In this world of Scruff, Grindr, Mister and all the other social/hookup apps, sex seems to be an awfully high priority. Sometimes, I wonder if the art of friendship is getting lost. After all, if we can’t enjoy each other’s company and be good to each other, sex isn’t going to be very good, no matter how hot the person we’re with is.
To me, friendship is the foundation for all other relationships. How can you have a spouse, lover or partner that you’re not friends with? Without friendship, no relationship has much of a chance of a long-term run. You may be infatuated with someone you meet — “I’m drowning in lust,” as one client told me — but that alone isn’t going to keep you together. You need friendship.
Surprisingly, some of us aren’t very good at it. What can we do about that? Luckily, friendship is a skill and can be
In my observation, women seem to be better at it than men. As men, many of us —unfortunately — have been trained to “suck it up” and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” We are encouraged to hide our feelings for other people and put on a tough (often blank) face so that no one sees our vulnerability.
Growing up on a farm in Ohio, my brother and I were encouraged not to appear open or vulnerable in a way that my sisters were allowed to be. As a result, my sisters had better and more well-developed friendships. Not a big surprise, is it? We were set up that way.
For many successful LGBTers, competition trumps friendship. We think we need to “look out for number one” and “don’t trust anyone.” This may make us lots of money (and enemies) but also leave us isolated, alone and lonely.
You know “lonely,” right? One of the things I hear most often in my psychotherapy office is when clients tell me how lonely they are. These clients are often very women and men who are respected, admired … and alone. They didn’t learn how to be a good friend. The good news: it’s never too late.
Cultural constructs about “independence” and “self-sufficiency” keep many of us from being good friends. We think we’re needy or clingy if we ask for help. I love psychologist Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability. Check out her TED talks.
Many of us are lousy friends because we’re afraid of getting hurt by being vulnerable and “open” to other people. Some of us have been badly burned by people we trusted who screwed us over and left us lying by the side of the road, vowing to “never be so stupid again.”
This is understandable, but a poor life strategy.
If you live and love, you’re bound to get hurt. To me, the object isn’t to avoid getting hurt: that’s impossible. A smarter strategy would be to learn how to cope with disappointment and betrayal. We all pick the wrong person at one time or another. What do we do about it?
We go to our friends and cry on their shoulders.
The benefits of friendship are obvious: kindness, compassion, brother/sisterhood, emotional support, laughter, companionship … the list is endless.
Friendship is an art and, for most of us, it takes time and experience to learn how to be a good friend and to get to the point where we attract people to us who have the potential to be really good friends. How do we get there?
Consider these qualities of a good friend. How would you rate yourself?
Dependable – there when they say they will be, you can count on them;
Forgiving – accept your humanness as you accept theirs;
Generous with their time, energy and affection;
Honest and kind – love you enough to tell you the truth, gently;
Protective – look out for you, stick up for you, have your back;
Respectful – respect you as a person, even when they don’t like what you may say or do; and,
Vulnerable and open – let you in, show you they’re not so perfect.
Friendship is a lifelong skill set that’s never static: We can cultivate friends until our very last breath. And if we’re smart, we will.
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Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Michael is currently accepting new clients. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit HERE. This column was originally published on SDGLN media partner Gay San Diego.