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.