When it comes to romance, we know that there is a lot of ground between being interested in someone and getting married to them. We have terms like “going on a date” which we know is different than “dating.” We implicitly acknowledge that it takes time before we can both simply assume that we’re hanging out this weekend without asking each other.
With female friendships we lack non-romantic language to articulate those stages, but they still exist.
Here are the five stages of friendship that I unpack in chapter 4 of my book Friendships Don’t Just Happen: The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of GirlFriends.
1. Curiosity. This is where every friendship begins. There has to be something that attracts you, gives you a sense of willingness and increases your desire to have more. It doesn’t have to be conscious or obvious to us, but at this stage we have to have reason to lean in, even a little, if the stranger we’re meeting is going to have a chance of becoming a friend.
2. Exploratory. Every potential friendship requires time together. For some of us, that time happens automatically (at a play group, a choir rehearsal, yoga class or work), but for many of us, we’ll have to initiate it and pursue it. For it doesn’t matter how much attraction you may feel in that first stage - if you don’t spend time together then a friendship it will never become.
3. Familiarity. This is the stage we often want as stage one. We frequently want to experience this comfort level with someone upon first meeting them, forgetting that it takes time to build. In my experience, I find that it takes most women 6-8 times with someone before they reach this stage. Of course that depends on what you’re doing during that time and how you’re sharing, but at some point you reach this familiarity: A trust that you can assume she wants to talk with you when you call. An ease where you’re okay just hanging out spontaneously together without it taking two weeks to schedule. A sense that you are beginning to be able to predict how they will respond to different life events.
4. Vulnerability. This stage is tricky since there is a ditch on either side: rushing to it too quickly or avoiding it all together. Some women rush to this stage early on because they feel closer once they have shared their pain. But healthy friendships need the commitment to grow in conjunction with the intimacy. We should not be emotionally vomiting on someone in order to feel closer. It should not be our expectation that friends who are in the first couple of stages need to prove themselves to us, reveal too much, or be a “shoulder to cry on.”
On the other hand, at some point of consistent time together, if you’re not willing to share beyond your PR image, laugh at yourself and express insecurities - the friendship will stall or disintegrate. As we trust each other more, we can share with less of a filter so that we can bond in deeper ways, increasing our commitment to each other.
5. Frientimacy.This last stage is for those who are your BFFs. And notice that I made that plural. Best doesn’t speak to quantity as much as quality. It’s like when a magazine says “Best moments of last year” and lists ten. There is enough research out there to suggest we need between 3-5 people in this category. Don’t limit yourself. On the other hand, not everyone you interact with needs to move into this last stage.
While few of our relationships will ever have clear lines between these stages, it is valuable to recognize that there is a progression to the friendships we develop. We must learn to differentiate between seeing the potential of a BFF and putting in the time and vulnerability required to foster it. For meaningful friendship is less about discovering the right person, and more about developing the right relationship.
Do you recognize yourself in any of these stages in a new friendship? Do you find it easy/hard to make friends? I'd love to hear your stories in the comments.
Shasta Nelson’s book “Friendships Don’t Just Happen! The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends” is available today on Amazon.com. She is also the CEO of GirlFriendCircles.com, the female friendship matching site. More information can be found at ShastaNelson.com
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