It was dollar-a-slice night at Carmela’s Pizza. This local dive was our favorite place to be on Tuesdays. While you might infer our affinity was due to the fact that Tuesday was also dollar draft night, the real reason for this ritual was simpler: Friendship. Sometimes all the guys would come out, but on this particular occasion it was just my Brazilian friend Davi (DAH'vee) and I. We sat at the usual spot, talking intermittently around grease logged bites of pizza. After we finished and paid the check, I stood up to go. But Davi didn’t stand up. Instead he looked up at me quizzically.
“Are you in a hurry?”
“Noooo, not really,” I replied, clearly puzzled.
He nodded his head and asked, “Do you have to be somewhere?”
I slowly shook my head and shrugged, “Nope, I don’t.” What does he want? I wondered, raising my eyebrows.
“Why don’t you sit down and lets talk for a while?” he indicated toward the booth seat opposite his.
“Ohhhhhh, ya!” came my slow reply. “I’d never thought of that before!” I stood there grinning like an idiot at my discovery:
I don’t have to get up and leave right away!
This is not another checkbox on my to-do list.
So we sat and talked, and our friendship grew.
That moment was the start of my education on friendship. Over time I realized that it was the open conversations which had allowed us to grow closer as friends. I learned how friendships grow. Well, to be precise, one way friendships grow.
Until recently I thought open conversation was the only way.
Humans want to connect – but often fail
Most people would prefer to have good relationships over bad ones. Unfortunately, we don’t often experience good relationships because it’s difficult to connect. And when we fail to connect, the effects cut deeper than a visible lack of friends. Some psychologists have gone as far as to postulate that all human problems can be directly linked to failed relationships (i.e. disconnection from people we care about.) William Glasser M.D., a preeminent voice in the field, says, “From the perspective of forty years of psychiatric practice, it has become apparent to me that all unhappy people have the same problem: They are unable to get along well with the people they want to get along well with.”1 While I am not seeking to support or deny this specific statement, I believe it reveals an important truth: To live fulfilling lives, we need healthy, connected relationships.
So, if connection is deeply embedded in our essence as relational human beings, why do we struggle so much to connect?
I wanted to connect – but failed
I thought I had it going on until I left college. Following my Carmella’s Pizza epiphany with Davi, I thought I’d discovered THE way. Clearly, friends connect through intimate conversation. Experience reinforced my dogmatic view. I had lots of great friends as demonstrable proof that I was right. This approach was again validated when I left ministry school and entered college, where I was blessed to be a part of a vibrant community of close friends who connected through open conversation.
I laugh now to think about my pride, but if I’m honest, at that point I really felt that I had arrived: “Now,” I thought, “I am perfected in the realm of friendship!”
My success was short lived.
When I left college and found myself in a different community, my expectations for friendship resulted in disappointment. The open conversations that had previously facilitated my relationships were decidedly ineffective. Even worse, my openness made some people uncomfortable. Confused and frustrated, I wondered, “How am I to find friends?” I was accustomed to patient, attentive listeners, but in my new community I attempted to find connection through “meaningful” conversation sound bites short enough to meet the demands of a 45 second attention span. The meager connection afforded was, in a word, unsatisfying. My interactions with a few individuals in particular inspired me to conclude that some people just suck at relationships!
Bernie was the worst.
For a while I just wrote Bernie off as an un-self-aware, shallow person who didn’t know how to communicate. This satiated my pride, and consequently, suffocated any growth in our relationship. But there were a few people Bernie was able to connect with, which puzzled me. He had no trouble connecting with people when he was working with them on house improvements, car repairs, or service projects. His closest friends were people who worked with him.
So I conducted a social experiment: I invited Bernie to do work with me, and allowed myself to become interested in his work projects. I started to feel like we were actually connecting – it was a miracle! In my mind working together was an indirect way (and therefore insufficient way) of connecting, but I couldn’t argue with the results. For some reason it didn’t matter anymore that our conversations were labored. I was experiencing what Lewis describes in The Four Loves, “What draws people to be friends is that they see the same truth. They share it.”2 Work was a truth we could both see, and by it this “relationally challenged” person and I were able to connect. Today we are good friends.
New Possibilities and Humility
Bernie has challenged the assumptions undergirding the landscape of my relational idiocracies. The rash and judgmental labels I had applied to those: “idiots,” the “un-self-aware,” and “communication challenged” people began to change. I now interpret these people as “worker-relaters.” Realizing that my way isn’t the only way helps me to meet people where they are and charitably consider their need-preferences for connecting in relationship.
Lately I’ve been wondering what other unexplored frontiers of friendship exist that I’ve not yet discovered, or experienced. If people can connect through working as well as through talking, what other means of meaningful connections exist?
I don’t know the answer, but I want to learn…
How do you connect with your closest friends?
Please leave your answer in the comments! I’d love to hear how everybody else out there connects – perhaps we can learn from each other’s experiences.
1. “Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom”, William Glasser M.D. pg 5, 1998.
2. “The Four Loves”, C.S. Lewis.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
|Hi! I’m Joshua Weaver. I’m a husband, educator, and learner. I love to explain things. You can hear more from me by following me on twitter. In my spare time I like to have adventures, rock climb, and make music. Also noteworthy: I have a beard.|