Tag Archives: Friendship

Does it take too long to make a good friend?

The other day in my Jesus Collective “hub” meeting (kind of a cell), Jeremy Duncan of Commons Church in Calgary, helped us with the topic of the day: loneliness. I won’t tell you what he said of course, since I’m sure you don’t quote people from your cell without them knowing about it either. I just wanted to give him a shout out since he sent along the article I’m using.

We were talking about how lonely many of us have been! Covid exacerbated all the other things that keep us distant from the relationships that give us life — like our friends! Remember hanging around with your friends? That was great. Remember the hang out time after the Sunday meeting? I can’t number how many people have told me they miss that. Even the ones who avoided those chips and cookies miss knowing the opportunity was there to avoid! We need each other.

Have enough friends?

Depending on how you look at it, you probably don’t think you have enough friends, and that may be true. The difficult news is: you’ll have to take the time necessary to develop them if you want some. That’s where the article I want to share may be helpful. In the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (not kidding, it is a field of study), Jeffrey Hall published this study in 2019: “How many hours does it take to make a friend?” You can Google the title and read the whole thing.

The short answer is it takes about 300 hours to make an intimate friend. If you spent all your waking hours with someone, that’s about 18 days. You can see why many of our closest friends are or were the ones we made in high school and college when we had more disposable time and we had proximity through school activities and possibly through communal living. Soldiers and people who go on mission trips will often say they made lifelong friends in a highly concentrated time. I lived communally for eight years with a group of people in my twenties and most of them are still dear friends.

Close friendships require tending of course. So you may feel distant from old friends now that you spend so much time with your mate or with nurturing your children or are swallowed by your job. Concentrating on building friendships may feel like a chore you never quite get to, not a joy. But do you ever have enough friends?

Levels of friendship

Friendships are a key predictor of happiness. The Department of Labor said in 2015 that Americans spend about 2 hours a day watching TV but only 41 minutes, on average, socializing. (No, I don’t know how they get these figures). You might have spent even more time on TV and less time socializing when Bridgerton was on, even though the whole show was about how they hang out and make friends (and enemies, of course).

The famous Dunbar work on social networks, of which we are fond, tested with how many people each of us can maintain “a coherent face-to-face relationship.” The findings? — about 150-200. That’s one reason we decided to maintain congregations of about that size, so we could be “face-to-face.”  Having more relationships usually means we spend less time with intimates (and proportionally less time with everyone in the network). So even though our congregations are small, you may feel stretched by your connections when you include your family system and people in your employment setting and neighborhood. It is easy to feel over one’s limits.

So the first lesson here is: You may have enough friends. Dunbar gave a wide definition of the word “friend” and it might encourage you to use it as a way to look at your circle. Here are the labels, in descending levels of mutuality and trust: support clique, sympathy group, friendship group, clan, and acquaintances. See them as concentric circles with the support clique in the center. They are all “friends” from “best” friends to just being friendly. The support clique (1-5) is usually comprised of mates and kin, but may also include “best friends.” The sympathy group subsumes the support clique (reaching 10-15 people) and includes good friends. The former categories are part of the following: sympathy group/clansmen reaching around 40-50 (this probably includes people in the church), and acquaintances 120-150 (which probably includes, church, neighbors and workmates).

You may not have developed as many intimates as you might like. But you may have quite a few friends if you want to see them that way. We often sift through people according to the intimacy we desire instead of enjoying them at the level they are. If you are a perfectionist about love, you are probably unhappy.  And you certainly don’t see others like Jesus sees you.

Within these groups, given the proximity and opportunity for contact, some people will possibly “click” and friendship will develop. Like I said, we make rapid assessments of who is a possible friend when we meet people. If we follow our desire to connect, we decide to spend time with them. We’re usually connected within 3-9 weeks. After four months, other new friends are less likely to develop since that space is occupied in the limited time we have. So we could know people for years and not become friends then meet someone new and be connected in 6 weeks. I think God makes our hearts bigger. But our general equipment is likely similar to what Dunbar and others describe. If you have a few good friends and it seems like people on TV have more, don’t let them make you feel bad. You can make more, but chances are, you are doing OK.

