Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
I’m sorry, but I have to admit that I find “catching up” with friends to be dreadfully boring. I care about you, I really do, but running through the recent headlines of your life can drive me nuts. Let me guess: Your children are taller and in a higher grade, and your spouse is driving you crazy, but you still love them, or your parents are declining and that’s sad, but your work is dragging you down or lifting you up or blah, blah, blah.
I understand that in many ways we are the stories that we tell about ourselves so sharing those stories feels the same as sharing ourselves. I get that we perpetuate friendships by knowing the headlines of each other’s lives. But I don’t truly feel closer to you after hearing the headlines of your life because it’s a curated version of who you are. After hearing your headlines, I still haven’t really had an experience of who you are.
I wasn’t able to articulate this until I read “What Adults Forget About Friendship” in the Atlantic, which explains that when adult friends get together, they generally “catch up,” i.e., tell the stories of their lives as if maintaining the friendship is a job, and the way to do that is to devour and retain information about another person. You can say I know that person because I know the facts of their life. That’s one very reasonable and very common way of looking at adult friendship. However, the article points out that children approach friendship differently. Generally, they spend friendship in play. They do things together. They play games or watch movies. They’re not just running down the facts of their lives. Sure, as kids get older their friendships include sharing the stories of their lives — the girl who was mean to them, the boy they like — but they prioritize doing things together. Many adults have forgotten that friendship can and perhaps should be rooted in play.
As an adult, it’s very hard to make new friends. You grow so tied to your family and career that forming new platonic relationships is hard. You just don’t have the time and energy to build deep connections. I think that after the age of 40, it’s very difficult to make new friends. It would be far easier for a fortysomething person to find a new spouse than to find and create a new close friend. We’re so enmeshed in our lives that it’s hard enough to maintain our old friends.
So how do we make friends as an adult? A few ideas: For one, you have to be willing to tell people that you like them. If you’re pursuing a romantic relationship or a sexual one, you compliment the other person in ways that let them know you like them in that way. To attract and maintain platonic friends, it’s helpful to be a cheerleader for people you like as a friend.
Dr. Marisa Franco, a psychologist who studies friendship, told the New York Times, “We tend to like people who we believe like us. I used to go into groups and try to make friends by being smart — that was my thing. But when I read the research, I realized that the quality people most appreciate in a friend is ego support, which is basically someone who makes them feel like they matter. The more you can show people that you like and value them, the better.”
But part of having the confidence and the self-security to put yourself out there like that springs from believing in yourself. You must enter into spaces and new relationships believing that people like you. A piece at Psyche said, “If you go into social situations with a positive mindset, assuming people like you, then it’s more likely that this will actually turn out to be the case.”
Those are important ideas but we also want to get back to something that’s critical to childhood friendship — action. I feel like friendships thrive when we do something together. I remember vividly the times I went to a concert or a museum or a movie with someone I liked. Those memories stand out. The dinners where we just sat and caught up fade away. When you take a trip together, you really bond. I have lots of friends who I play tennis with. I’m all about playing tennis, and if I can play with you and we really enjoy it then I can probably get into a deep friendship with you. I may not know all the headlines of the lives of the people I play with, but I feel a deep connection to them because of how we interact on the court. Even though we’re not talking when we’re on opposite sides of the net, we’re still having a conversation through tennis, through our actions and reactions. When I play with you, I can see deep into who you are by the choices you make on the court. I can have an experience of you rather than just getting your reporting on what you’ve been through.
I think tennis is a great way to connect with others no matter what level you’re playing at, but it doesn’t have to be tennis. There are all sorts of activities you can do with friends that turn your time together into improvised play where you’re truly experiencing each other. I know many of us are lonely and starved for more platonic interaction. If you join a community of people who all do something together — be it tennis or basketball or running or yoga or almost anything — then you’ll start to know people with whom you can play, and when you’re playing with people, you’re really experiencing them and developing deep connections with them even if you don’t know everything about their lives.
Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and the animated show Star Stories with Toure which you can find at ANH.com/starstories. He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.
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