Today we have more outlets than ever that help us attract possible comrades to share our specific life interests. Online groups for those fresh in new cities boast dozens of activity options where you can join fellow newbies in various adventures. Add that to the long-standing traditional friend-finding outlets such as faith organizations, school functions, work, happy hours or dinner parties, and we've got a minefield of friendship opportunities.
Basically, if we are looking for friends, there are plenty of places to scout for prospects.
But, what if we're into being social, but not actively looking for more inner-circle friends? What if we're kind of busy maintaining the friend circuits we already have? Or, if perhaps we feel like we don't have that much in common with some of the friends currently on our roster, and we'd love to utilize that social time with a more suitable outlet?
Distancing ourselves from people or straight up breaking-up with a friend can be anxiety provoking, intimidating and an undesirable situation in general. Much like breaking up with a "great" boyfriend or girlfriend; they are a wonderful person, just not our wonderful person.
Friendship dynamics operate by the same convictions and guidelines as the dating realm...minus the physical romance. But ironically, many people romanticize their idea of how a friendship will operate and serve their needs. The problem arises when each person has a different vision of how that friendship will play out.
A way to feel more confident about our friendship choices is to think of them as un-romantic dating partners and to clearly address our style of friendship fresh out the gate when we meet a new face.
Here are 3 friendship "dating" styles that parallel our companionship comfort-level:
1. Fling Friends: This is the friend we randomly call when we have an unexpected layover in their city and can pick right up where we last left off at an impromptu happy hour. When the holidays roll around and we are back home visiting, we meet up and reminisce about old times. It's basically a friendship that is fostered through random, intermittent encounters. Many times this works just fine for both parties, but sometimes (as with a dating fling), one friend can be let down that there isn't "more" to the friendship. Which leads us to...
2. Casual/ "Open Relationship" Friends: In friendship terms, the word "casual" doesn't necessarily mean an undedicated friendship. On the contrary, it is when both friends are dedicated to empowering the other to live life to the fullest. We respect that we have several social circles and obligations in addition to our own friendship. This sector represents a large majority of those who fall into the friendly acquaintance, "good friend", or even best friend category. And though we may not plan routine rendezvous with them, we know when we do see each other, it will always be fun, carefree and with no guilt-strings attached. We often catch up with these friends at group events and make a coffee date or lunch date intermittently, but again the no-guilt factor is huge in open-casual friendships. You know the love is there without having to be constantly maintained, entertained or reaffirmed. Both parties have the same understanding that life gets full when you are busy becoming FULLfilled, and when we can meet up, we meet up...when we're busy, we'll just catch each other later. Unless one person in the party is into...
3. The Committed/Exclusive Friendship: While we maintain a degree of devotion to all of our pals, some friendships go to the next level and enter the "peas and carrots" stage. But like real dating, most of us can only handle one exclusive-style friendship at a time. A committed relationship takes time, energy and a lot of dedication. While we may hold many friends near and dear to our heart, the truth is, unless we dedicate our 24-hours in the day to rotating our datebook to make sure each friend gets "x" amount of time or attention from us, we're not going to have the social, emotional or mental capacity to nurture several committed friendships at once. Maybe one year a friend who lost a parent became a committed friendship since they needed a lot of support and uplifting distractions. Another year, a friend from work was the constant +1 because we shared many similar goals and loved attending the same events. Sometimes we can handle more than one committed friendship, but again, when we stretch to juggle too many of these, life gets irritable. Clouds of resentment form a fog of misunderstanding and this is where a lot of friendship "break-ups" happen.
Not only are we able to pinpoint which category certain friendships of ours fall into, we are able to see a little of ourselves in each category, too. And that is precisely the point. No style is wrong. We can only be honest to our true feelings and intentions.
As in dating, clarifying what we can bring to the table places both individuals on the same page as to what can be expected through our connection.
If we can start to normalize letting our style of friendship be known upon the first "friend date" or sitting down to have a talk with a friend we are out of sync with, our lives will feel a lot more purposeful, relaxed and unrestricted.
Just as you couldn't keep the "great" boyfriends or girlfriends that you just didn't gel with for the long haul, sometimes our friendships also will go through heartbreak. But this stage of growing pains will ultimately serve the highest good when a perfectly suited friend makes an appearance in our life, and we have the ability and time to notice that new face and cultivate that new relationship.
Being honest frees us in so many ways. Not just because we reap the benefits, but also because we can have joy that it also frees others.
*This article originally appeared on Architects of Change at www.MariaShriver.com.