how to maintain depth as well as breadth of friendships?
December 15, 2013 9:12 AM   Subscribe

I have a good life - good community, friends, lots of different communities in different interest areas as well as geographically in the town i live in. I try to maintain involvement with a lot of different communities because I feel that learning broadly from a lot of people (and a lot of different types of thinking, experiences, backgrounds) is really important. But I'm worried that the depth of my friendships may be suffering. How have some of you folks balanced broad networks (professional, personal, interest-based, geographical) with keeping them deep as well.

I am in my early 30s in the DC metro area (here i have lived for most of the last 12 years - i have a strong local base of long-term friends and acquaintances that keeps on growing, not just transient friendships.
posted by waylaid to Human Relations (12 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
For me it's about quality, not quantity. You can observe different cultures and varying ways of thinking without 'befriending' tons of different people. A network of acquaintances cannot compare to a small handful of very close and intimate friendships with quality people who's opinions you respect and who's company you enjoy. You may need to rethink your approach if you're feeling a lack of substance in your relationships.
posted by OneHermit at 9:41 AM on December 15, 2013

Huh? So is your question basically "I want to know how to have deeper friendships, while not changing any of my behavior and continuing to add a bunch of random acquaintances to my life?" OP, a person only has so much emotional bandwidth.

There's that interesting old saying "The friend to everyone is the friend to no one." You don't want to be that person - there IS such a thing as spreading yourself too thin amongst "lots of different communities."

I have a mom-acquaintance like that. She is the proverbial friend to everyone. She is always super open, and handing out her card, and having these parties for her kids where she invites literally every mom in town she knows, and the result is her house is too full and nobody feels close to her because she spreads herself too thin and does not act like part of a "tribe." One gets the sense that nobody is very special to her. She does not have a best friend. Nobody has ever thrown a birthday party for her. See what I'm getting at, OP?

See this comment from an old Ask. Some social groups or communities are much more cliquish and closed off than others, and have a concept of "the inner circle" versus "outsiders." Seek to be in at least one inner circle.

At some point, in order to have deeper relationships, you have got to prioritize and discriminate. A friend who feels like they are special to you is the one with whom you can have a deeper friendship. Keeping all friends at the same level gets you nowhere new. You have got to let yourself be vulnerable with a few select friends. Do you have a best friend or two with whom you can share your secrets?
posted by hush at 9:43 AM on December 15, 2013 [7 favorites]

I have had a particular discussion with my young daughter a few times, about differentiating between "friends in the community" and "friends." Can we invite our hairstylist to our party? Well, no, even though he's a super guy and we'd love to have him there, he's our friend in the community and imagine how awkward it would be for him if his clients invited him to their parties; he'd have to go to a party every night! So we are just inviting our friends. Sometimes our friends in the community turn into our friends, but not always, and that's okay!

Because it is good to have friends and it is good to have friends in the community, but they are not the same thing and they don't, usually, want to be. And it is possible to have high-quality "friends in the community" relationships. But it's not realistic to be close pals with every person who is in your life on a friendly basis.

(The only scenario in which I would automatically recommend crossing those lines without any hint of interest from the other party is if you become aware that a "friend in the community" is experiencing a personal crisis -- then, I feel, it is appropriate to offer help as you would to a friend, because crises often require the sort of broad support not always available in a circle of friends; see for example personal crowdfunding...)
posted by kmennie at 10:19 AM on December 15, 2013 [12 favorites]

Full disclosure: I have a tiny group of friends, but I am quite close with everyone I consider a friend. We are like peas and carrots. So take this with a grain of salt in my answer.

I don't think you can maintain both remarkable depth and impressive breadth - there will be simply too many pulls on your time and affection. So in order to cultivate deeper friendships, you will probably have to focus on a smaller group of friends. This will mean less time to devote to mere acquaintances, and more to share with your close friends. It might even mean that your friend group needs to stop growing, or possibly shrink.

Also (and I certainly don't want to discourage you at all, because close friendships are so wonderful!) - I don't think you can force this. Friendships, especially super close ones, have to happen organically. So while choosing to devote more time and effort to quality friendships might help you grow closer with some people, there is no guarantee that this will happen. Sometimes these things just happen by chance, you know?
posted by schroedingersgirl at 10:41 AM on December 15, 2013

I don't think you can maintain both remarkable depth and impressive breadth - there will be simply too many pulls on your time and affection.

When your social circle is a mile wide, it really can't be more than one inch deep. You can be superficial friends with lots of people or good friends with a few and you can't have both because friendship takes time and effort. The choice should be easy: Choose to be good friends with a few.
posted by three blind mice at 11:37 AM on December 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you are a people-person, which it sounds like you are, you can have both breadth and depth. You just have to be savvy and strategic about resource allocation (i.e., time and effort).

