Friendship has surfaced in conversation with clients lately, and in all honesty, has been challenging for me over the years. As an only and an introvert shaped by parents who required my undivided attention (to co-regulate their dysregulated selves) being with others in any meaningful way was quite baffling. Decades ago, one of my wise therapists shared her understanding of friendship. I felt immediately settled and draw on her wise words to this day, here they are….

Imagine yourself in the centre, with concentric circles radiating outward. The closest circle contains anything from two to five people (the kind you would instantly call in a crisis); the next circle probably has ten or more (those who are close-ish but not the ones you’d call at 2:00 am); the next may have twenty plus (those you connect with on a more superficial level); and finally almost an infinite number, these being the people you recognise on the street from time to time, enough to acknowledge and wave, but not know their names or really anything about them. [My extravert friends have significantly higher numbers at every level, so take mine as a minimal guide!]

In addition, she drew on the popular poem (unknown author) which suggests three types of friends: friends for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.

Of course, these are simply models which don’t do justice to the complex and layered nature of friendship, but this new understanding really helped me. For example, Marcie and I only ever spent time together going to the movies, the friendship fizzling when she moved away. With this insight I could acknowledge that I wasn’t a bad friend, she wasn’t a bad friend, we were simply “for a reason” friends (appearing in a midlevel circle).

I’m reflecting today on the different quality of connection my range of friends provide. Whether the best friend who provides rich contact within that all-important inner circle, or further afield, each has their own special place in my life. Even those I encounter on my morning walk, those who appear at the outer edge (known as “peripheral friends” or “consequential strangers“) has a role. I enjoy seeing the one jogging along, the one with the Labrador who carries its lead in its mouth, even the one who has never smiled back (I just get curious). I’m aware of their impact – not as dramatic as that deep time with my best friend, but still providing a small part of the oh-so-important connection we need (amongst other things, like safety, belonging, meaning and purpose – these for another time….)

If f you’d like to explore your own complicated experience of friendship, do reach out (in the knowledge I’m generally full, with a waiting list).

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