Friendship takes time

If you feel lonely and want to make friends or want to make more, it will take time. And I suggest to take the less-than-ideal relationships you have as the blessings they are rather than hold out for “falling in love” with the friend you have always wanted.

I think it is time well spent to make as many acquaintances as possible and allow ourselves to let as many become friends as possible, even count all those acquaintances as friends and potential intimates. Jesus calls all of us friends, after all. But just saying everyone is your friend, doesn’t make them an intimate. It is possible to have a lot of acquaintances and no real friends, and we need them. We need to access the opportunity and spend the time for deep friendship to happen. All the other people in our network are fine where they are too, and we love them as they are in the context of our relationship as it is. But we also allow for deeper things to occur. That’s why we love our retreats. It is one of the few times we spend a lot of relatively unstructured time bent on relating. New friendships are built and old ones maintained.

The recipe is simple and we know it instinctively, but I am knee deep in a sociology article and they are proving what we know. 1) Being and making an intimate takes time. 2) The time must be voluntary. Intimates are less likely to be made during work or school hours, although attraction may begin there. You could become friends because you fight aliens together professionally like Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. But you would be more likely to become my friend if you called me up and we fought aliens together in your backyard. Then, when we were hiding in the shed, waiting to blow them up with the bomb we made, I would have a chance to tell you about how my mother hated aliens and you could tell me about why you think you stutter, etc. After we saved the neighborhood, we’d probably have our arms around each other and we would joke with your husband about what happened when he got back from the store. By that time I’d be part of the 10-15 at least. It takes time. It takes talking. It takes common experience to make friends. My cell has spent a lot of time together by now. We’re obviously better friends for it.

I think these kind of stats are funny. “The chance of identifying someone as a casual friend rather than an acquaintance is greater than 50% when individuals spend about 43 hours together in the first 3 weeks after meeting. … Casual friends become friends somewhere between 57 hours and 164 hours over 3 months….The chance of transitioning from friends to good/best friends is greater than 50% after 119 hours over 3 weeks and 219 hours over 3 months. Good friendships begin to emerge after 140 hours. Best friendships do not emerge until after 300 hours of time spent.” I would not measure how fast my love is developing, however. Measuring intimacy usually just ends up with feeling you don’t have enough. Receiving the love you get and letting it be enough for today is more satisfying. Our desire will always push us and may create the opportunities to connect we need. But it can also make what we already have seem insipid if we are not moving along with Jesus

Unless we despair of belonging, we want to make belonging happen. This post may make you ache or it may point out how you shut off that intolerable ache. Your mom may ache when you don’t call. You may ache because mom is gone and will never call again. We all know that people have an inner circle and we may long to be in it with someone. We may or may not be welcome there, for whatever reason. But let’s not get mad at each other for wanting to be connected. We all want that. A lot of people probably love you. And they are, at least, understandably lonely for a friend, just like you are.

What has happened to our friendships?

I do not call you servants any longer,
because the servant does not know what the master is doing;
but I have called you friends,
because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.
John 15:15

Image result for jesus friend

A millennial marketer tries to reassure everyone that the latest generation is still interested in human connection. She says, “Marketers can be confident that a desire for authentic face-to-face connection does not magically skip this digitally driven generation. While Millennials find and foster friendships online, they still want people they can invite to chat live over their cold-brew coffee (and they appreciate the ability of digital technology to help them do this). They see online personas as being largely honest and the catalyst for wanting to discover deeper aspects of individuals in-person.” Then she tells the marketers how they can wheedle themselves into the data stream. Another man from Philly suspects all this “relating” is really about being used to pump up your supposed friends’ name recognition, since friendship is mainly about business in the gig economy.

If my Memorial Day weekend and my last cell meeting are accurate indicators, it is not just the marketers and bloggers who are interested in where friendship is going these days. A lot of people are wondering where their friends are, and they are afraid they are not going to make any more, now that they are out of college.

