Remember, friendships do not happen in a vacuum. There is a certain chemistry with friends just as in a love relationship. Therefore, contact with other people is the first building block of friendship.
The transition from stranger to acquaintance to friend begins with attention–one of you attracts the other, or it’s a mutual attraction. This happens when you share an experience.
And you can not share an experience until you get out in the world with people. Sometimes that is hard to do when you are suddenly single.
Just remember always: People equal friends and friends equal people.
Some people have more trouble getting out there than others.
Who has trouble?
Who does have trouble getting out in the world to make friends?
Shy people or people who are true loners often seek safety by staying away from people. If they don’t even work with numerous people, they will have a hard time sharing experiences with someone who is attractive to them and vice-versa.
Elderly people or people who do not drive also have trouble getting out in most of the American world. Yet elderly people are quite likely to find themselves widowed and suddenly single.
Other people are isolated by physical disabilities, by geography, by abusive relationships, etc.
Single parents with custody are often too tired or just too busy to keep up an active and satisfying social life. Yet studies have shown single parents are happier and more assured when they are able to meet with adults regularly, particularly other single parents.
Once you have captured the attention of another person or vice-versa, you must expand on that original attraction. This expansion includes additional contacts and conversation.
Who’s on first?
Someone must be on first for a friendship to develop. Certainly there is risk inherent in forming a friendship. The truth is that you can never be totally certain of your friend’s response. Eventually one person must take the risk of confiding in order for a friendship to grow in intimacy. Making friends is risky.
Talking is an integral component of friendship.
In any friendship, some talking is merely one person reciting his/her self- centered problems. However, talking between friends requires reciprocity.
In a mutually satisfying friendship, both friends talk and both friends listen, usually to an equal degree.
When a friend talks and reveals ideas or feelings, he/she is expecting shared information in return. When the talk is not equal, the friend talking feels as if the listener is uninterested.
In fact, the friend who is always the listener is really playing the role of a counselor, not that of friend.
Anytime you have been talking for more than a minute or two without participation from the person you are talking to, you are lecturing, bossing, or putting your friend in the role of a counselor.
People talk to extend themselves to another, to accept responsibility for the growth of the relationship, and to share ideas or feelings with someone else.
Good, rich conversation is always available for friends and lovers.
Why Not Talk?
People don’t talk for a variety of reasons.
One person may be shy. Another may not know what to say in a particular situation such as the death of a relative.
The timing may be off. A night owl may seldom talk in the morning.
A friend reacting to stress may be temporarily mute.
Non-talking can be used as a defense, as manipulation of another, or even as punishment.
And last, but not least, talking can be a lot of work. But friendship is a lot of work as is anything worth having.
How to Talk.
People who talk enthusiastically and with vocal animation are listened to more often by everyone.
Be sensitive to the needs of your friend.
Diffuse defensiveness by using “I” statements rather than “you” statements. Saying “I feel upset when I have to wait,” is less threatening than saying “You’re always late”
And when friends talk to you, show gratitude for their confidences. “Thank you for sharing that with me” is the language of friends.
Friends Talk Appropriately.
Make certain your subject is appropriate to the situation. For example, you would not disclose your exciting new promotion while your friend was telling you about her mother’s terminal illness.
Other situations are not so easily read, however. Karen Blaker, Ph.D., can help you decide about appropriateness. In her book Intimate Secrets, she gives nine basic reasons to reveal a secret. They are:
To feel connected.
To get it off your chest.
To be true to yourself.
To achieve reciprocity.
To prevent discovery.
To spread the good word.
To cry for help.
To show you are in the know.
To get revenge.
Before engaging in a confidence with a friend, compare your reason(s) with the above nine. If you are uncomfortable with your reason, your disclosure is probably inappropriate. If your reason for confidence is for revenge or to gain power with privileged information, it is best to maintain secrecy. If telling your secret achieves intimacy, help, or change, your confidence is constructive according to Blaker.
On the other hand, repeatedly “dumping” on someone is not confiding. The person who constantly brings every conversation back to his/her troubles is actually acting selfishly. This selfishness puts a strain on the relationship and may eventually destroy it.
We all know “yes-but” people. Anytime you are getting an abundance of “yes-buts” from your friend, you are probably trying to problem solve when all he/she wants is an attentive ear.