The Language of Friendship

Seven years ago I was with a friend, Michelle, in her kitchen. She was cooking up a nice meal for us to share as we were casually hanging out and connecting. She had become a good friend over the past two years and I valued these casual times together. In fact, I loved these times together because I had grown to love her as a dear friend. After a several years of closing myself off from true friendship (which I thought would only end in hurt) I was stepping out in trust and vulnerability again.

Unfortunately my season of keeping people at a safe distance had made me a little awkward and rusty in the friend department. Michelle was cooking away, we were talking about nothing in particular. I suddenly blurted out, “Michelle, you are my friend!!” It had the urgency and awkwardness of a pimply tween in Junior High. Confused, Michelle paused, “What?”. “Well,” I replied, “you are my friend and I just wanted you to know that.” She was gracious and smoothly moved the conversation forward.

By: Joi Ito

Since that awkward lunch I’ve thought a lot about that blurted declaration. This came up as I was chatting with a long-lost friend. We began talking a lot about friendship. How are friends made? What do we value in a friend? What is the language we use when a friendship means something to us?

When it comes to romantic relationships, most cultures have a language that we use to identify the stages and seasons of this type of relationship.

“No, we are just friends.”
“We are friends with benefits”
“We are dating but it’s not too serious”
“We are in love.”

All these phrases are ways we identify what a person of the opposite gender means to us. It shows how intimate the relationship has become. We even have words for these conversations. “We are going to talk tonight to define the relationship” or “We have yet not told each other ‘I love you'”.

But, when it comes to friendship, especially same-gender friendship, we have none of this. So, we resort to adolescent categories. We have a “best friend” and everyone else is just dumped in the same pot. In fact, I Googled the term, “You are my friend” and every single hit came back with the phrase, “You are my best friend”. Even Google doesn’t have a language of friendship!

In counselling, they often talk about “circles of relationship”. The different levels ofCircles of Frindship friendship that we have in our lives. In the “inner circle” of close friends we generally have 3-5 people that we consider our most intimate and trust relationships. The next circle out from that is generally abut 12-15 people. Yet, there is no expectation that we have ever actually told those people that they are our dearest, must trusted friends.

The reality is that Michelle was moving from my outer circle towards my inner circles. I wanted her to know that. I had never seen or heard of someone telling another about this but I figured it needed to be said. I wasn’t just saying, “you are my friend”. I was telling her, “You and your friendship means more to me than most. Because of that I value you but also feel that you could hurt me more deeply than most if you wanted to.”

There are less-awkward ways this conversation could have happened. But, don’t we need a language for friendship? Doesn’t there need to be a conversation about how this happens? Isn’t it strange that we can have some of the most intimate and trusted relationships yet we rarely ever look the person in the eye and tell them, “I need you to know, you are in my circle”. It’s not expected and we have no language to even express what is going on.

This my question for you:
Do you feel you have a language for friendship?
How could this make us more connected instead of disconnected to one another?
Do you tell friends what they mean to you?

How can we develop a conversation around the friendships we have and what we hope them to be?