Why Is It So Hard to Have a Close Friend?

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When all is said and done, it’s the time we spend with friends that gives life meaning. —Abraham Lincoln

Finding and keeping an authentic friend is hard for all of us. Sometimes a true friend may feel impossible to find. In fact there are no perfect friends out there for us to have. Some people should never be our friends. However, by and large, many of the best friends we could have may come from investing ourselves with greater honesty in the imperfect connections we already have or have previously overlooked. Sadly, many of us don’t invest enough of ourselves in being open and honest with people who may truly be able to care for us more intimately. Generally we’re too scared to do so, often for good but non-apparent reasons. Even more sadly, many of us don’t examine our parts in why we lack close friends. We simply see ourselves as unlucky and leave it at that. We don’t know what we’re missing.

You know I am not real big on the whole touchy-feely thing with my buds. I mean we fish and hunt together and we’ll drop anything to give a helping hand when any of us is stuck on the road or needs a new roof. We’re on it like a dime. But to sit down and talk about our mid-life crises or women trouble, it just ain’t happening. Now for my son and his male pals it’s a different story. When I see them all hugging when they get together or saying they’re inadequate about having a family and kids, it makes my stomach turn. Part of me gets turned off by softness in men. In my mind if anything means anything you just don’t need to talk about it. You just buck up and do it. Yet, I hate to admit this, but I am also jealous of my son. I don’t really have any guys to share my private moments of insecurity and my son does.

Despite how progressive we may appear, men often get stuck in sexually stereotyped roles in making friends. We may have side-by-side, as opposed to face-to-face connections with buddies, pretty much based on doing things together. Our hidden deeper vulnerabilities go untouched in favor of a competitive teasing with one another. These males ties can be intense under the surface and have strong loyalties lasting for years. If a man were to admit any insecurities he would be more likely to do so with some woman friend at the office. It’s like everybody in a man’s life knows one small piece about him but nobody knows the whole man, including the man himself. Some men do have close male friends but it’s very rare.

Friends? Oh I got plenty of them. The girls and I at my office go out for drinks pretty much every Friday night. We just talk and talk and talk. Just about everything under the sun. Of course it doesn’t hurt to get a little innocent attention from the guys at the sports bar. Then I have my Facebook and Twitter friends. Most of us blog at all hours of the night. You just got to keep up with things. I also find out about all the best deals and places to go. I am an avid coupon fanatic. Then there are all those basketball moms I get together with at each of my kids games. We compare notes and support each other a lot. It’s a fun group. Finally, I have a bunch of old high school friends I still hang with. None of us has really changed. Gossip is our favorite thing. Sometimes however, I wish I could talk to somebody about important things, like the possibility that my husband is having an affair. But that just wouldn’t look very good now would it? But don’t you worry about me — I am way too busy with friends to take life too seriously. I am really very lucky.

Women generally have stronger inclinations and passions for affiliating. Their ability to verbalize, see the whole picture, and seek security through connection is often a big part of who they are. Men may run the world at the office but women literally run the rest of the world, organizing family life, relating to extended family and connecting in the community. Women may have a lot of “friends” but they are often based on being liked and being part of a group than on really being honest with one another and themselves about what is actually going on in their lives. While men may be painfully blunt with one another, women may only hint at what is really bothering them. Such friendships for women may be stifling and duty bound with hidden anger being expressed indirectly or through harmful gossip. Many women may find it preferable to be closer to men because they don’t have to deal with the judgments and jealousy they perceive from other women and because men give them wanted attention. Indeed, competition can be a deal buster in women’s friendships; it can undermine the strong identities women might otherwise have if they had closer ties to other women.

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Some people have simply given up on making friends, usually due to past unresolved hurts.

I am one of those people whose dreams have died. I just do my office job, come home to feed my cats and watch TV and just get ready for the next day. Nothing is too stressful in my life. Each day is like yesterday. Once I hoped to be married, have a family and have friends. But the love of my life wound up marrying my best high school friend. I guess she was prettier than me. Sometimes I just sit in my apartment, stare at the walls and wonder what my life could have been like. At least I am safe. I’m not hurting anybody. In some fleeting moments of clarity I wonder if the way I actually am drove my boyfriend to seek out a livelier woman. Perhaps my trouble started long before I met my boyfriend. But that’s not for me to know. Oh well.

