In teaching the 5 Circles of Connectedness last night for a room full of women, I was reminded again how seeing the varying spread of our different types of friends can prove so insightful. There are countless friendship principles that emerge when we can begin to answer questions by looking at the model. One such question is "Where do we find a BFF?"
Where do we look for our Best Friends?
When you see that a Best Friend is someone who is on the far right-side of the continuum, in the Committed Friends Circle, and you acknowledge that every friendship starts on the far left-side in the Contact Friends Circle-- then you quickly see first that every BFF is developed, not just discovered.
Even if you both fell in platonic love with each other upon meeting-- you did not meet as Committed Friends. These Circles don't speak to how much we admire each other or have in common, but rather to how much consistency and intimacy we have practiced with each other.
It is possible for two of us to meet and both want to be best friends with each other-- but that does not make it so. For just as often as that happens, if we never get together again, a friendship we do not have. Time engaging with each other, not just good intentions and high hopes, is a prerequisite to a friendship.
So you've heard me say that every friend begins in the Contact Circle. And that is true. Then, as we practice being together-- initiating consistency over time and incrementally increasing our vulnerability--we move our friendships from Left to Right.
But one mistake I think many of us are making is that we're "auditioning" women in that far-left circle for the job of the far-right circle-- and that is the wrong place to be looking. While all friendships start in the Contact Circle, that is not where we go picking who we think might someday be our closest confidantes. No, all we should ever be evaluating our Contact Friends on is, "Am I curious enough to keep leaning in?" In other words, is there enough there to keep me open to grabbing coffee with her one more time? Sitting next to her during that class again? Finding her after church to say hi one more time? Making sure I walk by her desk today to ask about her weekend?
In this Circle someone can be twice our age, vote our opposite, or have more kids than we have dates-- and that's okay. We know we want good friends down the road, but we don't really know who that will turn out to be, and the role of a friend in this Circle isn't for them to be just like us. (Read #2 of this blog that talks about what commonalities we need to have.)
Contact Circle Friends can only "apply" to become Common Friends-- the friends where we practice getting to know each other better in whatever commonality brought us together. They don't get to skip to any other Circle.
If we want more women in the Committed Circle, then it's only one Circle toward the left, in our Community Circle, where our future BFF's can be found.
Women have made it into our Community Circle because we've been practicing the dance of friendship together over some time and in some different ways. Something originally brought us together--i.e. work, a mutual friend, a class, an event--and from there, we have not only taken our conversations deeper, but we've gone beyond that original commonality. We may have met through an association, but now we get together on our own. We may have met when our kids went to school together, but now even if one of them switched schools, we still get together for coffee. We may have met through a mutual friend, but we feel comfortable calling each other directly now.
Our Community Circle has a handful of women-- that given just a wee bit more consistency and/or intimacy could develop into the Committed Circle. If you want a few more women who are 9's and 10's in your life, then go looking at those who are already 6's, 7's and 8's.
Why This Matters:
Understanding that relationships are developed makes all the difference.
For one, it allows you to show up with less judgment in the early stages of a friendship. We don't need to dismiss someone because they don't have kids and we do, or because they're retired and we're not yet. We can welcome them into our Contact Circle and just keep leaning in with curiosity. We don't need to know now, nor could we know, whether this person might someday be on our Right-Side. For now, we can welcome as much diversity into our lives as possible, letting go of the need to weed people out. That's not our job at this point. We are invited to open our arms wider on the far Left-Side.
Second, this helps us hold healthy expectations about each Circle of Friends. Seeing the development reminds us that we can't compare people on the Left-Side to the friends on the Right-Side; being disappointed when a new-ish friend doesn't act like the BFF we're looking for. Just because a Contact Friend doesn't call you as much as you wish doesn't mean she wouldn't if you two developed the friendship into Community or Commitment Friends. We can't dismiss people for not acting like the friend we hope to have when we're not yet anywhere close to having earned or developed that kind of attention, time, and vulnerability.
And third, it showcases how important it is to constantly be inviting people into our Continuums, moving some of them along into more intimate circles. Our Circles shift, people move, life happens. To build a strong social support in our lives, we will need to not just foster the friendships we love right now, but we will also want to continue connecting with others that may prove meaningful down the road.
We want to know that when we are in the market for adding another close friend into our lives (as we are more often than we want to admit!) that we have nurtured the possibilities that will make that search a little easier.