Loneliness can happen even when we are surrounded by people. It’s not the number of people we know, it’s the quality of connections we have. We connect to people in different ways. It is rare that one or two people will fill all of our connection needs. Getting a deeper connection with others takes courage, it means becoming vulnerable, but the rewards, when a connection is made, are immeasurable. When feeling lonely, it is worth looking at who you consider friends and the ways in which you connect.
Jill and Sam* spent a lot of time together, they were on the same basketball team and their kids went to the same pre-school, but when Jill got Mono, she felt awkward calling Sam. She’d never asked Sam for help or really talked to Sam about anything deeper than her kids dietary restrictions. She felt alone. She realized that most of her friends were people that she did things with but never really shared anything of depth with. Some friends she’d known for a long time, but most of those had moved away. Jill knew that she needed to take a risk and open up to someone about how much she was struggling these days and needed support.
*Not based on real people or events.
In a previous post What do Adults do for Fun? I spoke about the role friends can play in your life. This includes practical support, emotional support and information. The roles friends play often coincide with the type of friend they are and the level of connection. We are more likely to ask for practical help from a close friend in our inner circle. This friend is often considered a close friend because we share multiple connections, shared values, history, etc. In the above scenario, Sam is needing to ask for practical and possibly emotional support from someone whom she shares interests with. If she risks asking and Sam responds well, Jill will have made a closer connection with Sam and may well consider Sam an addition to her inner circle.
Types of Friends
There are four main reasons we connect with others, in plutonic relationships. Knowing the kind of connection you have with someone, sometimes helps to understand the limits of the relationship or where you might risk a different connection. It also shows where some types of connection might be missing for you.
Long-term friends who have been with us through various stages of life, provide a level of understanding that many others might not have. Reminiscing and sharing each of your perspectives about various parts of your life can provide connection and insight that you might not get in any other way. These friends may share the same interests, often share other friends or family members and may share the same values, or not. The number of connections will often determine the role this person (or people) has in your life.
These are people we might meet through shared activities, for example, at a dance class, a book club, or a rec league. We connect at events and maybe set up times to connect in other contexts. When we share other friends or values, this relationship often grows. If the activities we share an interest in are very important to us, it is likely that we will share a deeper connection with those who also share this interest.
Some people are connected to us through family, friends, etc. When kids are in after school activities, we might connect to other parents. Friends of friends, or friends of family, whom we run into at various events, may eventually become part of our friend circles too if we share other aspects of connection with them. If we don’t share any other connection, they may stay at the level of an acquaintance or eventually move to the realm of an historical friend.
These are people who share the same passions, maybe a passion for the environment, a particular parenting style, a social justice issues, or politics. You may work together on the same issues, or find each other’s posts online. You can talk for hours about the issues that concern you both.
Levels of Friendship
Mani and Clint* had been friends since junior high school. Throughout their 20’s they played hockey together and partied hard. They’d talk about girls and parents and jobs. They had shared a lot. Clint had gotten married last year, Mani was his best man. Now Clint and his wife were expecting their first child. Clint and Mani would still go out about twice a week, but Clint told Mani that his wife was not happy with how much they were going out and that she thought Clint might have a drinking problem. Mani rolled his eyes. “Bros before hos, right man?” Clint laughed but did not respond. He loved his wife and was excited about the new baby. He was not enjoying his and Mani’s outings as much as he used to and recognized that the level of drinking was affecting his work and left him irritable at home. He wouldn’t go so far as to say he had a drinking problem but he worried about Mani’s response if he started bowing out of their hangouts more often.
* Not based on real people or situations.
Levels of friendship also change over time. Your best friend in grade two is rarely your best friend by the time you hit your 40th birthday. It can happen, but it is rare. Usually people shift in terms of their connection to you, and you to them. This is normal and often happens naturally based on life circumstance (marriage, divorce, children, job changes, geography, etc.) but sometimes we feel a shift in our connections and don’t know why it’s there. It might be a change in interest which you once shared, or a change in values. At these times it may be worth considering what level of friendship this person will have in your life.
This group consists of the people that we invest the most time, energy and resources on and count on for the same. When this group is asking for more from you than you are receiving from them, in terms of emotional or practical support, it might be time to re-evaluate how much you are giving and where you are getting your support from. If you find that people in this group have shifted in terms of how much they connect with you or support you, you might also want to check out if you have been giving in return. If this has become imbalanced, you might need to think about how to rebalance this or, if you are in a time of great need, it might be time to expand your resources. A change in values can also shift someone from your inner circle to another circle, particularly when this is causing conflict between you. (Also, check out 8 Reasons to Re-evaluate a Friendship).
These are the people we may rely on for some of our friendship needs, for example, someone to do fun things with, to ask for advice about practical issues, etc. but might not share our deepest emotional concerns. When you suspect you’ve exhausted your inner circle with your needs or when your inner circle does not seem to be able to support you emotionally or practically, in your times of need, it might be worth considering reaching out to your broader friend circle. Try connecting with someone that you want to get to know better to see if they might be someone you want more of in your life. There may be times when someone in this circles opens up to you about a problem or a value and this is an opportunity to move closer to connect in a deeper way if you choose to accept their invitation.
People we are getting to know, or who just show up occasionally at the same places we do, would count as acquaintances. In two previous posts, Friendship in Adulthood- Early Adulthood & Young Families and Friendship in Adulthood- Couples, Singles, School aged Families & Seniors, the need for continued connection throughout all of life’s states is crucial. For introverts, connecting with new people can feel very overwhelming, but is important to do in order to avoid becoming isolated as life changes. Look for ways to connect to others who share your interests, your values and who might bring diversity into your life. Consider reaching out for more connection with those who are at different stages of life than you. We often connect to those at the same stage of life, but sometimes that stage makes connection difficult, for example if both are raising families with busy after school activities, full time jobs, and potentially taking care of issues in the extended family. We need all kinds of people in our lives
There are a lot of people on this planet. There is no need to be lonely. Reach out to the people you know, invite them into your life. Consider taking risks with people that you have not invited to be closer to you and including those who you may not have had a chance to connect with. Because more friends are more friends.
Check out Not Finding ‘The One”