Friends are important for so many reasons. You know this and you also know you don’t have tons of free time. But you understand how to make friends, and it’s not like you don’t have some right now. You’ve met guys on the sidelines and at school pick-up who you like talking to and who you’d call “friends”. You just wouldn’t call them close ones. But you’d like to. So, how do you take it to the next level and turn a casual friend into a closer one?
Casual friendship certainly has its pluses. Nothing ever goes deeper than talking about house projects or the occasional meme. It’s fine and a good escape from heavy issues, but you need friends who can take on weight and talk about the bigger stuff. You can have the most supportive partner, but it’s too much to ask that person to be your only outlet (and often bad for your marriage if that’s the case). Family can offer unconditional love, even though it doesn’t always feel that way, since, “Those people installed your buttons and they push them,” says Daniel Singley, a San Diego psychologist.
So, you need the opposite, namely folks for your inner circle who are sharing similar struggles as a parent and spouse and who live no more than a few streets away. But first, it helps to ask, “What defines a close friend?” Yes, they listen, give you crap when called for, and don’t judge, but ultimately, it’s that person who if you woke up in the middle of the night and needed help, you would call. Not could, as Singley says, but would. You might have to do it, but it’s that level of trust and support that you’re aiming for.
The question is how do you turn a casual acquaintance into a close friend? Well, like most things it requires a little strategy and some patience.. Luckily, you see these people regularly, so there’s no deadline pressure. Mainly, it just takes knowing that you want something more substantial, followed by pushing through the fear of being vulnerable, and then finally, having the will to do something about it. The following can help.
Envision Your Team
Having the conscious thought of, “I want some closer friends,” might feel foreign. Maybe you’ve never had to worry about this. But you also weren’t living on Dad Time before. Two things can help reframe the challenge and give you the nudge to act. One, Singley says, is to imagine what your life will look like in 10 years. Where do you live? Where do you go? Who are the people you’re with? Invariably, close friends are part of that picture.
The next step is to not think of it like making friends, but rather that you’re putting your team together. You’ve likely been on a team at work, in college, or as a kid, and know when they work, there’s nothing more inclusive. The combination of both visuals turns your 10 year plan into a challenge and something to strategize over, which makes it more fun, less overwhelming. “It’s a mindset,” says Stephen Rodgers, a Denver psychotherapist.
Scout It Out
Keeping the team analogy going, you want to think about the guys with whom you already have an affinity, but realize that you don’t need to be close with everyone. Four people is great, three is still great. Think of the best prospects, and delve slightly more than you currently are. It’s just that, an attempt, and Rodgers says to think of it like a door. You don’t need to throw it wide open with your next interaction. Just share a bit, gauge the response and you’ll quickly sense how warm the water is.
Increase Your Communication
Singley says to look at how you currently communicate in three parts: the medium, frequency and content. Now look to increase one of that trio. For example, if you text about sports twice a week, start texting three times and see, “Does he take a step in or back off?,” he says. If it’s the former, you can slowly ramp up. If it’s the former, this isn’t the guy.
You can also play with the other two components, and occasionally call or video chat, which makes the interaction more synchronistic and in-person without being in-person. And then there’s the content aspect, and being able to talk about consequential stuff is really the goal. One unthreatening approach is to bring up work-life balance. It’s serious, but because it’s so universal, “Totally stressed this week with work and the kids,” is easy to tap out and take in, and it can turn your casual exchanges into actual exchanges.
Work on Your Memory
It’s not hard to build a friendship when schedules are brought up together, but you’re not always together. Actually, you’re apart more often, so look for ways to reach out. Store birthdays in your phone. Remember when someone mentions a big meeting, family visit, sick relative, dinner date with their spouse, and then shoot out a text with wishes or asking how everything went. Doing the in-between stuff adds texture to the relationship. You’re showing yourself to be thoughtful and considerate, two qualities high on any potential friend list. You’re also keeping someone in mind and letting that person know about it, and, “We all like what that feels like,” Rodgers says. It feels like real friendship.