The breadth can be maintained through organized group activities. You may have to organize these yourself. For example, a regular gathering held at your house, come-one-come-all.

The depth can come from committing to spending more one-on-one time with select friends. Again, you may have to organize this; an example might be a regular Friday night pizza-and-convo sesh at your place, or a favorite hangout, with just one other person. The trick is to develop a routine that both people slip into, and stick to, over months and years, to create a tradition.

If you were an introvert who needed a lot of alone-time to recharge, this approach wouldn't be workable; but I know plenty of super-gregarious people who manage the balancing act.

One thing too is that there will be a natural attrition rate in your peer group: people will start settling down, having kids and homes, and no longer have as much time to be friends with you. This will winnow your circle down.

I'm a big fan of having all sorts of people flow in and out of my life, while carefully cultivating and maintaining a select group of Hospital Friends (the folks who will be there for you when the chips are down, and you for them). Part of this cultivation though means being willing to cut loose people who turn out to be flaky or unethical, and that requires a very active and steady "pruning" hand.
posted by nacho fries at 12:48 PM on December 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

Huh? So is your question basically "I want to know how to have deeper friendships, while not changing any of my behavior and continuing to add a bunch of random acquaintances to my life?" OP, a person only has so much emotional bandwidth.

Well, not exactly. Rereading my question I think it may have come out like that.
I do want to be clear this is not about myself being validated by large groups of people that know me, or having a social butterfly personality. It's really about having lots of interests and things I'm involved in and not wanting to close myself off to others simply because I'm busy with existing friends.

My question was more thinking strategically about how I can nurture those in my life and value them (+1 to nacho fries above for hitting what I was really meaning to ask). Hearing how others have achieved balance in their lives is really helpful.
posted by waylaid at 2:36 PM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

One other practical tip: think of managing your large and diverse friend-set as a project management task that you allocate, say, 15 minutes to every day.

You can use that time to track which friends you've not contacted recently, and which friends have upcoming special events (birthdays), and brainstorm your next get-together. Then, make a to-do list involving reaching out, organizing, following up.

In other words, you make the management of your friendships a priority, and budget time for it on a recurring basis. This might sound too spread-sheet-ish to people who like a more loosey-goosey, organic approach to socializing, but I like it -- it makes me feel connected to my tribe, and is a daily reminder how lucky I am to have such a cool group of long-term friends (and n00bs) in my circle. It's a pleasurable exercise to meditate on others' well-being.
posted by nacho fries at 4:18 PM on December 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

nacho fries, do you do this? I have thought about it doing it but never actually sat down to.
posted by waylaid at 4:59 PM on December 15, 2013

One way to think about this: it seems like your wide social circle satisfies your intellectual needs (you talk about "learning broadly"), but IME, close friends are more about the emotional relationship. Yeah, you may debate or talk about ideas with your close friends, but the reason they are close is that they provide emotional support.

I think this is less about time and logistics and more about identifying the people you want to open up to a bit more. Are there people you feel are your kindred spirits, those with whom you seem to share some sort of understanding? Try opening up a bit to one or two of them and see how it goes. Chances are, they will respond in kind (because that's how people generally work). It might not work with everyone, but the great thing is that, with people who are actually on your wavelength, it will work.

Oh, and one other thing: it's cool that you have a wide and diverse circle of friends, but you may end up finding that the people you feel close with are a lot more like you. That's ok.
posted by lunasol at 8:44 AM on December 16, 2013

waylaid, yes, I recently started doing this. I have a spreadsheet (go ahead and laugh) with my friends in it, and reminders to myself of what things are going on in their lives. "Jessica is stressed with the new baby -- ask her if she needs babysitting around the holidays" e.g.

I pop it open once a day for a few minutes and ponder what is going on in each person's life.

I don't do facebook or Google+, though -- electronically, I do long-form emails, one-to-one, to grow my deep friendships, along with in-person stuff -- so this spreadsheet thing may not apply to your situation if you are more facebook-y.
posted by nacho fries at 11:18 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I see my 3 closest friends at least once a week each. Other close friends every 2-4 weeks.
Everyone else, is group gatherings, of which I attend maybe one or two a week, but could do more.

(Ironically, at the moment Fri/Sat are my quietest nights!)
posted by Elysum at 4:01 PM on December 16, 2013

« Older Can you recommend other good movies that feature...   |   Why does WeatherBug's data suck, and is there... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.