Our cell thought it might be a good use of our map if we named the problem we all feel and do something about it. How about a year of friendship building? How odd that would seem so countercultural!

Image result for broken friendship

As I talked about friendship here and there, a picture began to form about why people either have no real friends or at least think they don’t. I wonder what you think about these four reasons I ended up with, so far:

They don’t take the friendship they get.

It was interesting to talk about not having any friends while we were sharing intimately about friendship in our cell. I asked, “Are we not friends, here?” Is friendship the idealized relationship you hope you will have some day, or is it loving the people in your present circle? Jesus calls his disciples friends because he has given them his life, not because they qualify or they benefit him in some extraordinary way.

They don’t appreciate the friendships they have.

When I was doing my bit of research about friendships online, I was surprised to see how much advice there was about how to end a friendship [like from Oprah]. There is reason for this advice, of course. But I got the impression from my conversations that there was a lot of Tinder-like relationship making more than there was any great need to end connections. A lot of people have such limited trust for anyone, people get disposed of long before they are known or appreciated for who they are! One of my friends told me she was “firing” all her friends. She was moved to reconsider when I asked, “Can they reapply?” Her problem was more that she had never been honest or forthcoming about her discomforts and had done more managing than relating. The idea of expressing her appreciation and lack of it seemed like a better strategy for friend-making, rather than cutting someone off when a problem arose.

They don’t want friendships that need to be built.

When we were children we could make a lasting connection because someone decided to unfreeze us during tag. In college we could show up for breakfast at the same time. Now that we’re married, or engaged with work mates, or have children, our relating time could be a lot of necessity and not a lot of the serendipity that feels so good. Getting over the hump and creating something good seems like a stretch for a lot of us and just too much work. Recently I went on a walk with a relatively unbuilt friend and frankly said, “Let’s be friends.” He said, “Sure.” Naturally, we both calculated in the back of our minds how we would actually fit this in and do the work. But it certainly seemed like a good idea.

They don’t fight authentically.

This is probably the reason there is so little love in the world, in general. Healthy conflict is the key to lasting intimacy and people come to the end of their capacity for it long before the fruit of it is born. I think most of us think being part of a cell is “friendship lite” and we probably would not survive a fight in one of them (or ever dare to have a conflict of any kind). Feeling something deeply enough to fight about it, or to react unguardedly about it, is extremely risky for most of us and we would rather die than do it. We’d rather not have friends than risk losing them. We’d rather not connect than be known or risk finding out someone else does care to know us (as we fear they feel already).

Jesus has his work cut out for him, doesn’t he? We might prefer to be called servants than to be called friends. Friendship requires a depth of humanity we aspire to, but the rocky road toward it is so daunting, we may only try it a couple of times. And if the road gets too rough, we just might give up. Maybe we need to name our issues with friendship and even put a goal about it in our common map of the future. We might get somewhere and love might grow.

Little lessons on friendship that make a big difference

There are a lot of ways to see things — that can be confusing. But the solution to the problem of deciding among competing viewpoints is not to give up seeing! — the solution is to develop better eyes. So Paul says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (Eph. 1:18) so we can see how great is our hope and how deep is God’s love in the middle of a confusing world — including confusing relationships.

So there is one thing about the topic of this blog. If you want to have a good friend and be one, you might need a better way of seeing friendship.

Jenn, 13, chiseling out holes in the electrical boxes for the log house.

In a church devoted to community in an age condemned to self-sufficiency we have to pray Paul’s prayer a lot: “I pray that the eyes of my heart may be enlightened!”  The main reason we need to keep praying is because people can have terribly disappointing relationships in an environment that keeps promising wonderful ones! How could it be that someone could be in your cell and end up feeling like they have no friends? It happens. How could long-term members finally slide out the door thinking they are not dear to anyone? It happens — not all the time, but often enough for me to know about it. The same dislocations happen to marriages, so it is not surprising that in a covenant community we face similar break ups and cut offs that make us scratch our heads and sometimes weep.

