The older we get, the more we notice that forging friendships is a lot like dating. We meet someone new, we ask for their contact info, invite them out somewhere to hang and get to know each other better, and let it blossom from there. Sometimes people fall into your circle by way of others, and that’s great too. But only if their energy aligns with yours do you have to keep up the effort. You get to be discerning.
Ultimately, friendships are meant to be healthy, soul-feeding relationships that help us to feel loved, supported, and in vital community—an important part of well-rounded health. Spending time with people that you also love and support gives satisfaction in return—think purpose and intention. Studies show that good friendships are imperative to cognitive health and a joyful life. So why shouldn’t we choose them as carefully as we would a romantic partner?
We know that romantic partnerships seem more final—we can have infinite friends, in theory, but we can only have one (OK, maybe a few more, depending on your preference) romantic partner, so the pressure is on. In reality, while we can have many acquaintance-friendships, we only have the emotional and physical bandwidth to be in close, loving, intentional relations with a handful of others.
These intimate friends are the people who influence you the most, who will be there when you are in trouble or need, who support your growth and won’t suddenly disappear when you’re down on your luck financially, not wearing the coolest trends, fall sick, or fail to agree with their every thought. Look for these factors when letting people into your inner circle.
How do you feel around them or after spending time together?
If you’re nervous, on edge, or performative, this person may not be the closest friend to you. Maybe you leave an encounter feeling depleted or down on yourself instead of filled-up. If you feel judged or like you need to impress them in order to be close, consider those factors.
Can you spend time with them in multiple settings?
Do you find yourself only going to parties or nights out with this person and can’t imagine a movie night on the sofa or a quiet picnic in the park with them? Some friends are limited to one realm—some are your party friends; some are only for quiet nights in … and that’s OK. But the best friends will align with you most anywhere.
If you find yourself shapeshifting to please someone, they are either not accepting and loving you for who you are, or you are unable to feel comfortable coming as you are to the friendship, which is not sustainable or loving.
Are you supporting each other's growth, or competing?
Lasting friendships are relationships loaded with mutual respect. If someone is putting you down or trying to compete with your successes instead of celebrating them with you, you have an issue.
Is the emotional labor balanced?
It’s natural to not be feeling the same or going through it at the same time; perhaps one period of time is tough for you and another is tough for him/her, and you’re able to bolster each other and lean on one another during these times. However, if someone only comes to you when they have a big problem and seems to disappear when all is well in their life, seek out a conversation around balance, or limit the weight and physical investment you give to this kind of friendship.
When it comes down to it, a lot of these factors do also apply to romantic relationships. That’s because close, intimate relationships of all kinds require unconditional love, mutual respect, and maintenance. Keeping a close circle of people around you that serve your highest good with support you can reciprocate is what creates growth. And it’s ultimately a pillar of a life of love and wellness.
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