6 Romantic Tools We Should Apply to Our Friendships
Folks with a variety of personality types desire deep friendships. Regardless of whether or not we are introverted, always-thinking, busy, laid-back, or just generally bumbling, people benefit from stable interpersonal closeness. There’s a reason why we sometimes mindlessly scroll on our phone, hoping for a text or direct message pulling us out of our regular day and into even a mildly exciting conversation.
Besides stress relief, reduced loneliness, emotional resilience, and a sense of belonging, investing in platonic love helps us exchange basic emotional needs with those who are close to us. The kicker about friendship, though, is that outside of mediocre buddy-comedies and the occasional classic film centering kids prioritizing their pals to save the world or avoid thrilling but untimely deaths, we don’t prioritize platonic love the same way we do romantic connection.
This means that we can forget to woo our besties in adulthood. Our common experiences shift, we discover new passions while old ones fade, and we get overwhelmed with life and settle into routines with our friends. Catching up once a month on a group call is a task worth celebrating, but these six tools that we are taught to employ in romantic pursuits can also positively impact — and even reinvigorate — the most disconnected friendships.
A Growth Mindset
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck studied the effects that mindsets play in relationships. She found that those who operated within a fixed mindset tended to decide how the other person in the partnership should be and not budge from that mental picture of stagnation. In romantic relationships, looking for someone that checks a long list of boxes rather than someone with whom to learn and grow is detrimental. Often, these people hope to quickly feel like they’ve found “the one,” rather than work to build something great.
The negative effects of a fixed mindset can damage friendships, as well. Growth mindsets, though, enable connections made decades ago to thrive despite the ever-changing challenges of life.
I am still close with a couple of friends from high school. Now at an age that makes 2004's 13 Going on 30 startlingly relevant again, I am convinced that a shared excitement for self-betterment and mindful ambition secured these friendships. We didn’t necessarily help each other choose our college majors, life partners, or career paths, but we were there to celebrate these decisions and act as a sounding board when the opportunity proved useful.
Sadly, a few friendships formed around the same time fizzled because the people I had spent time with were not open to meeting me in the middle in terms of hang-out spots, political view shifts, and general personal development. I’ll always hold respect and care for these folks, but our mindsets pulled us out of each-others’ forward and peripheral paths.
A growth mindset is key to truly maintain a “best-friend-forever.”
Recognizing if you and your friends have fixed or growth mindsets can be difficult, but cultivating self-awareness can both help with this discovery and allow for added confidence in our relationships. In movies and television, often the man-versus-himself tropes lead to self-awareness and change as the magic that fulfills a romance or allows it to survive. But, what is it? Dr. Tasha Eurich found that there are two types of self-awareness.
Internal self-awareness represents how clearly we understand our own reactions to feelings. For example, realizing our values, aspirations, and impact on others can affect all of us differently. Eurich found that those with internal self-awareness tend to enjoy careers, invest in their friendships, and practice gratitude. Like in romantic partnerships, self-awareness allows us to disagree respectfully, without putting each other down. Respect born from self-awareness is often discussed in romantic settings, but it is just as important for the maintenance of healthy, platonic friendships.
Dr. Eurich’s research showed that people with solid external self-awareness were more empathetic and accepting of constructive criticism. I once asked a friend to forgive me for not reaching out more often and her response was to ask me for a life update and share her stories. She could have easily left me in the dark as punishment for my neglect, but she empathized with my overwhelming schedule and understood that my temporary lack of initiative in our relationship had nothing to do with how much I care for her.
Romantic partnerships are often discussed as the true best-friendship in a person’s life. We are often cautioned not to be too clingy in our relationships and to make sure we still maintain rich lives outside of our partnerships so that we can continue to autonomy and purpose. Making time for independence is just as important in friendships.
Holding one person accountable for all of your external joy can put too much pressure on a friendship. You can count on your loved ones, but that does not mean that they need to be at your beck and call indefinitely. My closest and most substantial friendships are those I know will feel just as exciting and strong after some time apart.
