Jul 24, 2012
5 Secrets About Friendship Introverts Need To Know
I'm an introvert. It's not easy for me to open up to people, but this doesn't mean I don't care about others. There have been times when strangers thought I was "cold" or uninterested in them just because I was too shy to socialize. I'm ashamed to say, there have been friends who thought that too. I admit, I live in imagined worlds far, far from the physical locale of my body, and not everyone understands that. But I don't want to be so preoccupied my with my own worlds that I ignore the people I care about.
When I was in school, I found it easy to maintain friendships, because I was forced to be with friends. Now, however, it's all too easy to drift apart. I have friends on the internet, but even then, it's easy to let those relationships be no deeper than a Facebook post or a 140 Twitter characters.
So recently, I've made a private pledge to keep in closer contact with friends and people I care about. Here are the five things I've learned -- often the hard way, through losing friends -- about what it takes to maintain a friendship.
1. Friendship needs no excuse.
There was a friend I meant to call for the longest time. I kept postponing it. (I have a phone phobia!) The longer I procrastinated, the harder it was to do. I felt like I needed some "good" reason, that it would be rude or weird to just call out of the blue. Finally, I just did it; I just called. It turned out she was going through a really difficult period in her life. It was important for me to be there for her--that was more than reason enough! But I wouldn't have known that reason if I hadn't connected in the first place. I know, this should have been obvious, but to me it wasn't.
As an introvert, I always worry about "bothering" someone, even a friend. But connecting doesn't have to be a bother. It can be a life-raft.
2. Friendship takes time.
If you want to be a friend, you have to take the time, weekly, daily, to talk to your friend. If you can, see your friend in person; if not in person, then over the phone; if not over the phone than over the internet. Yes, it does take time. If it's been a while -- and I've let friendships lapse, so I know this too well -- it will take time to build back the intimacy of true friendship. As an introvert, I have a low tolerance for small talk, but the truth is, it takes a certain amount of small talk before you know you can trust someone with bigger secrets. And let's face it, sometimes we want to just bitch about shit. It's great to have someone who honestly doesn't mind hearing you rant about the traffic or whine about your conviction that you'll never be a "true" artist.
3. Friendship takes honesty.
When I was younger, I didn't get this. I tried to be the person those around me expected me to be. I tried to please people. I acted different depending on what group of people I was with, and I felt disconnected from all of them, because I wasn't ever truly myself. I learned better through dating. I used to be just as fake with guys, if not more so, but when I started searching for a soul mate, someone I could live with and love passionately for the rest of my life, I realized that wasn't going to cut it. I had to find someone who would love me, not a mask I wore. I stopped trying to please dates, and just tried my best to be myself. (It's a lot harder than it sounds.) It meant that some dates went down in flames, but it also worked. I found my soul mate. I realized I owed the same honesty to my friends. I might not spill every innermost thought with every person, but whatever thoughts and emotions I do express are real. If I come across as a geek, so be it. A real friend will accept me as I am.
4. Friendship takes advocacy.
It's one thing to be honest, it's another to use that as an excuse to tear someone down. As a writer, I know the power of words, and I strive never to use words as weapons. That's obvious, right? Not to trash your friends, either to their faces or behind their backs? I hope that's obvious. But I had another problem. See, I'm really good at seeing both sides of an issue. Sometimes my attempts to always play mediator (or devil's advocate) caused problems, because I would try to talk my friends out of their conflicts. My friend would say something like, "This bitch at work is trying to undermine my authority," and I'd be, "Well, I'm sure she's trying her best too--maybe it's something you're doing?"
A good friend in college had a completely different philosophy. "If your boyfriend dumps you, then I'm not going to defend him. I'm your advocate, not his." I realized this was exactly why she was the one I wanted to go to for comfort if I had a problem. She'd actively take my side. It's not that she wasn't capable of mediation or seeing the other person's point of view. Actually, she was a great mediator, if that's the role she was asked to take. But she didn't assign herself as mediator unasked. That made her a better friend than I. So I started trying it her way, and being my friends' advocate, not their mediator -- unless they asked me to mediate.
5. Friendship takes passion.
This is related to honesty. I used to avoid any controversial subject with my friends, especially if I suspected we might disagree. If they said something, I'd nod, even if I didn't share the opinion. This kills friendship. Sure, it's okay for acquaintances, and I am not eager to trod toes of people I don't know well. Also, there's such a thing as agreeing to disagree. But I think the best relationships are those where you can have a knock down argument and still remain friends. A friend who won't speak to you again after you've told her how you voted in the last election--that's not much of a friend, in my book.
There's an important corollary to this. It goes for life in general, not just friendship, but it's critical to friendship, and that is remaining open to changing your mind. If my friend and I disagree about some point of politics or religion or relationship or economic policy, I don't just assume I'm right. I listen to the arguments. I try to admit when I don't know. I change my mind.
There's a fine middle ground between being a reed who bows to any breeze and a bullet that needs to overpower whatever it touches. I think friendship only blooms in the middle ground.