Today people talk very loudly about how they want a job that lets them have a life outside of work. That’s smart, of course, because there’s a long list of scientifically proven benefits to your health and happiness that friendship brings. And this includes the findings of Gallup pollster Tim Rath that you are almost guaranteed to like your job if you have a real friend at work.
But part of the idea of having a full, well-rounded life, is that you have close friends who are not family or a significant other. That’s right. The family and signifcant others don’t count when we talk about the benefits of friendship, even if you are really close to those people.
But making close friends is hard. We are meeting more people online, and we’re meeting a lot of people through travel, but we are more frenetic than ever in how we live our lives. Time magazine reports (under the heading “Loneliness”) that, “The number we count among our closest friends — the ones with whom we discuss important matters — shrank over the past 20 years, from three friends to two. At the same time, the number of Americans who have no one at all to confide in more than doubled, to 1 in 4.”
So let’s agree on what friends are, because I have a feeling that a lot of people don’t have them. Here is what I think is the minimum for a close friend is:
1. You have been friends with the person when you were not professionally involved with the person.
2. The person knows the part of yourself you dislike the most.
3. The person returns your calls in 48 hours.
If you don’t have friends, but you think you have a good job, you probably have one or all of these problems:
1. You have a job that doesn’t allow you enough time to have friends.
2. You are mistaking work associates for friends.
3. You have no idea how to manage your time.
If your wife or girlfriend picks all your friends, they are not your friends. They are hers and she lets you tag along. If you talk about your husband’s job or your boyfriends dissertation with all your friends, you can bet that your so-called friends are not particularly interested in your life. Or you’re not. Either way, such talk is a barrier to friendship. I use gender here loosely — it could be reversed. Relationship incompetence is not gender specific.
And one more thing, you cannot be true friends with someone who you have power or authority over. If you only hang around people who you have some sort of authority over then you have a problem relating to people as equals.
Maybe you are saying to yourself that it’s a time issue. First of all. I don’t believe you. It’s a priority issue. Because you have time to watch TV. Time to work overtime. Time to hang out with people who are not friends. But, even if it is a time issue, there is very little you can do with two hours once a month that will have so much impact on your well being as talking to a friend.
So what can you do to get a close friend? Here are three things:
1. Look at the friends you have.
Concentrate less on developing new friends and more on improving the quality of the friendships you already have. This suggesetion is based on research by University of California psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, who says the quality of relationships has more to do with your happiness than anything else.
2. Go visit someone.
Have a face-to-face meeting with one of those friends you IM all the time but have never met. Visiting them just once can increase the value of the friendship significantly. The nonverbal information you get about a person from talking with them face to face can make you feel much closer, after just one time, according to reaserach by psychologist Edward Hallowell.
3. Change your personal patterns.
After a big life change, like graduating from college, getting a divorce or moving across country, how you make and grow friends will change. You can rely on the tried-and-true techniques of your old life, you need to figure out what will work now – who to target, when to talk, what technology is appropriate. If you are having trouble making friends, try new ways of doing it.
And that, actually, is a great way to solve most of your problems: Try a new way of doing it. Not suprisingly, it’s something that’s easier to do with input from a friend.