What do you want in a friendship?


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:

  1.  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.
  2. Reconnected with best friends from high school — we had the BEST night in Lafayette when we were all home for Christmas.
  3. 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!
  4. Meeting Jenn and starting the derby experiment and a host of other adventures.
  5. 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.)
  6. Girls movie night — we watched The Little Mermaid and drank … a lot.
  7. Coffee dates, book exchanges, and anime nights with a lot of new people I’m grateful to have in my life.
  8. 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!
  9. 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. 🙂


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I Love Maria Abramović

Marina Abramović, The Artist Is Present, 2010

“It’s a very simple exchange. If you give your time, I give you experience. If you don’t give your time, there is no experience.”

Maria Abramović touches the very heart of what art (and in fact human interaction) is all about. I am becoming slightly obsessed with this woman.

To learn more about Maria Abramović, check out this page about her on Artsy.net.

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Metro Conversations

Washington D.C. Metro Tunnel
The other day, I got into an accidental conversation with a stranger in a DC Metro station. This is exactly the sort of thing I usually avoid, but roll with it for a minute.

It’s tourist season, and navigating the metro gets a bit hectic, so I’m standing as far away from other human beings as possible, leaning against the concrete half-wall hoping to cool myself off against it. I notice a young black woman standing about 10 feet away doing the exact same thing as me — leaning against a wall and avoiding eye contact with strangers. She looks about my age, her outfit is cute, and she has blue hair. Us Crayola-haired people aren’t super common in DC. We make eye contact for a split second, say nothing, look away. The next train is 13 minutes away. We continue casting meaningless glances all around the metro station as though it were a very interesting place. Eventually, we make eye-contact again, and I open my mouth to say, “I like your hair,” but she’s already looked away. I feel silly and ask myself, “Why would this stranger in a metro station want to talk to me? What, are we gonna be best friends now because we both have weird hair?” I go back to scrolling through Tumblr on my phone, occasionally looking up in the manner of a small forrest animal that must look out for predators while it eats.

On one of my furtive scans of the station, a man intercepts my gaze and saunters up  to stand beside me, blocking my vision of the young woman I would have made eye contact with to silently plea for help if I needed to be rescued. He’s an older man, black, thin, with spots of grey in his short facial hair, and a sizable gap in his lower front teeth. He wore grey sweatpants and a white v-neck t-shirt, and stood closer than I would have liked.

He sighed in a way I took to mean, “Damn, there’s too many people in here.”

Without making eye contact, I said, “Yup. It’s tourist season.” And quick as that, we were having a conversation about Washington DC, race, class, and how the city has changed in the time he’s lived here — born and raised in the District, he says, but I didn’t ask how old he was. On one hand, it was one of those casual conversations you have where the subtext is simply, “As long as we’re standing here waiting for this train we might as well chew the fat a little.” On the other hand, in the matter of 30 seconds, I went from being afraid of this stranger to exchanging our views on why there’s such poverty in our nation’s capital and what’s been done to improve things lately. He seemed convinced things are slowly getting better in DC, especially as the Marion Barry crowd sifts out.

There’s always a risk when you talk to strangers in metro stations or on air planes — like the time I sat next to a preachy Hare Krishna on a six-hour flight from Philly to SF. Part of me wishes metro guy hadn’t come up and invaded my personal space because I really wasn’t comfortable with it to begin with. Another part of me is glad we had the chance to talk just because it’s good to connect with your fellow human beings now and then.

And I keep wondering about the blue haired woman who seemed so interesting. I felt I had no right or reason to so much as compliment her hair. Maybe talking to her would’ve been fruitless, but so what? Instead, I left this huge gulf between us where a man stepped in because he felt at liberty in a way that I did not. I’m not sure what to make of that, but I do think it’s related to the ways that women don’t reach out to each other. It might also be related to race, although I’m not sure. I think it’s related to a lot of issues that I don’t quite have the finesse to pin down.

Humans are an interesting species with our complicated social codes about who speaks to whom and under what circumstances. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we all just said “hello” to anyone we please just for the sake of being nice? I’m adding that to my Ideal World Wishlist.

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Writing to Connect

Scritture epidermiche

Narration, description, exposition and persuasion. That is why we write, according to the elementary school curriculum I learned.

Narration? Cool story, bro. Description? Same. Persuasion? Politics and sales is all I see there. Exposition? I think you mean mansplaining. Ok, fine, each of these things totally has a valid place in the world, but isn’t there more to creativity than these four categories?

I think there’s another reason for writing or creating any type of art, which includes and supersedes all of the above: Connection. (Note the bold type like a key word in your middle school text book.)

I noticed this because I’ve been emailing with an old writing buddy lately. He’s been trying to get back into writing, so he sent me an essay.

He wrote about his life as a grownup, just a general reflection about the choices we make and how they lead to us becoming someone different than we thought we would be. There was no judgement, no argument, no “point” really except to share. Reading the essay I felt like, “Yeah, I know how you feel. I’ve been there.”

So, if you’re not trying to sell anything, you’re not trying to tell an urgent story, you’re not describing anything I’ve never seen, and you’re not teaching me anything, there is still one really important purpose for writing. If you manage to connect, you’re getting somewhere.

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Weekly Assignment: Make Contact

Day 090/366 Outtakes - March 30th

Who would you like to be friends with?

Who would you like to work with?

Who would you like to brainstorm with?

Why not just reach out to these people and make contact? We often consider networking a scummy, insincere activity done by shifty people who intend to take advantage of you. But actually, making a valuable connection can be simple, sincere and enjoyable.

This week, write an e-mail, tweet, or Facebook message to someone you’d like to have a connection with. There’s no need to be salesy if that’s not genuine for you. Just be nice. Be sincere.

Why do you want to be connected with this person? Why don’t you just say that? For example: “I have a new project that I think you would find interesting.” Or you know what’s always nice? Compliments. “I really like the work you’ve been doing and just wanted to let you know.” If it’s someone you’d like to be friends with, just try sharing something of interest to you.

Most people appreciate any sincere contact from another person, but if they don’t respond the way you’re hoping, it’s not a big deal. They might not respond at all, in which case it’s best to assume they’re just really busy. The worst thing that could happen is they respond rudely, in which case you obviously don’t want to be friends with that person and you can just let it go.

This one will feel like a risk, but I promise it’s worthwhile. You’ll get more positive responses than negative. Branch out.

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