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Issue 9 September 2005

The Care and Feeding of a Friendship

Have you ever noticed that you can start a conversation with a friend feeling confused, then after she has genuinely listened to you, you not only feel relieved but you find that you can think more clearly? This isn’t magic. There’s nothing more reassuring than being listened to. But this requires time. We have to stop what we’re doing and focus on what our friend is saying. We can’t take our friendships for granted. We need to nurture them. Theologian Paul Tillich said, “the first duty of love is to listen.” I know you’re busy--everyone is--but we need to make room in our lives to connect. A steady diet of quick phone calls or rushed meetings just won’t do. Our friendships need the luxury of a leisurely walk, a quiet dinner. They need space in which we can unwind and share.

Yet some women have such demanding schedules that they find it difficult to tend to their friendships. Tory, a nurse practitioner, said during one of our sessions, “I don’t have enough time for my friends. My life is crammed full of family and work, and when I think about all those things, friends come after them. I don’t communicate as much as I wish I could. I have wonderful friends, and they will often reach out to me. I’m always delighted. But I’m in a phase of life when I’m working very hard at my business and I’m chairing two boards. My time is very heavily booked.” One of the main issues that brought Tory to see me was how out of balance her life was. Although she loved her work she found little time for anything else.

While Tory may feel a certain level of satisfaction in the other areas of her life, she was missing out on the richness and support that ongoing friendships provide.“I had this difficult situation with one of my grown children come up a month or so ago,” she said. “I was at a loss as to who I could talk to. Up until then I hadn’t realized how lonely I’ve been.” Since she hadn’t invested much energy in her friendships, she felt awkward approaching the women with whom she had only occasional contact when she needed help. As we talked about the lack of ongoing friendships, Tory began to realize that there was an emotional void in her life. “I’ve been so involved in growing my business and dealing with family that I feel used up. I thought that I could get by, but this recent incident showed me otherwise.”

When a woman hasn’t taken the time to cultivate a circle of friends, there’s often a sense of isolation, although she may not immediately be aware of it. Yet when she wants a pal to hang out with or someone to confide in she discovers a emptiness in her life that isn’t easily filled. As Tory experienced the emotional vacuum in her life, she began to shift her priorities to make time to cultivate her friendships. Having a supportive network takes time. We need to nurture our friendships so when we need them they’re there. We have health insurance, car insurance, a savings account, to fall back on. Our friends are equally as essential.

While there are some friendships that can sustain a lack of contact, most important relationships require an investment of time and attention. Whether our friends live down the street or in another city, we have to make an effort to remain involved. Sure, there are those women who you don’t talk to for months and when you finally connect it’s as if no time has passed. But, in general, intimacy requires continuity. It’s not that you have to talk with your friends everyday, but you can’t expect weeks or months to go by without contact and to have a truly intimate friendship.