Friending: Creating Meaningful, Lasting Adult Friendships
Gina Handley Schmitt
November 12, 2019
1 in 4 people have no intimate friendships in their lives, even if they do have hundreds of Facebook friends. This consistent loneliness can be deadly—leading to a 26% increase in early death, more than deaths caused by smoking or air pollution. But how do you go about making friends as an adult?
Psychotherapist Gina Handley Schmitt has spent years counselling clients through their friendships and researching the best methods that work, and those that don’t, when it comes to making and maintaining friendships. She’s collected her research into Friending, a definitive guide on initiating friendships and ensuring that they remain healthy and long-lasting.
During her research, Schmitt founded a five-step process to creating long-lasting friendships. These five ‘A’s of making adult friendships have worked for her and her clients:
As someone who has always struggled with making friends, I was most interested in the first step—making oneself available for a friendship. Schmitt says availability needs to be physical, mental, emotional, and, if warranted, spiritual.
She also points out the importance of being authentic—not just about who you are and what you like, but about being vulnerable enough with a friend to share your truths, no matter how difficult they are to discuss.
The affirmation process is about making your friends feel better about themselves—being their cheerleader, and welcoming their positive opinions of you, as well.
Schmitt spends a fair few pages defining the difference between being assertive in a relationship and being aggressive. The two are often used interchangeably, and the line between them is narrow, but being assertive can often help repair a relationship, while aggression can end one.
And finally, Schmitt asks us to be accepting of our friends’ choices, even if we don’t always agree with them, and to not be judgmental.
At the end of each section of each chapter of Friending, Schmitt offers a few practical exercises about examining our present friendships and opportunities to make connections. Some of the questions she asks include:
– “What are some specific truths you need to share with your friends?”
– “Is there someone in your life who you find yourself regularly competing with?”
– “Can you think of a friend who has been pushing your buttons lately?”
The questions require a great deal of thought and engagement—if you’re hoping for a quick fix, you aren’t going to get that with Schmitt’s brand of therapy. Which is a very good thing.
There are numerous concepts in Friending that I enjoyed learning about. My personal favourite was the concept of balancing the friendship bank account. Imagine creating a friendship account and making deposits or withdrawals from it. You make a deposit every time you compliment a friend, and make withdrawals when you gossip about them. If you find the friendship account in the red consistently, you need to address your behaviour or the behaviour of your friend to ensure balance is restored to the account.
And how do you go about addressing such behaviour? By using Schmitt’s sandwich method to assert ourselves. Confrontation is hard—she admits that it is hard for everyone and we aren’t alone in our dislike of it—but one method that works is by layering our confrontation tactic like a sandwich. The bottom slice of bread is the start, a peace offering, followed by the filling, the ‘meat’ of the problem, as it were, and finally, the top piece of bread, that reaffirms our belief in the relationship.
I loved these two concepts and I also appreciate that Schmitt acknowledges that these theories do not always have positive results. Sometimes the people we are confronting just don’t see things the way we do. At other times, they are completely unwilling to change their behaviour, even if they know the harm it is causing. You need to cut those relationships from your life, in that case.
Friending is a fairly quick read—at less than 200 pages, you can finish this over the course of an afternoon. I love that Schmitt has made this such an easy read—you can’t help but want to read it and share the book with others. However, the exercises Schmitt includes require you to pause and examine your friendships quite closely. If you choose to fill out her questionnaires, which is the point of the book, it might take more than an afternoon to complete.
Which goes to show Friending isn’t just a self-help book. Schmitt also adds in personal experiences with her friends and clients to give her theories a more practical platform. We know Schmitt’s theories can work because she’s illustrated them with relatable examples.
That is what makes this book such a great read. Friending isn’t meant to be consumed in one go—you are supposed to pick up the sections of the book that pertain to you. Looking to create friendships? Read the chapter on being available and answer those questions. Can’t handle a friend who is being rude or judgmental? Find out how to solve the issue in the chapter on assertiveness.
Friending is the kind of book you will have on your bookshelf and dip in and out of whenever you need to. I’m already planning to get myself a copy to refer to for the next few years, and I know a few people who would greatly benefit from having this book in their lives.
Whether you need help making friends or want to have healthier friendships within your existing circle, Friending is the book you need. If you’re looking for me, I’ll be filling in Schmitt’s questionnaires.