This post carries over from my previous post about the Mamma Mia Movie – so please read that post, along with the fabulous comments people posted below it, first.

Thanks so much to everyone for posting comments with such honesty on the Mamma Mia Movie post ! I am really enjoying this dialogue and it is freeing in that it is giving me some more understanding and ideas. First I want to address some of those comments:

Casey, thanks for sharing your feelings. You probably had a double-whammy because not only did you have a fulfilling career, you had a great creative outlet/expression too. I hope you’re finding ways to keep singing now, even if it’s just in your own kitchen! I took my guitar down to the beach with the kids the other day and that was really enjoyable. Gotta do more of that!

Nicole, your perspective is one that would never have occurred to me – but I can certainly see how you (and others) could feel that way. It doesn’t resonate with me at all, but I can understand it. So that definitely helps.

Corey, I’m really glad you shared your perspective too – I had forgotten that aspect of the career-woman thing. And yes, I remember in London how hard it was to get together with some people – you had to book 3-4 weeks in advance because everyone’s schedule was so busy and everyone was working so hard (and no one had kids at that time either). Maybe Tokyo was such a wonderful, unique environment because us ex-pats were so “thrown together by such a foreign culture/language”. In many ways, having such isolating barriers around us, made intimacy really easy and also made it occur rapidly. So, if we all move to Papua, New Guinea, we should be all set!

And maybe that’s the crux: The kind of friendship that suits me best (that I like the best) is to have between 1 – 3 very close, intimate friends – because I prefer deep rather than light. But perhaps those kinds of friendships mostly occur in microcosms that facilitate continual, close contact: school, university, ex-pat communities, communes, religious organizations, etc.

Perhaps the most valuable take-away for me is to stop pining for, or wasting energy trying to re-create a relationship like that in this environment (which is not conducive to intimacy), but to focus on enjoying what is possible in this kind of situation. And perhaps that involves stretching my concepts, or allowing myself to evolve and not just ‘put up with’, but actually find enjoyment in more fleeting, sporadic relationships. A kind of “take it where you can get it” and “enjoy it while it lasts” approach.

So what if that doesn’t resonate with my core self? I know that greater flexibility leads to greater happiness, so I’m going to embrace that here and see what happens.

The other aspect that’s emerged from this discussion is that of loss and betrayal. By the time you reach our age, MANY of us have been seriously dumped by a close friend we invested a lot of time and love into. And this makes us very hesitant to risk that kind of intimacy again.

I went for lunch with another Mum from my daughter’s class and she shared how there were 4 girlfriends she’s had since junior high school. She had remained in the same area she’d grown up in, as had all her close friends, so she really had a “tribe” and they were very close. But by the time each of them got married, one by one, the friendships fractured (one married a loser husband, the other got very wealthy with different interests, etc.) until she only had 1 friend remaining that she’s still close with. She’s now totally gun-shy about investing so much of her time and her self into friendships – having seen how easily they can fracture.

As she was telling me the saga, she kept exclaiming things like, “I can’t believe it!” She was really shocked that this kind of disintegration could happen in such a long-term friendship. At some point I leaned over and said to her, “Honey, you’re preaching to the choir here.” This exact same thing has happened to me with 3 different friends so far – all of whom I’d had deep friendships with for 10 years or more.

So, I think this is another factor that blocks intimacy in friendships. Personally, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are very few people who possess the functionality necessary to maintain an intimate relationship for any length of time. Witness the divorce rate.

If people are not skilled in negotiation, problem-solving and conflict-resolution, they will not be able to maintain a good quality intimate relationship for any length of time. I really believe it’s that simple. And if you weren’t taught those skills by your parents, then you have to take courses in them and practice them – and how many people do that?

So now when I meet people and start to become friends with them, I’ve become quite mercenary about assessing their level of functionality: What’s their romantic relationship like? How do they parent their children? Are they living a fulfilling life they’re satisfied with? Are they healthy?

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Who you are is speaking so loudly, I can’t hear what you’re saying.”