We need to choose

I think one key ingredient that is important to the friendship we long for in the church is choosing. We need to choose, first, to be friends. Then our friendships have a better chance to survive. When we enter a relationship or are maintaining one, we intend to be a friend to someone. We don’t think it will just happen. We mean to do it. People don’t need to prove worthy, they need to prove unworthy (which is hard to prove to a chooser). They don’t need to be valuable, they are already valued. They don’t need to have attractive traits, they are welcome. If this sounds like we are expected to be like Jesus, that’s true. But you know you aren’t Jesus; you are choosing, everyday, to follow, develop and end up a lot more like Jesus than when you started. The main place we develop that character is in our loves, especially love of people. We intend to develop.

All this would seem obvious if we did not live in a society in which consumerism is the reigning ideology. People are cultured to think that a relationship should be worth it — worth my time, not worthless. A relationship should have value to me — produce further value, be according to my values. A relationship should be attractive — should be the experience I imagine, should have the features I desire. All that sounds like we are buying a car; it’s kind of crass. But we do it. Many of us have already subjected ourselves to OkCupid or, worse, Tinder. So we have already put our features on an ad and have subjected ourselves and others to the dismissive swipe of a thumb. Some of us have grown up in hook-up culture and have become either inept at or suspicious of commitment or even affection. There is a streak in most of us that thinks cars and people are mainly for having a good time and asking for more is either overbearing or unlikely to succeed.

Then Jesus calls us out of that wilderness and into what is increasingly a foreign land where people get taken very seriously, are graced, and are loved. It is a bit jarring.

So here are four thoughts about choosing to love. Maybe they will help. They are about building a love that begins with our willingness to make a covenant — a love that is looking for connection, not avoiding it like it is prison.

When you choose first to be a friend your love has certain characteristics:

Love fits.

People don’t have to fit in to your preconceived notion of what fits you or yours. You are not a “type” and they are not a “type.” You don’t care what their sign is, their Myers-Briggs letters, their enneagram number, their addiction designation or psychological diagnosis, their race or any other kind of label. You fit them in, they don’t have to fit. The act of fitting people in is the key to fitting together.

Love covers.

People don’t have to be behaving right when you meet them. You are not the last foolish thing you did and neither is anyone else. You know you don’t see people’s hearts right off. You don’t care if someone is the kind of friend you deserve, or the one you always wanted, or the one your parents thought you would have. Your choosing has those things “covered” in the same sense that “love covers a multitude of sins.” This doesn’t mean that we are just tolerant. It means we are gracious. We know people are sinners and we love them anyway. And they know we know, and know we choose to love them. The act of covering is the relational warmth we all long for.

Love forgives.

People don’t have to be afraid they will disappoint or offend because you don’t cut people off. They are not left to bear the consequences of not being perfect, you are on their side. You don’t pretend to be perfect and you don’t have that expectation of others, even though your mercy demands a response you might not always get. Love is more important than principle. You choose to not cut people off even when they are difficult, painful, ignorant, or not growing. You might be forced to thicken some boundaries or even shake the dust off your feet at times, but it will have to be a strong force. The act of forgiving is the mother’s milk of friendship, much more of intimacy.

Love believes.

People don’t have to wonder what you think and feel about them. You tell them. They don’t find out from someone else what you really think and they don’t find out after you are gone that all that time you really cared. Love speaks the truth. That’s not because we long for transparency or like hearing ourselves talk or feel better when we’ve unburdened ourselves (exclusively, at least), it is because we trust God and trust others. We believe in others – their capacity to learn and grow, to feel and love. We bring that grace to the relationship, not because we’re great, but because we choose to believe in hope and believe in opening up to transformation and believe in obeying the model of suffering love that blasts open tombs. The act of believing creates an environment where friendship can grow.

So look around the church at least, if not your marriage and family, and choose again. You may have stopped choosing and allowed the weeds of “unlove” to take root. Choose your freedom from what is ailing the world. Choose the freedom to be a friend first. Don’t wait until it seems fitting. Don’t wait to see the friend you deserve. Don’t expect to be unoffended. Don’t be afraid to rock the boat by being real. Then we’ll all have more friends because we will have you.