friends, and irrespective of whether you’re having a light or serious conversation, try to leave your phone face-down on the table and turn your body and attention towards them. This simple gesture says you like spending time with them, and you are there in that moment with them.
Be True to Them and to Yourself
It’s scary to share who you really are, especially the not-so-great factoids. But there is no use having a close friend if you have to pretend to be someone you’re not and hiding the very things that make you who you are.
If you want to have a close friendship, you have to let loose and share the best and the worst of you. But remember, that close friendships involve great amounts of trust so don’t go sharing things with someone not trustworthy enough.
It can be a challenge to get close to someone, especially if you’ve been less than truthful about the real you at the beginning. But no matter how challenging it can become; it is possible to reveal yourself and nurture genuinely close friendships.
In close friendships, reciprocity is the mutual exchange of acceptance and understanding that results in deeper intimacy and a stronger bond.
When your friends accept you for who you are, you have to be ready to do the same for them. You know first-hand how hard it is to reveal your true self, so be open and accepting of who they are, no judgements passed.
Squad Trials: Tests of Friendships
Putting a friend through a friendship test sounds cold and calculating. There’s also an underlying assumption that if they don’t ‘pass’ the test, then they’re good enough to be part of your life.
Instead, relying on a friend for something big or small can be considered as the friendship test that can strengthen your bond. So, the next time you need help cooking a turkey or planning a party, reach out to your friend.
While you may have a lot of friends, you definitely need to have a few that are true. It may sound complicated and challenging, but in reality, it’s simple enough. Just be the kind of friend you’re looking to have, and you’ve definitely covered all the necessary bases.