As I have referenced on this blog many times before, I feel most comfortable when I have 5 close, core friendships. While the degrees of closeness vary, and the 5 friends are interchangeable over the years, I have noticed that the biggest shifts in closeness occur almost entirely depending on the conversations we are having, and the dynamics at play between us in terms of speaking versus listening.
I have one particularly close friend, who always reassures me that she loves listening to my stories. As soon as we catch up, she asks immediately for the latest updates on my life, and is quick to follow up with questions about events I mentioned last catch up, or asking for more details to better understand the situations. I always leave our catch ups happy and re-energised. Sometimes though, I would wonder if our friendship was a little off balance, unequal, although it was hard to pinpoint why exactly. I adore this friend, so how could that be true? I best describe it as a niggling feeling that I was more invested in our friendship and time together than she was, although by all accounts, on the surface at least, she seems to enjoy our chats and catch up’s as much as I do.
Although the feeling was there, niggling, I didn’t give it much thought, honestly. As I have discussed plenty of times before I actually understand that closeness is not always equal or reciprocated. There always seem to be friends to whom we feel closer at times, and friends who feel closer to us than we do to them. I also understand that things change and so do the people we feel closest to, usually circumstantially.
So anyway, getting back to my friend. There was never a lull in the conversation, and hours passed like minutes as we chatted away, smiling and laughing. Regrettably late in the conversation, I asked my friend a question. I noticed almost instantly the way her face lit up as she shared with me. It became glaringly obvious to me that my friend had something on her mind that she had been hoping and wanting to share with me, however she was waiting for the invitation. She was waiting for me to ask. Her face lit up, not only because she wanted to share, but because she wanted to know I cared enough to ask.
I do. I do care. That is true if I ask or not, however I can recognise that when my friend comes in and immediately asks all her questions about my updates, she is showing her love. I feel connected to her, as though she cares. How could I be careless enough not to actively notice this and reciprocate sooner instead of monopolizing most of the conversation? This could very well explain the imbalance I was vaguely aware of!
Perhaps it is true that we feel closest to the people that we talk to, the people that listen to us, not necessarily the same people that talk to us, or that we listen to. In this situation, it was my turn to listen to my friend. I would not say my friend was overtly disappointed in my efforts. I do genuinely enjoy listening to her updates as much as she enjoys listening to my own, however, on reflection, I could have listened better. Several times, in order to relate to the things she was sharing, I shared similar stories. This is an important part of bonding, relating and sharing. I do wish though, that instead of redirecting the conversation back to myself, that I had of said something like “I know what you mean.” I should have asked more questions about herself, and what she was sharing, as she does for me.
My friend and I are close and longstanding friends. Thankfully I have time and future opportunities to do better with this. To ask her to share with me before I share with her. To ask for the details and not redirect the conversation. To be more aware and create more space for her in our time together. Also to address the fact that I tend to subconsciously subcategorise my friends into the ones I talk to and the ones that talk to me.
I cannot change the friends I have who talk to me. Some of them are just not good listeners. Perhaps it is circumstantial and they do not have the emotional capacity to take on any more than what they are personally dealing with. Some of them are not interested or comfortable with the topics of conversation I might enjoy. It’s entirely possible that the rest of them listen to other people in their lives so much, that I fall into the category of people they talk to.
We all need to feel heard, validated and understood. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to make my friends that talk to me feel that way and I understand why that is so valuable to them. I cannot control their circumstances or their ability or willingness to listen to me the way I need. What I can do, is to make more effort to actually listen to the people who listen to me. To allow them to connect with me in the same ways that I connect with them and nourish a truly equal and reciprocal friendship.
To do this, I need to:
Invite them to share with me.
Ask for the details.
Remember the details.
Wait my turn to speak.
Relate in ways that allow them to continue sharing about themselves.
Show them how much I enjoy listening to them.
Thank them for sharing with me.
Be mindful of how much time we have together when we are chatting and try not to talk about myself for more than 50% of that time.
Obviously, at different times, we all have different amounts of things to share. It is not realistic to expect that it will always be equal. There will be times when my friend needs me only to listen or times when I need the same for example. For the most part, however, with a little more self-awareness, and attentiveness to the details my friend likes and needs to share with me, and a little less zealous energy for sharing of myself, I think I can create a healthier balance.
Added to that, finding more friends that I feel I can both share with and listen to in equal measure is a definite future friend goal.
To the friend that I almost listened to, and no, you probably don’t know who you are, thank you for sharing with me. I did notice your need to share, and I’m sorry that my attempt was less than perfect. Your friendship is beyond valuable to me, and I hope with some extra mindfulness on my part that you will finally be able to say the same.
Your Best Friend ForNever