Waiting on Friendship
A couple of weeks ago I was listening to the Diane Rehm Show on NPR. Her guest was Joseph Epstein and he was discussing his most recent book, “Friendship: An Expose”. There was one part of the interview that was very interesting. Joseph described the difference between people who initiate the work needed to maintain friendships and those that. Keep reading to find out what description best describes you and other thoughts I have on the often misunderstood notion of friendship.
Joe described “initiators” as people who make a point to keep in touch with their friends. Whether it’s calling, email, or making plans to go out, these people don’t wait for their friends to get in touch with them. That sounds like you right?
Sure it does. But listen to how Joe describes waiters; these people may have many friends but they are often time in a state of anticipating being interrupted by a call or email. Rarely do waiters take the time/energy to interrupt their own lives to contact their friends. I would interpret waiters as people who get really excited when they see emails from other people with subjects like, “Where have you been?” or “Long time, no see.” However, when it comes to heartfelt emails like these, waiters click “open” and not “send.”
More specifically, Joe briefly discussed that many more people describe themselves as lonely and feel like there is no one they can talk to. He went on to point out that research shows that the majority of people who are married, only talk to their spouses about sensitive issues whereas past research shows men and women used to cite neighbors, church members, etc. as other people they confided in addition to their spouses. (I apologize for not citing the research but you can listen to this show by visiting this site.)
I think this sense of loneliness is one of the most underrated issues facing our society. And for people not involved in romantic relationships, I believe this sense of loneliness is compounded. Let me know how you feel about this sentiment.
Though Epstein didn’t touch on this issue directly, I don’t think we can talk about friendship without discussing how technology has enhanced or hindered the modern-day friendship. I think members of my generation generally lack the necessary tools/knowledge to maintain healthy friendships. On one hand, I think that cell phones, email, and social networks do a wonderful job of helping us keep in contact with people that we would otherwise probably never speak. However, the massive amounts of connections we make are frequently maintained by generic discussion points/questions that are easily transferable.
And for the people we call our friends, there is a tendency to use technology as a barrier for allowing people to really probe into our lives. We can see this all the time like when you have bad news or you don’t necessarily want to talk, you send an email. When you don’t want to continue having a probing conversation over the phone, we pretend we have to go or just not answer the phone. And argue?!? Rarely do you see healthy arguments anymore so everywhere you go, there is a permanent sense of fakeness due to the fact that too many of us are not honest enough to ask tough questions or say something as simple as, “I don’t like that you did X because of Y.”
There are numbers on your cell phone that you scroll through everyday knowing good and well you are never going to call them, that is unless, they are calling you. And if and when these people do call, we make fake promises to keep in touch or promise to talk at least once a month. But we don’t follow up.
But do we have to tolerate such high levels of charades? I don’t think so. However, I think all of us have some waiter and initiator qualities. Unfortunately, because the notion of sacrifice is virtually non-existent, it so much easier to blame our lack of friendship building on how busy we are. You are not that busy!
But if you think you are that busy, here are some tips to help maintain healthy friendships.
Call people after 9 and even if they don’t pick up, leave a message. Too many of us call people hoping they don’t answer the phone. So why are you calling them in the first place?
If your friends are local, finding time to see them will not put the biggest wrinkle in your schedule. Think about how much time we watch TV, surf the internet, and other mindless activities. Like I said, you are not that busy. However, I suggest finding a way to weave friends in your life. For example, my friend Dumi had plans to see Tavis Smiley’s Covenant Tour at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit. He dropped me a quick email asking me if I was going. I was thinking about going any, but because of his email, we are able to kill two birds with one stone. Now had he not called me, I probably would have seen him after it was over and we would have said hi and that would be it. But that is just one example of how seeing someone in person doesn’t require such extensive planning.
Use email to supplement conversations, not replace them.
Don’t waste time focusing on mind numbing questions like, “How is the job going?” “It’s cool.” Ask meaningful questions whose responses are not automatic or anticipated. Here’s a good rule for people you don’t talk to all the time, ask and answer a meaningful question. And if the other person can’t think of a question, answer your own.
Find ways to bless your friends. It takes less than you think. I have friends who I know might be fans of a certain team so if I see an article on espn.com, I’ll forward them that article. Or if you know someone who is preparing for something bigger and better (which appears to be most everybody) don’t just ask them how its going, but find out if there is someone you know that can help them or send them resources that will be helpful in their life path.
Pray for your friends. Not just when they ask you to but for as much as family is the default prayer request, try staying in your prayer closet a little while long to make sure that your friends are covered.
Like I said, I think all of us have waiter tendencies, I just hope this post encouraged you to be more of an initiator. I know I am guilty of not being a good friend on many fronts. So just know that I write for myself first. But after all is said and done, I hope this blog and this post will help us build stronger and healthier friendships.
Don’t wait, initiate
Stay up fam,