The hardest part about pulling the trigger on law school was not the massive cost, storied competition, or looming workload… It was the thought of moving across the country and leaving behind my community of incredible friendships.
Six guys in particular.
Men who knew me at my best, and my worst – and who I knew, just the same. Deep friendships, forged through significant investment of time and energy. Transparency risked, and trust cultivated in trials…
In the end, I left.
Heading west, I prayed my way across the country, hoping God would provide similar friendships but knowing I could return to open arms if anything went wrong.
I no longer get to live my life day-in and day-out with those six guys, but happily the friendships haven’t withered. More significantly, I found similar opportunities waiting for me at law school. God knit my heart together with a new group of guys, and I watched deep friendships proliferate and form an incredible support structure for a very trying time in my life.
Everybody needs friendships in which they are truly known, accepted, loved, and supported.
And almost everybody says that they desire such friendships.
But not everyone experiences them.
In fact, most people say that they experience less than three such friendships over the course of their entire lives – and many of those say they never experience any.
Oftentimes, it’s because we choose not to.
As Joseph Myers reports in his book, The Search to Belong, sociologists have concluded that people generally interact with one another in four distinct, relational spaces:
Public – You show up in ‘public’ spaces along with many other people to accomplish something, but no deep relationships are required. In fact, oftentimes, no real interaction is even necessary. For example, think about the last time you went to the grocery store – how many deep conversations did you have while you were there? Chances are, the answer is zero – unless you were with someone you already knew well. Think of the ‘public’ space metaphorically as the sidewalk outside your house: Many people walk by, but few stop for a visit.
Social – ‘Social’ spaces provide an opportunity for you get to know other people superficially (e.g., name, occupation, family), though not intimately. The ‘social’ space is comprised of fewer people, though still relatively transitory. Your work place may fall into this category. So might a softball league or the local coffee shop. Think of the ‘social’ space like the front porch of your house: Neighbors may stop to say a quick ‘hello,’ but the conversations generally remain brief and casual.
Personal – You get to know each other more deeply in ‘personal’ spaces because they are smaller still, and foster increased investment in relationships. You enter ‘personal’ spaces regularly, and spend longer periods of time with the intent on sharing more of yourself. Bible studies are one such example. Think of the ‘personal’ space like the living room of your house: It’s the place where guests who are invited in stay for a while.
Intimate – ‘Intimate’ spaces allow you to get to know other peoples’ hopes and dreams in the context of a committed and intentional relationship. The best relationships offer total vulnerability, the chance to know and really be known. Hopefully, you share this space with your spouse. You may also share it with a few others, such as your best friends or siblings. For example, the Old Testament uses the word ‘hesed,’ defined as a consistent, relentless, faithful love, to describe the friendship between Jonathan and David.
As you review these spaces, think about the relationships in your life and determine where they fall:
- How much time do you spend in each of these spaces?
- Do you have ‘intimate’ friendships?
According to Dr. Daniel Gilbert, psychologists have determined that deep, flourishing friendships are the most significant indicator for personal happiness. Many find it surprising, but friendship literally dwarfs the importance of all other indicators, including income and status.
So how do we develop more friendships?
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” – Mother Teresa
At the beginning, I noted that most people report experiencing ‘intimate’ friendship with 0 to 3 people over the course of their entire lives. One reason that people experience so few is a misunderstanding of how these relationships are formed.
You see, we ‘volunteer’ into each of the spaces – nobody can force us in.
That old adage about sowing and reaping applies to friendship, just as it does to everything else. You must make the investment of time and effort up front before you can enjoy the benefit of intimacy and support.
We must give before we can expect to receive.
Notably, there’s also an additional wrinkle regarding the ‘intimate’ space: It’s the only space that cannot be created by other people. Instead, the individuals involved must cultivate it. In other words, an organization such as a church can foster an environment complete with ‘public,’ ‘social,’ and ‘personal’ spaces – great Sunday morning services, activities and opportunities to serve, and Bible studies or other small groups to join – but no organization can force people to develop ‘intimate’ friendships.
That always falls to individuals.
So where do we begin?
If you’d like more and deeper friendships, begin with these two simple, inter-related considerations: internal factors and external factors. It doesn’t matter where you start, but ask yourself a few questions.
External – Are you involved in any ‘social’ and ‘personal’ spaces around you? If so, think about the friendships you’ve started forming and consider how you could move some of these relationships toward ‘intimacy.’ Are there hobbies you enjoy regularly that you could invite some of these people into? I love weight training, and I have built several great friendships around this activity. Could you schedule a few Saturday morning breakfasts or coffee dates to provide an opportunity to delve more deeply? These provide great opportunities for casual conversation to progress. If you’re not very involved, move to the next question.
Internal – If you’re not very involved in any ‘social’ or ‘personal’ spaces around you, it’s important to figure out why. Maybe you’re new to the area, or maybe you just have an incredibly full schedule. If so, it’s time to figure out how you can re-arrange or re-prioritize your life so that you can make room for friendship. Alternatively, maybe something is holding you back! Perhaps you’ve got some unfortunate history with friendship and have developed an aversion to going deep again.
It’s ok – you’re not alone.
We all let each other down every once in a while, and we all have to figure out how to move past such disappointments. However, if you feel like your experience is more serious, please don’t hesitate to seek help from a counselor! Sometimes people hurt us in very significant ways, and we need a professional to help us find forgiveness and move on. This isn’t weakness. Instead, it takes courage to acknowledge the situation and deal with it. More importantly, doing so can revolutionize your life and great friendships are worth it!
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