And that’s how I approach potential friends now. I don’t listen to their words. I look at their life for evidence that they are a functional, self-actualized, well-developed person. Because if they are not, I know there’s no way in hell they’ll be able to maintain a relationship with me.

Sadly, the majority of the time, the person’s life does not bear evidence of integrated personal, or interpersonal functionality. So then I either disengage, or I say to myself, “Well, it’s only a matter of time before this relationship blows up, but she’s fun, so I’m okay with that.” I find that if you’re forewarned that the friendship will disintegrate – or explode – it’s not too hurtful when it happens. It’s still sad and a shame, but it doesn’t cut deep.

Just more grist for the mill……

One last thing: When I went looking for a photo to put in this post, I found this article on the different types of friendships and it’s quite good. Based on this list, it’s obvious that my idea of “true friendship” and what I describe as “functionality” is what the author, Rajyeshwari Ghosh, describes as Self-Actualized Friendships:

Self-Actualized Friends – Friends in this group are the perfect combination and are very rare to find. These friends have an amazing appetite for intellectual conversation, are open to discuss about life experiences, take care of their own needs, have less complaints about life in general and respect others views of life. In addition to that, they will love to invest time to grow emotionally, professionally, intellectually, socially, and spiritually, know how to laugh and enjoy life also. These friends will not try to change others, but will appreciate and respect the differences. Probably, we will grow old with this group of friend. The friends in this group volunteer to give us feedback and advice about different aspects of life, not only because they care about us, but want positive things to happen in our lives.

Jini

Why Are Intimate Friendships So Difficult?
10 Comments

10 thoughts on “Why Are Intimate Friendships So Difficult?

  • You know something funny that occurred to me – maybe other people, like me, tend to think of friends and family as totally separate things. But all the things you mentioned: spontaneous visiting back and forth, conversation on deep subjects, etc.; the people I’ve actually had that with – in a totally uninterrupted way – are, in fact, my parents. Marriage and parenthood has interrupted/changed all of the friendships that were deep and close in my single days, but not the closeness with my own parents. I always sought closeness with them, but it’s grown and evolved over the years from “I am the parent; you are the child to be guided and protected” (particularly on the part of my mother – my dad was more, “If you want to know what I think, you have to ask me; and then the decision is yours, anyway, as far as what you do”) to adults who just enjoy each others’ company. Hmmm.

  • I have come to realize that it is never about what we search for “out there” but truly an inner relationship (or friendship) with the self. I have, over the years, begun this intrinsic relationship and it has been a slow one because of the distractions in everyday life. But, it is worth it because there is where I find peace and balance that I take to my world “out there”.

    Concentrating on the friend you are deciding to be and finding the friend in you is truly the only thing one has the capacity to evolve or change. Putting that energy out there and living your life as an example of what you believe to be a true, meaningful relationship or friendship will resonate with the people who also seek this intimacy and will therefore be drawn to you. This is what I believe to be the very basis of the “laws of attraction” of the universe: create what you desire.

    This is a very gentle process. It is sometimes a slow process. It is a process of growing and evolving and becoming a person who you like and, yes, even love. Living with your own truth will probably cause you to live with the truth of others as well. If you could really love yourself imagine how much you could love another person albeit a friend, a parent, a husband, a child, a neighbor.

    I also believe that friendships come and go in our lives because they are what we need at any given point. Sometimes we continue to draw the same type of relationship to ourselves that is toxic and then we wonder why it keeps happening over and over again. Perhaps we haven’t changed something in ourselves that brings this type of friend to our life. Again, be the friend that you want to have.

    Something I see repeatedly with people I know is that they do not have friends or time for friends etc… What has been very fulfilling for me is to recognize the friendship I have with the immediate people around me. I have come to know my children as my friends in a way that does not compromise our parent-child relationship. How meaningful it is to read and play together, to go for walks, to talk openly and honestly. Or how about our husbands? Can he not be our friend? Or our parents or people that sit lonely in an old age home that are a wealth of information that we could learn from?

