A Deeper Friendship Is a Risk Worth Taking
Have you ever longed for deeper, more meaningful friendships? What does it take to really open up to someone? Research indicates that “fear of intimacy” may have biological backing, (Davis et al., 1997; Panksepp, 2003). The pain of rejection can hurt as much as physical pain. (In fact, when you’re hurting emotionally, try taking some Tylenol!) This is because the grey matter in your brain experiences social pain the same way it does physical pain (DeWall et al., 2010). So we can see, from a neurological perspective, why opening up and going deep with someone might feel threatening. Especially if it comes with a risk of social rejection. Perhaps this is why so many friendships and relationships get stuck in the “small talk” zone; never fully deepening into a meaningful relationship. It can be difficult to take the risk to expose our deeper, more private selves to someone else. It involves vulnerability and trust that we won’t be “hurt” or let down by the more raw and honest interaction.
Aristotle said, “the desire for friendship comes quickly. Friendship does not.” One study estimated that it usually takes around 219 hours to become good friends with someone while engaging in small-talk (Hall, 2018). But it is also common for people who have known each other for years to continue in surface level interaction, failing to develop a deeper level of relating. In a study by Aron et al. (1997), hundreds of volunteers rated their closest relationships as being, on average, 4.65 out of 7 in “closeness”. The researchers were curious whether meaningful conversation could initiate deeper bonds, faster. The same volunteers who rated their closest friendships as being on average 4.65 out of 7, were subsequently paired with strangers to talk for 45 minutes, answering very personal questions together. After these short, deep conversations, the volunteers rated their closeness to their partner as 3.82. These “closeness” estimates were statistically insignificantly different from the volunteers’ stated closeness with their most intimate friends. In just 45 minutes! That’s 292 times faster than the average time it takes for two people to become friends in real life.
So why don’t we all benefit from closer, more intimate relationships? The trick is the degree to which we practice reciprocal disclosure. Or in other words, when you share and ask deep questions, and I do too, our friendship is deepened, and more quickly. What would our lives be like if we discussed our hopes, worries, feelings or memories with people we just met? Longing for more fulfilling relationships? Try taking a risk by sharing something personal the next time you’re with a friend, and leave the small talk behind.
Deepening Your Friendships
Taking the risk to move beyond the status quo can be intimidating and vulnerable. You may feel that it goes beyond social norms to ask more personal, probing questions – or to volunteer more intimate information about yourself. But we find at HAI that over and over again, people who attend our workshops feel liberated and deeply nourished by engaging in self-revealing connection and conversation. The chances are that if you long for deeper connection with your friend, they likely do as well. But how to begin? We’ve outlined a list of questions that can help to deepen the conversation and bring forward intimacy. You can weave these questions into casual conversation with a new friend, or suggest going through the questions at a dinner party to get people excited and engaged with one another:
- What was a moment in your life when you felt extremely happy? Will you describe it to me?
- What is something that you deeply admire in other people?
- If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be and why?
- Did you have a happy or difficult childhood? What was your family like?
- What is one thing that you have done in the past that you regret or are ashamed of?
- If a movie was made about your life, what is the love story it would tell?
- If you had accomplished three important things in your life before you died, what would they be?
- How are you feeling, being here with me (or us) now?
- Where have you traveled to? What is a memory you have of a place you’ve visited?
- What do you want most, out of our friendship together going forward?
As you are practicing deepening a conversation, it can be helpful to weave acknowledgement or humor into the conversation. You might say, “Thank you so much for sharing this with me, I feel closer to you after hearing that.” Or “I love learning new things about you like this – what else could I learn about you?” By acknowledging the process, you deepen the intimacy and make it safe to continue sharing, as it suites you. You may find you want to keep asking meaningful questions, or you may find it’s time to come back up to a more easy-going level of conversation. Trust your instincts and enjoy the process. Lean into the joy and risk of deepening your friendship together.
About the Author: Kate Gillispie is the Marketing Director for the Human Awareness Institute and co-host of May I Have This Dance, a podcast about love, intimacy, and sexuality. Find the podcast by searching for ‘May I Have This Dance‘ on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever else you find your podcasts.