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
“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.
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