The conventional wisdom is that we choose friends because of who they are. But it turns out that we actually love them because of the way they support who we are.
If you really want to change an aspect of your life, finding like-minded friends will increase your chances of success
I’ve been immersed in the study of friendship for the past several years, and among the many things I’ve learned, one idea stands out: If you truly want to change some aspect of your life, developing friendships with people who aspire to the same goals as you do.
Entering The Friendship Zone
Years ago researchers conducted a study in which they followed the friendships in a single two-story apartment building. People tended to be friends with the neighbors on their respective floors, although those on the ground floor near the mailboxes and the stairway had friends on both floors. Friendship was least likely between someone on the first floor and someone on the second. As the study suggests, friends are often those who cross paths with regularity; our friends tend to be coworkers, classmates, and people we run into at the gym
Why Some (And Only Some) Friends Stick
Once a friendship is established through self-disclosure and reciprocity, the glue that binds is intimacy. According to Fehr’s research, people in successful same-sex friendships seem to possess a well-developed, intuitive understanding of the give and take of intimacy.
Hefty helpings of emotional expressiveness and unconditional support are ingredients here, followed by acceptance, loyalty, and trust. Our friends are there for us through thick and thin, but rarely cross the line: A friend with too many opinions about our wardrobe, our partner, or our taste in movies and art may not be a friend for long.
The Truth About Best Friends
If closeness forms the basis of friendship, it stands to reason that your best friend would be someone with whom you enjoy supersized intimacy. We have with our best friends a “beyond-the-call-of-duty” expectation. If we suffer an emergency—real or imagined—and need to talk, we expect our best friend to drop everything and race to our side.
We become best friends with people who boost our self-esteem by affirming our identities as members of certain groups, and it’s the same for both genders. Men who derive their most cherished identity through their role as high school quarterback, for instance, are most likely to call a former fellow teammate “best friend.”
Most of us would prefer to think that we love our friends because of who they are, not because of the ways in which they support who we are. It sounds vaguely narcissistic, and yet the studies bear it out.
How To Stay Friends
From young adulthood onward, our notion of what makes a good friendship changes very little, but our capacity to maintain one does. It’s a poignant reality; we know what it means to be and have friends, but after we graduate from college and go our separate ways—launching our careers, getting married, having children, getting divorced, caring for aging parents—we’re often unable to muster the time and energy to maintain friendships we profess to value. Like anything else in life, if we want to remain friends with someone, it requires a little work. Simply put, we must show up.
The last and most elusive behavior necessary for keeping friends is being positive. Social psychologists tout the necessity of self-disclosure, but that doesn’t mean an unrestricted license to vent. At the end of the day, the intimacy that makes a friendship thrive must be an enjoyable one, for the more rewarding a friendship, the more we feel good about it, the more we’re willing to expend the energy it takes to keep it alive.