The first time I met Ang for lunch, we pulled into parking spots immediately across from each other at exactly 11:28 am, ahead of our 11:30 lunch appointment. I remember looking up, surprised, and thinking, “oh, we can definitely be friends.” But it was a moment during the meal when I brought up a conversation topic and she announced, “Yes, I had that on my agenda too” that I knew we would be besties.
I was recalling my own meet-cute with Ang when reading the book Big Friendship by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, which chronicles the joys and challenges of their own very close friendship, and weaves in thoughts about how undervalued friendships tend to be culturally and what we can do to invest more in these meaningful relationships.
Big Friendship makes a case about friendship that is at once utterly unremarkable and deeply profound. It’s unremarkable because on some level, it seems like it should be glaringly obvious that the key to maintaining deep and rewarding friendships is exactly the same as maintaining any important relationship - specifically time and communication. Nonetheless this conclusion feels profound because it’s strangely counter-cultural. In our wedding-obsessed society and parenting-intensive paradigm, friendships are often seen as a distant third to these two, more central, personal relationships. Our culture is ill-equipped to support thriving friendship relationships.
So many forces work to pull us apart from our friendships. In the child-raising years, we struggle both with time, and (often) with having kids of different ages. Differences in work hours, family expectations, and financial capacity can all make finding ways to connect with our friends more challenging. If you bring different cultural experiences and wide geographical separations into the mix the way Sow and Friedman did, it becomes even more difficult to stay connected.
Meanwhile, few forces draw us towards friendship. Our cultural narratives assume friendship is what we do in our early adulthood, and that by the time we have families, friendship is relegated to the occasional lunch outing or happy hour plus birthdays. Finding time to meet new people and discover if you truly connect feels like a luxury afforded to few.
So what is the remedy? Sow and Friedman advocate against our cultural narrative, and for the importance of friendship as a key component of a fulfilled life. Like anything else, it grows when given attention and care, and being intentional about making time to connect with friends is half the battle. On some level, the answer to changing how you view the importance of friendship is simply to change how you view the importance of friendship.
Big Friendship doesn’t ultimately consider the question that vexes so many of us – namely finding the time to invest. Here’s my solution. If you’re struggling to imagine how you might make more time for friendship, try bundling it with your other activities. You have to eat, make a monthly plan for lunch out. Do you already go to the gym? Maybe you and your friend can meet there. For years, Ang and I met at the gym at 5am twice a week, no exceptions, no excuses. Kids have too much energy? Invite everyone to go to a trampoline park (maybe wait for COVID to be over for this one). You get the picture. Instead of thinking of friend time as separate, try to imagine how you might connect over many of the activities already in your schedule.
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