The Two Things Your Friendships Need to Survive (And Is Texting One of Them?)

I’m currently in a love/hate relationship with texting.

Texting can be good for a relationship. But ONLY texting can be a killer.

If it’s at all possible, we also need to hear voices, to see faces.

So when I read Chapter 8 on the two most important needs of friendship in Eric Barker’s wonderful new book, Plays Well with Others, I immediately resonated with it.

Need 1 – Time

Barker says,

“So what produces deep friendships? . . . The experts agree on two [signals], the first one being time. Why is time so powerful? Because it’s scarce, and scarce = costly.”

We need to invest time together, not just words. Words can be cheap. But time is an expensive gift to give and receive.

Granted, if you don’t live close, it’s hard to literally be together in the same space. But you can still spend time together through phone conversations or video calls.

A good rule of thumb from research analyzing over 8,000,000 phone calls is this: touching base via voice or face every two weeks is a good target to shoot for. (Of course our individual situations will vary.)

This also clarifies why we have only a limited number of close friendships—we have only a limited amount of time. 

Need 2 – Vulnerability

But simply being together isn’t enough. This second factor has to be included because we can spend hours and hours in shallow conversations with someone, and still not be close friends.

To really connect with another human, we must break through to the next level, which involves vulnerability.

Vulnerability feels risky. We don’t want to chance exposing our weaknesses only to have them exploited.

But vulnerability isn’t always as dangerous as we think.

“Psychology has documented the ‘beautiful mess effect‘—that we consistently overestimate how negatively our errors will be perceived. We think we’ll be seen as a moron and exiled to a distant village, but when surveyed, most people see the occasional screw-up as a positive. You make an error and are terrified you’ll be seen as inadequate. But when others make the same error, you’re rarely as judgmental, and it often warms you to that person.”

Barker explains that in trusting another person with our weaknesses, revealing our “beautiful mess,” we signal to the other person that we are trustworthy ourselves. And thus grow closer.

The Scary Rule

Want to practice deepening a friendship? Barker suggests following The Scary Rule:

“If it scares you, say it.”

Of course you need to start slow and build up. Carefully choose the recipient of your vulnerable side.

But through hours and hours spent together, true friends inevitably discuss uncomfortable things. And they discover acceptance and emotional safety with each other, if the relationship is healthy.

On the other hand, want to kill a friendship? Stop being vulnerable. Don’t speak the scary things out loud. Stick to small talk. Research shows that more small talk in a friendship produces a drop in closeness.

Time + Vulnerability

Thus I return to my dilemma with texting. While texting only may be better than nothing at all when life is normal, it feels like an insufficient bandaid in times of real need.

Thanks to this book, perhaps I now understand why: while we can meet Need #2 through texting—we can get vulnerable in a text if we choose—and texting is a great supplement for in between face and voice times (please don’t stop texting your friends), using texting as our only way of communicating with each other fails to meet Need #1, time together.

Willing to spend time together really matters, and what we talk about when we’re together also really matters. 

Vulnerability without time doesn’t equal closeness. But neither does time without vulnerability.

But together—time + vulnerability—with a dash of gratitude thrown in? This can be a recipe for a close friendship.


This book, Plays Well with Others: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Relationships Is (Mostly) Wrong, contains SO much helpful and scientifically-based information on relationships of all kinds, written in a very relational and easy-to-read format. I highly recommend it.

What tips would you add for maintaining healthy friendships? Share in the comments.

My thanks to NetGalley and HarperOne
for the review copy of this book.

14 thoughts on “The Two Things Your Friendships Need to Survive (And Is Texting One of Them?)

  1. Kay

    These are great thoughts Lisa. And I totally agree with the recipe for a good friendship. I’m so thankful that we have been able to test out “The Scary Rule” in our friendship and see the benefits of it! It is indeed scary to be vulnerable, but to see the way that it has deepened our trust and respect for each other has far outweighed the fear of opening up. So thankful for you!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m thankful for you too, Kay! Your persistence and loyalty have been invaluable in keeping our friendship strong through the years. I’m grateful that our practice of The Scary Rule has brought us closer. I’ve learned so much from you and hope to continue learning more as time goes by. Love you!

  2. Joanne Viola

    If ever we needed to get back to these basics (time and vulnerability), it is now. May we make every effort to reconnect and make stronger relationships with those in our lives.

  3. Crystal Green

    Wow. This is such a great bit of advice to follow. I have only a small number of close friends, but I never realized why that might be. Of course, I would welcome having more. I have always longed to have a group of girlfriends that like to get to share life with.

  4. Ashley

    Man. I just had this conversation with two friends (at different times) just this past week or so. Relationships are super hard! I would definitely say time and vulnerability are right up there. Listening well to your friends and trying to put their needs above your own.

  5. Michele Morin

    I hear your frustration with texting. We are all looking for connection, and texting tricks us into feeling as if we’re communicating, but it ends up feeling like content dumping.

  6. Harry Katz

    This sounds very similar to the book Friends by Robin Dunbar that I read a couple of weeks ago. Dunbar also writes about the time investment needed in friendships, especially in the early stages, but he doesn’t mention vulnerability at all. Reading your review makes me realize what a huge gap that is.

    Thanks!

  7. Paula Short

    You know, this is so true. And if it scares you say it is Ssoooo difficult to do sometimes. This sounds like a great read. I appreciate your review.
    Thank you for linking up with Sweet Tea & Friends this month my friend.

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