We’ve all heard that stupid advice: You are the combination of the five people you spend the most time with. I hate that advice because it lends itself to social climbing instead of developing meaningful connections. In 2013, I realized that while I had a lot of professional acquaintances, I didn’t have a ton of actual friends. Close friends from high school and college had drifted apart as we all moved to different corners of the country to pursue our lives, and I no longer had much in common with the people I used to work with. It was time to enrich my life with people I really love, so I started by writing this list of qualities I want in my friendships:
- Openness: Feeling like we can be honest about our lives.
- Intellect: Exchanging ideas and making each other think!
- Laughter: Pure, simple fun.
- Acceptance: Feeling OK together, not judged.
- Adventure: Going places, trying things, meeting people together.
- Support: Being able to talk to someone about what’s on my mind and feel heard and understood.
- Encouragement: Getting excited about each other’s ideas and opportunities.
- Comfort: Feeling cared for and loved.
I didn’t spend a ton of time thinking about the list once it was written, but looking back over the year, I can see that I navigated my social life differently after writing it. I invested more energy in relationships that meet most of these desires, reached out to old friends, and took the risk of seeking out people I thought might share my interests and intentions. In some cases it worked out, and in others it didn’t. Here are some of my favorite results from this new approach to friendships:
- Got to know some incredibly cool people in San Francisco through my husband. I don’t get to see them often, but we stay in touch online and have a great time when we do meet up.
- Reconnected with best friends from high school — we had the BEST night in Lafayette when we were all home for Christmas.
- Emailing and Facebook messaging old acquaintances to rekindle an exchange of ideas — you don’t have to be ultra close with everyone to be able to appreciate them!
- Meeting Jenn and starting the derby experiment and a host of other adventures.
- Bar hopping in DC for Stan’s birthday with a bunch of new friends. (Stan is actually another Jenn, but The Ladyfriend Committee has renamed her for practical reasons.)
- Girls movie night — we watched The Little Mermaid and drank … a lot.
- Coffee dates, book exchanges, and anime nights with a lot of new people I’m grateful to have in my life.
- Developed a very special friendship with a feminist friend in Bolivia — we’ve never met in person, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends!
- Reconnected deeply with my husband and fell in love with him about a dozen times. After all, he really is my BFF.
I’m extremely grateful for the people who’ve come into my life and for the old friendships I’ve been able to renew. My social life is now a much more accurate reflection of my real values instead of being just a list of people I kinda know from work.
This year, I encourage you to seriously look at who is in your life and what kind of give-and-take you have with them. Do your friends support you and make you feel like your best self? Are they people you want to give back to? Do you get excited when you see them learn and grow? Try making a list of the attributes you most want in your friendships, and see how that changes the way you interact. And remember to always act with love.