psychology, Spain

Active Friendship? What Does That Even Mean?

It’s slowly becoming officially summer for me. I’m winding down all my jobs (which I had around 4 at any given time for the last few months) and taking a full month to disconnect. While we’re still in pandemic mode here in Spain, people are traveling, albeit cautiously. Hotel bookings are way down, as it seems like people are opting for apartments in less crowded areas. I won’t be traveling outside of Spain, but I’m fine with that. This country is amazing in the summer. You’ve got coastline on 3 sides, mountains in the middle, tiny villages everywhere, and tinto de verano. (Though I’m becoming more of a Mahou and Ambar girl.) What’s not to love?

For my first getaway, I spent last weekend in the Pyrenees splashing around in cold rivers and walking in nature, laughing out loud at a massive herd of sheep coming down the mountain, and intermittently switching off my mind and chewing on some thoughts.

View from the rural hotel in tiny Sieste, population 10.
I HAD to make a GIF out of this.

 

Coming back from my weekend adventure, all I feel like doing is browsing blog articles about friendships and connection, something that was on my mind a lot over the weekend. Now that I’ve been away from social media for over a month, with the exception of one quick post, I’m noticing the overall absence of deeper friend connection in my life.

My theory is that keeping up via Instagram is like a band-aid over the deeper issue, and in its absence I really notice what isn’t there. As most social media “Luddites” would suggest, once you step away, you have to find ways to fill the holes of time and energy with something else. The social holes need to be filled, too. It’s called social media for a reason – it does give us a dose of social connection!

This week I stumbled across a two-part article by sociologist Anna Akbari that clarified a lot of my recent thinking.

The first one, titled We Have a Connection Problem. Friendship Is the Answer, dives into the challenges behind adult friendship and how we’re sorely lacking in that department. Akbari suggests that we can separate our friends into three categories:

  • Passive Friendship – those acquaintances who normally would have drifted away, but are still tethered to us because of the internet.

Instead of these relationships fading into our memories, triggered only when reminiscing or looking at old photos, social media now loosely maintains these relationships that, in previous eras, would have naturally ended.

  • Periodic Friendship – what it sounds like. You catch up from time to time, you try to see each other if you’re in the same area. This, to me, is what Adult Friendship has become. Apparently it doesn’t have to be that way.
  • Active Friendship – the most intimate type and the one we have with the fewest people. It’s what Akbari calls “an on-going, intentional relationship in which you have a perpetual flow of communication and interaction… I believe it’s the one we are most sorely lacking, with devastating effects.” Many people get this from siblings or cousins, and our significant others can be a source of this type of connection, but perhaps they shouldn’t be the only source.

When the periodic catchups completely replace the active friendship flow, we suffer—individually and collectively.

Personally, this analysis hits home while helping me manage my expectations. I wrongly assumed some people in my life were active friends, when they were periodic all along. Or they went from active to passive, without even stopping at periodic! That is a loss that can be grieved. But I don’t want to get caught up in a pity party. Akbari wrote a second article titled Friendship Is the Answer to Our Connection Problem that offers some concrete solutions.

First, consider who you want to be in your active friendship sphere. Then take note of how you may be able to show up better for your people. Sharing and receiving should be equally active and conscious. Is someone taking time out of their day to check on you or send you something they thought you’d like? Think about how you’ve responded, if at all. Can you do better? Maybe you can step up the sharing as well.

Have you ever seen an Active Friendship Decision Tree? Did you know you needed one?

Source: Anna Akbari, PhD

It’s not like I want to make lists of people, crossing out some and starring others like a to-do list. But I do want to be more proactive and thoughtful about who I’d like to be in my active friend space. I’ll also be taking a hard look at how I’m showing up for others.

When we were all younger, college and mid-20s, it was much easier to maintain active friendships. We all had plenty of time! But does that let us off the hook? Should we be so quick to resort to the “oh, I’m just busy” standard response?

Also, we were just in lockdown for months. We are still in a pandemic. We need each other more than ever. 

Do you feel like this is an accurate assessment of adult friendship? Would you add anything more?