Some of us may live the life of a loner and are unaware of how we have pushed and continue to push other people away. Instead of looking at our part in our friendless existence we may simply attribute our isolation to bad luck, or a lack of available friendly people or to our own flawed temperament to keep to ourselves. We may mistakenly believe that it is our lot in life to be friendless because we are unconsciously afraid of that part of our past that drove us to be isolating in the first place. Even if we knew why we became loners we would not know how to change it on our own. Indeed, being aloof is not something we can change on our own. Just like learning to dance we need a caring partner who can show us the right steps. Most standoffish people either blame others for their dilemma or just decide to not know what they are missing from close relationships. They just make do. And often suffer.

Some of us may live the life of a loner and are unaware of how we have pushed and continue to push other people away.Having heard from these dismal stories, let me be clear: Each of us is capable of having close friends. Courageous effort is required. Most of us don’t do so because we have been hurt by our past and we lack the skills and coaching to overcome our internal hardships. With adequate help any of us can have deeper and more meaningful ties to others. Some of us may have no idea what true friendships are and why they are valuable. We are the very people who benefit the most from heartfelt connections.

What is close friendship?

There is no pat answer to this question. Each of us has his or her own idea on what it takes to say that someone is our close friend. Let me give you my idea of what it means to have a close friend based on years of searching in my own life and working with clients for over three decades. Emotional closeness is a process in relationships over time where friends for the most part have much in common with each other and also genuinely accept differences between each other. It is a process that occurs over time and something that has withstood the good, the bad and the impossible. Generally close friends need to be able to handle constructive conflict with one another and continue finding areas of commonality over time. Often close friends feel they are the most important people to each other, even beyond family partners, as the identity of each friend is rooted in their connectedness and is based on real caring, not utilitarian advantage. Real friends treat us as people, not just objects. They give us a 50 percent boost in health benefits over isolative people. They will stick with us through marital strife and separation, major health and other life problems, and evolving life choices that were unanticipated when the friendship originally began. It is possible to have such friendships if one works at them. All such friendships bolster our individuality as well as help us make informed choices through the storms and stresses of life in our outside relationships. To put it another way, a true best friend is to die for.

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Getting started

To make a good friend, start with yourself. Recognize your heartache in not having a close friend as this can motivate you. Give up all the excuses, like, “I’m just not meeting the right type of people” or “People from around here are not very open.” Realize that the people you are presently meeting, if any, are only conforming to what you yourself think you deserve. In hanging out, most of us go with people that fit into old familiar and unhealthy patterns. Sheldon Kopp, a famous psychoanalyst, said, “We prefer the security of known misery to the misery of unfamiliar insecurity.” Such short changing of ourselves is not the crime of the century but it does limit our life meaning and satisfaction. To get more out of friendships we need to challenge ourselves and be around people who can offer us more. Such people can help bring out the better parts of ourselves but often scare us in good ways. Actually our fear of more giving people is due to our not feeling we deserve their care. So deserve them. Perhaps you can start by showing up around them.

To make a good friend, start with yourself.Look at yourself. It’s best to start with self-forgiveness. There may be certain patterns in yourself you just can’t shake and very much dislike. Realize these patterns are there for a reason. Getting rid of them too quickly before you have better ways to cope may expose internal pain in yourself you may wish not to remember and have a difficult time handling on your own. Be patient with yourself. It’s best to realize that for now, you’re doing the best you can and that you cannot change in yourself what no one person could heal on his or her own. It’s best to get a professional helper and a Higher Power, such as fellowship in a 12-Step group, to guide you. Word of mouth from people you trust is often the best place to start to look for resources. I can recommend reliable references, Just Friends and Intimate Strangers by Lilian Rubin for direction. These texts get to the heart of the matter but are no replacement for the genuine and compassionate alliance you can have with a trained helper.

Give yourself credit for even getting this far in the article. Having a close friend may be the most painful and meaningful thing you will ever do in your lifetime.

John H. Driggs, L.I.C.S.W., is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice in St. Paul and co-author of Intimacy Between Men (Penguin Books, 1990). Contact John at 651-699-4573.

This article first appeared in the March / April 2013 issue of The Phoenix Spirit. We may earn commissions via some of the links on this page – at no cost to you.

Last Updated on June 23, 2021

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