The Secret Sauce of Friendship

A really odd thing happened at my book club meeting last night. More than half of the regular attendees didn't show for one reason or another (the most cited reason -- "life").

These absentees were odd, since book club is a much looked-forward-to monthly chance for a group of 20 friends (some who have known each other since grade school) to gather, drink lots of wine and almost never actually discuss the novel on the "required" reading list.

What we do discuss, however, is how Jane is doing at her new job, what trips Sarah took since the previous gathering and how Barbara and her husband just celebrated their 15th anniversary. We discuss these innocuous items of life in small groups of three or four, and then once the most important information has been shared, cheered and noted, we move on to the next group and do it all over again with a different set of players. It is in this manner that we collectively keep up-to-date on the goings on in the lives of all the book club gals. And I admit, I love to keeping up with my book club gals.

But since only seven of us showed for last night's meeting, instead of forming several pockets of friendly conversation, we instead all found a perch in the family room -- and started really talking.

It is an odd number, which means that if a decision needs to be made, a majority can be easily obtained. Seven is also the maximum number of things that one can simultaneously pay attention to and remember, which is why phone numbers cap out at seven digits (yes, area codes don't count).

And, with only seven members, a group remains small enough that it doesn't require a leader to corral and manage everyone, thus all members feel equal.

Who knew?!

Anyhow, with our gang of seven, instead of getting just the tidbits and condensed versions of people's lives, last night we heard full stories. These stories included the background, the current situation and the plans for the future. We shared opinions, first-person accounts and perspectives and offered insight and advice. And, most importantly, we got the opportunity to know each other on a deeper level -- which is the first step towards moving a relationship from acquaintance to friend.

The Secret Sauce to Friendship

As the owner of the oldest women's friendship networking site, I hear over and over (and over) again that the main problem with female friendships is that they are so darn difficult to make as an adult. And unfortunately, this often really is true... or at least it used to be.

See my theory is that making new friends as an adult is only difficult because we don't often find ourselves in situations where we actually have the opportunity to develop intimacy. And intimacy is the secret sauce to great friendships.

Intimacy is our ability and desire to expose ourselves to someone else -- be it a romantic partner, a family member or friend. You can only be close when you really know the other person, and the only way to really know another person is to open yourself up to them through shared experiences or through conversation (when you share experiences you see how someone reacts/behaves, which is another way of being intimate and exposing yourself).

The fact that both of you adore rocky road ice cream, have walked the aisle twice and enjoy shredding the slopes does not a friendship make. What makes the friendships is the knowledge that eating ice cream is symptomatic of you feeling especially pleased with yourself, how you secretly feel your second "walk" was more of the "plank" variety and not necessary the church type, and that a trip to Vail, CO aligns your chakras like no other place.

By spending time together regularly, and sharing, we form connections -- intimate connections. And ultimately, these intimate connections flow into friendships. It is the repeated encounters of mutual sharing that turn a promising acquaintance into a great new friend. It isn't the intimacy that makes the adult friendship hard, but rather the ability to have regular and repeated connections with a potential new friend AND to spend enough time sharing that you actually lay a foundation of trust.

For example, you meet Ella at a neighbor's party and you hit it off -- which is terrific. But unless you see Ella again and again and again, no real friendship will be forged. And even if you do see Ella regularly -- like say at a monthly book club -- you still may never really build a true friendship because you never actually sit down and talk/share with her in that setting. You might like her a lot and look forward to seeing here, but you won't really know her until you get some extended time and sharing under your belt.

Of course, organic friendships do sprout from real life encounters. However, when these organic opportunities don't spontaneously happen to you (and again, they don't for most of us given our busy lives), then you need to make them happen.

Sometimes Organic Isn't Always Best

And this is where online friending comes in. Just like online dating solves the problem of serendipitously meeting a potential romantic mate, "online friending" does the same for finding great new friends. It puts you in contact with others who are also seeking new friendships, and thus are interested in pursuing these new friendships (through "friendship dates" as some like to call it, but if that creeps you, just call it "girlfriend get-togethers").

So, the moral of the story is this: if you want new or deeper friendships, spend more time in good company and in good conversation. And, if you find that you aren't cultivating a solid group from which to farm new friends, why not give online friending a try?

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