You are very different than I am… think about it… Not only do I have no idea who is reading this, but you were birthed into this world by a woman who I very likely do not know, with the help of a supportive father, or friends and family members, and by a doctor (maybe), all whom I will most likely never meet, and probably in a city that I have never even been to…
You went through health complications from birth and through your life… or maybe you didn’t! See what I mean? To top it all off, you experienced different family issues; different parents; we went to different schools; had different kinds of siblings or friends; loved or hated mushrooms, olives, and other odd pizza toppings, not to mention the thousands of other differences in preferences, personality, and other traits… you and I… we’re just not the same at all.
So where does that leave us? Well it’s interesting actually, because if we were to meet tomorrow, and happen to find some common ground, well then, we might enjoy a conversation over coffee sometime. Then that acquaintance might evolve into a friendship, which may flourish and we might introduce our kids and spouses to become well-acquainted, and then we all become life-long friends… Great!
But how?! I mean we just decided that we could practically be polar opposites in many ways… so how could this friendship flourish? Well that is the question isn’t it…
Karen Karbo of Psychology Today said, “When people are asked, What gives meaning to life? friendship figures at the top of the list. Yet the dynamics of friendship have remained mysterious and unquantifiable”
We find ourselves in the friendship of others and we can generally point to a few common threads that pulled us together initially. That is how friendships seem to begin, but is that what makes them persevere? And further, is common ground really the only aspect of our initial acquaintance that nurtures conversation and develops into friendship?
In an article from Britannica on Phases of Friendship, Human Development experts Brian Duignan and Lisa Hohmann discuss similarity being only one aspect of the “laws of attraction” that bring people together. They reveal that “as individuals transition into friends… there is a stronger emphasis on reciprocal self-disclosure, intimacy, and emotional support. How satisfied individuals are with the support and companionship… is an important factor in determining their investment and the amount of effort they put into maintaining the friendship.”
Yes! As our life experiences have taught us, trust is the true factor that brings us together or tears us apart. If you cannot support my dreams and aspirations and you are not interested in learning about my work, my life, my drama, me… then you cannot be truly trusted. To contribute to this point, social psychologists Carolyn Weisz and Lisa F. Wood at the University of PugetSound, in Tacoma, Washington say, “there's another component to friendship that may trump even intimacy: social-identity support, the way in which a friend understands, and then supports, our sense of self in society or the group.”
This data, reviewed by Karen Karbo, in Psychology Today, continues to discuss another great point, that we sometimes also attach to a new friend because they believe in us. She says, “Sometimes all a friend needed to do to keep the friendship going was to affirm the other person's identity as a member of the given group ("You're a real great Christian") or even the status of the group itself ("It's so cool that you play sax for the Stanford band!"). Reasons for the finding, say the researchers, may range from greater levels of intimacy and understanding to assistance with pragmatic needs to enhanced self-esteem.”
Enhanced self-esteem you say? It’s starting to sound like friendship is based not necessarily on how incredible the other person is, but how incredible they make you feel:
1. Having similar background or preferences helps to remove your self-doubt
2. Listening to your frustrations means that you and your feelings are validated
3. Social identity support removes feelings of loneliness and displacement in society
4. Finally, their affirmation of your status mends insecurity and provides hope
It might sound like the very things that create a strong foundation for friendship can be a little self-centered, but allow me to give a little perspective to the points above. We come into this world cold, wet, feeling violated, and screaming our little heads off… from there, let’s be honest and even a little grim - it doesn’t get too much better! Life throws us a lot of curveballs. Failure to crawl, walk, or even perform tummy-time correctly are just a few of the challenges that leave us disappointed in the early stages of development as a human. Once we get beyond the wiles of kindergarten, the awkwardness of middle school, and the drama (even trauma for some) of high school, we’re lucky to be standing on our own two feet - we are not letting just anyone waltz into our lives securing the title of "friend" as they dance through the door. As my grandmother used to say while we patiently waited for sweet bread, “there has to be some time for proving.” That’s how trust is cultivated and friendship is founded. A friendship should make you feel comfortable, happy, and interesting. However, do not forget what we established at the beginning of this article… You carry such vast differences in character, preferences, strengths, and weaknesses. There are traits within you that are polar opposites from another’s traits.
So then it shouldn’t surprise you when a friendship or relationship may be disrupted by a simple misunderstanding or disagreement. It does not matter how well I know you, how long I have known you, or even how close you and I become over many years, we are still completely different people with completely different opinions, ideals, and beliefs in most cases.
As humans, our mission should be to coexist with our loved ones, old friends, and even new friends regardless of our differences. Conflict must be resolved. There are always sacrifices and compromises to be made, but it will be to the benefit of both parties when we learn to meet in the middle on any given issue that may arise.
So in the next portion of this series, “Understanding Relationship,” we will dive into conflict! Is it necessary? What happens if we don’t resolve it? How can we be sure that the other party sincerely wants to resolve? Is it possible that they hate me even after all that we’ve been through together? Is friendship or relationship that fleeting - ere one moment and gone the next? Find out in Understanding Relationship Part II.
Thanks for reading!
Ramzi Elassadi ________________________________________________