Today’s heavy use of social media means fewer close friendships, especially for men. Christine Walker has ways to change that, to get to know yourself better, and to make closer real-life connections.
Studies show the lack of close friends is as dangerous to your health as smoking (Social Relationships). This research is important because social isolation has been rapidly increasing in recent years. The age of Snap Chats and 140 character tweets, has made it easy to replace relationship quality with relationship quantity. In the last 30 years, Americans report the number of close friends has dropped by 30% while our social media networks and opportunities for “connecting” has exploded (Social Isolation). This decline in close friendships affects both women and men, but because men had fewer close friends to begin with, the impact is greater for them, resulting in more isolation. Many men in America currently report having no close friends at all (Social Isolation).
This is the first in a series of three articles about how to deepen your friendships. One small disclaimer before I start: I’m a woman, but for men reading this, I’m not going to try to give you a one size fits all formula for making friends. Instead I will offer some ideas based on research and personal experience to help you figure out your own personal friendship style, which I’m sure will look different from mine.
Before you can effectively find and maintain close friendships, you first need to figure out who you are. It’s difficult to know what to look for in a friend if you’re not sure what you like (and don’t like) yourself. That may sound obvious, but more than a few midlife crises have been triggered by questions such as these. People have travelled all over the world and spent thousands of dollars attempting to solve these riddles, but figuring out who you are is neither as complicated, nor as simple, as it may seem. The process doesn’t need to be expensive or traumatic; and you don’t need to wait until midlife to do it. But, it does require a bit of courage, and a lot of emotional honesty. Here are a few clues to help in your self-discovery, ways you can listen to yourself, in order to better learn who you are.
The first clue is anger. Yep, you read that right: anger. You may love your anger because it makes you feel powerful. Or you may hate your anger because it makes you feel out of control. Either way it’s a guidepost you should pay attention to, because anger tells you when your boundaries have been breached, as well as when you have let yourself down. Anger is a mask that hides your true feelings, but if you take a minute to accept your anger for what it is, you can almost always use it to discover something important about yourself.
I got angry with my husband once for teasing me in front of our friends. He was trying to flirt and be affectionate, but I felt insulted and defensive. Once I stepped back and thought about my reaction though, I realized my husband had crossed a boundary I didn’t know existed. I spent most of my life laughing and pretending I don’t mind being teased, but I also spent most of my life being angry. That’s not a coincidence. If I’m being brutally honest, I have to admit that deep down I’m quite sensitive and I don’t enjoy being teased. Confessing that out loud was humiliating for me at first, because it felt weak, but it became easier to accept once I saw how dramatically it decreased my anger and how much closer I felt to the people around me, as a result.
Another clue to figuring out who you are is delight. You cannot feel delight when you’re pretending to be someone you’re not, and you cannot feel delight doing activities that do not speak, in some way, to your innermost self. Ask yourself: what delights you and makes you giddy with childlike excitement? If you’re prone to self-consciousness, your capacity for delight might be buried and difficult to locate. To find it, start winding back through your memories, searching for moments of unbridled joy, and look for patterns. If you can’t find any, ask yourself what you would love to do if it didn’t seem so silly? Try that silly thing until it stops feeling silly and see if it doesn’t awaken something familiar and forgotten deep inside you.
Not too long ago, I saw a group of high school aged boys running around a park. It was obvious they were having as much fun as the toddlers with whom they shared the equipment. They played tag, jumped off the swings, slid down the slides, and laughed. The boys were closer to adulthood than childhood, and I’m sure the possibility of ridicule by their peers was real; but in that moment, they were full of joy and light. I’ve worked with a lot of teenagers in my life, but I have never seen a group of them as true to themselves as these boys were. I imagine they made some memories that day that won’t soon be forgotten.
Another piece of the puzzle involves the word: should. All of our feelings, both good and bad, are gifts that teach us something about ourselves. When we trust and honor them, it’s easier to figure out who we are. On the surface that sounds simple, but most of us have ruthless inner voices telling us we should feel this way or we shouldn’t feel that way. Train yourself to pay attention any time you hear your inner voice using the word should in conjunction with a feeling because when we believe our critical inner voice, and ignore our true feelings, we lose ourselves.
I have a cousin whose best friend died in a motorcycle accident when he was in high school. The day after the accident, my cousin was sitting by himself, crying, and a well-meaning adult tried to comfort him by saying, “Don’t cry. Your friend would want you to be happy.” My cousin believed those words and spent the next several years telling himself he shouldn’t be sad. But he was sad, and those feelings did not go away. Instead, he learned to mask them by using illegal drugs. Not long after his friend died, my cousin became an addict. It wasn’t until he finally gave himself permission to feel and to ask for support that he was able to overcome his addiction.
Discovering who you are can be a humbling experience, requiring you to accept things about yourself you may wish were not true, but it’s also a fulfilling process that can make your relationships more satisfying, fill your life with more pleasure, and help you become a healthier person overall. Start slowly, take it one step at a time, and enjoy the journey. I guarantee it will be worth it.
Photo Credit: Getty Images