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Shasta Nelson, M.Div.

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Friendships Don't Just Happen

Posted: 03/10/11 01:08 PM ET

There is a lie out there that real friendship just happens.

When we think back to some of our good friends over the years, we love that we just seemed to click when we first met. It felt easy. It felt natural. It was fun. We use these stories as evidence to support the myth that when two people should be friends, they'll both know it, and it will not feel like work.

What we gain in believing this is the ability to let go of personal responsibility if we don't currently have a meaningful circle of friends. We can shrug and comfort ourselves that we just haven't met the right people for this stage of our lives yet.

However, there is a danger in believing this notion. It's why nearly half of us report being only one confidant away from feeling socially isolated. Many of us do not even have that one. It's a significant factor in increasing depression in women. It's why we seem more networked than ever, and yet, ironically, lonelier. It's why we know more people, and yet seem to be known by none. We hope and we wait.

To walk around with the belief that real friendships happen automatically is detrimental.

What Can Happen Instantly in a Friendship

Before you push back with stories of how you and a best friend just clicked, I'll point out the two things that do just happen: chemistry and proximity. But neither of those make a friendship by itself.

By chemistry, we mean that there are some women with whom you'll instantly sense the potential. But if you never go out of your way to follow up again -- or to actually set a date for the next encounter -- then, no, your friendship will not just happen. I mean, think about how many people you actually know and have met who, if given more time, you could become friend. But due to busy schedules and lack of initiation, they never happen.

And proximity can also just happen. By that, I mean, if you happen to be in a context where you see the same people over and over againm then I suppose you could feel like a friendship "just happens" (It's why we become friends with women at work whom we'd probably never be friends with if we didn't work together).

Certainly, this is how we're trained to become friends growing up -- we see each other every day at school, and a friendship happens. But it wasn't a friendship that happened automatically; it was the repetitive time together that happened automatically. Some of us may find that our work places are great for fostering friendships, but the vast majority of us work from home, work in male-dominated work places, don't want to mix work with personal lives or simply find that the competition and hierarchy of a work place differs drastically from our childhood playgrounds. Proximity can just happen, but if it does not, then we have to create it.

How to Make Friendship Happen

The answer to the question of how to establish a new friendship comes down, quite simply, to the fact that you need time together.

An important warning: You can attend the same exercise class for five years, and a friendship isn't guaranteed. You can even feel a chemistry -- a platonic-attraction with her, exchanging pleasantries -- but again, that is not a friendship. That is simply someone you are friendly with, someone who has potential to become a friend. But being nice to someone doesn't mean it's a friendship.

So even with all those women at the kids' soccer games, yoga classes or your networking or board meetings, you still have to figure out a way to "grab a smoothie after class together" or "take the kids out for pizza after the game" and actually make sure you two connect. Again and again.

We know how many potential friendships haven't been actualized because we dropped the ball. We waited for someone else to pursue. We waited for someone else to "just make it happen." We wanted it to be easier, more natural, more obvious. We wanted them to want us. We waited too long to follow up, and then felt silly getting back in touch. We figured they already had all the friends they needed. They never showed up on our doorstep, announcing that they were our new best friend. We fell for the myth.

But friendships don't just happen, ladies. You make them happen.

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Shasta Nelson is a new blogger for The Huffington Post who will be writing about how to create the friendships in your life that will prove meaningful. Subscribe to this feed to start leaning into taking responsibility to surround yourself with women who cheer for you and love you.

 

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