Autonomy in relationships depends on the people within it for maintenance, but independence has huge benefits in many relationships. Healthy friendships star two independent people who decide to share their lives. Most of us want to feel like the main characters of our own lives, so strength outside of each of our relationships is an important goal towards which to work.
When most people think of pillars of stability in a relationship, trust makes its way to the front of the values line. Credibility can make or break a partnership and is often a trope that catalyzes the romantic leads in a film to find their true partners.
But trust, even in these relationships, doesn’t just rely on all parties not cheating. Credibility means the capacity for belief more generally. When your significant other says they are going to take you on a picnic Saturday, you expect this to be true. The same mentality needs to exist within friendships.
Of course, things come up, but consistently flighty folks who cancel plans right beforehand or who discuss their friends’ secrets outside of that relationship can jeopardize the fortitude of that friendship. I’ve been extremely lucky to have a handful of people with whom I can connect on varying levels and can trust during both smooth-sailing and tumultuous times in my life.
To the best of my ability, I hold myself accountable to be there for them as well.
I remember finding out that one of my close friends was a talented singer. Our friendship was fairly new, but we had gotten to know each other quickly because we worked in the same office and took many of the same classes.
She sang a chill little song for me, and I was astounded by the emotion in her voice.
At that moment, I told myself I’d work on realizing how little I actually know the people around me. By avoiding assumptions, we open up opportunities to learn. Being curious in friendships encourages vulnerability and confidence, setting the relationship up to last.
Think about it, isn’t it attractive when someone is curious about you? In romantic partnerships, of course, but one of the habits of charming people is asking quality questions and actively listening to the answers.
Curiosity is a building block of intimacy. Friends can know each other for years without learning much about them. I was catching up with one of my longest friends and she told me she had seen one of our mutual friend-ish people (you know, the person you were friends with to avoid proximity drama. High school is hard.) This acquaintance had met with my friend for hours but hadn’t asked her anything about her life. I doubt they’ll be hanging out again anytime soon.
Curiosity about our friends can increase our potential for identifying their Love Maps or their likes and dislikes. With this work, we help our friends feel seen and allow them to see us, themselves.
Quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch, and gifts all have places in a friendship. While the percentages of each of these love languages are different for every pair, it is important to learn your friends’ preferred ways to give and receive affection so that you can mirror their favorite love language and recognize when they are sharing love with you.
I suck at gifts. When someone’s birthday or a holiday comes around, I would much rather go to a workout class with my friend or bake them something. These are my preferred ways to show my love (quality time and acts of service.)
My favorite ways to receive love, however, are physical touch and words of affirmation. I’m big into cuddling and written cards never fail to make me cry. I’ve scared a few of my friends with large, emotional reactions to birthday cards. It’s both terrifying and hilarious.
Applying these to current friendships can be as simple as sending your friends the 5 Love Languages quiz, asking them about the accuracy of their results, and keeping notes in their contact information in your phone. This is particularly helpful when I don’t feel like I’m getting what I need from someone.
I’ll pop into my phone and usually find that they are expressing love to me in a way that best suits them (offering to help me with something, for example), which means they’re trying. That knowledge can make a huge impact on how I feel.
Acceptance and Celebration
Each of these six romantic tools, even when applied to friendships, boils down to our deep desire for acceptance and celebration.
According to “Understanding the Psychology of Guilt,” most children are taught from a young age to seek approval for the things they say or do. While this need for approval focuses on our parents at first, we become conditioned over time to seek approval from others as well.
Because of this need to be accepted, we want to invest as much as we can into our friendships. More than solely a selfish desire to be loved, I believe our empathy makes us want to make our friends feel accepted and celebrated, too.
Compromise, connection, respect, and spontaneity are common pieces of marriage and dating advice, but we owe these things to ourselves and our friends, too.
We deserve to put effort into our platonic friendships as much as our romantic endeavors, and all these kinds of love end up benefiting one another in the end.
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