    Friendships come in varying degrees and in varying forms and even at various times in our lives. If we embrace and accept these moving tides we will probably feel happier and more fulfulled. Perhaps we need to consider that this is the nature of relationships: they change over time just like anything else because we change. How can we possibly have the same relationship with the same people indefinately if we are all changing. I am not the same person I was 20 years ago and I am quite happy about that. I miss the old Linda but she too is an old friend that I remember fondly.

    I have a couple of friendships that I have had for many years and none of them live within hours of me. We talk on the phone 2 or 3 times a year. We hardly see each other and yet when we do connect the whole world comes to a standstill and our conversation is like sitting by a warm fire on a cold winter eve sipping hot cocoa and indulging in delicious talk about the world. That to me is true friendship. I choose not to judge my friend because I do not want my friend to judge me, I choose to love my friend because I too want to be loved. This is everything to me. To feel free to be me.

    So when my friends are too busy and I need a friend, I find the friendship with myself fulfills me. I spend time by myself taking care of me (even if it is only a few moments at a time). I have learned to focus on what is happening here and now (in the moment so to speak) whether I am with a group of friends or all by myself!

  • Always interesting to follow annice website. Thank you for the post. In addition, apart from the content , the design of your blog looks really neat . Cheers.

  • This topic of the difficulty of finding meaningful relationships in a time where our attention span and self-reflection are challenged is one that I’ve spent some time discussing of late. The topic has took an interesting turn when a relationship expert posted a blog suggesting that marriages should perhaps require continued “renewal” to ensure that both parties still want to remain engaged in each others’ lives – or allow the “contract” to expire (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/contemplating-divorce/201012/what-if-marriage-had-natural-end/comments). This clearly rubbed some people the wrong way – but it may be more in line with how we function as a society these days. Women do not need to be dependent on a male for her well-being or identity – so we’re seeing the consequence of people developing at different rates and directions in the sky-rocketing divorce rates. In the same vein, high school friends that develop into adults with different life perspectives and goals are unlikely to have much in common as adults. Relationships that form after people have reached their own self-actualization are likely to be stronger and more meaningful then when people form ties while they are still finding their purpose.
    Finding a self-actualized individual in a time when we’re bred to be outwardly motivated and always dissatisfied is undoubtedly challenging. What we want to both have personally and our relationships is the character of the true “modest” person who defines their self-worth by their own standards and not on the opinion of others (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/maybe-its-just-me/201012/modesty-and-existentialist-freedom).
    How many such joyful souls do you know? It’s a question I’ve gone around asking – and they truly are rare birds.

  • Really enjoyed this honest blog about finding intimacy in relationships – and it is true that we are encouraged to live in such shallow spheres that this lack of real connection with others is what is driving the discontent and depression that is epidemic in our society. Surrounded by more people than ever, but often isolated. That’s a pretty high bar (the self-actualized friendship) – you would need someone who has reached self-actualization themselves in order to fulfill that order. If you find someone like that, cherish them as a rare gem. This was written a few years ago – I am curious whether you have found someone who has good intimate friendship potential. I wonder how many adults in their late 30’s and 40’s have self-actualized friendships – or whether they consider their spouse or significant other as the one who fulfills all their friendship needs.

  • LTD – yes, actually, I have 2 very close, solid friends who live nearby now. And 2 of the 10 year friendships that disintegrated have been rekindled, but not in the same way – in a more “appropriate” expression of friendship. There is great freedom in releasing expectations and just looking for the positive in what IS. Helps to have a soulmate husband and tribe of 3 kids who ‘get’ me to provide a platform to let all else come and go as they wish though!

  • Yes, the release of expectations is one of the best prophylactic measures against the sting of disappointment. I wonder if the need for intimate relationships is greater in women than men – or perhaps they are just more vocal about it. Independent dames such as yourself probably look for equity in a partner that fulfills part of the need to have someone who “gets you” as opposed to those who seek a good provider. The latter, I think, inherently have unequal footing that gets in the way of real friendship, and it may be a union which experiences more loneliness/isolation – but this is just conjecture. Thanks for sharing.

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