Forming Meaningful Friendships

 

We are not always able to choose our relatives. We are born into a family and our parents already have family and that becomes our family. There are exceptions. 
And, thus, our family of origin becomes the core of what we learn about how to be in the world. As we age, these values are either comfortable or uncomfortable for us. But the people remain constant. 

As we age, other people come into our lives. I am focusing on the ones who are our age. They may be children of our parents’ friends. They may be classmates. They may be on our athletic team. They may be people we meet in extracurricular classes, such as dance, gymnastics, yoga or kung fu. We begin to form friendships. 

Friendships are the foundation for how we will live our lives as we age. Most people do not stay with the core family. We find people with similar interests and values.They are not always congruous with the family of origin. We go to school with these people and form strong relationships with them. We disclose intimate thoughts and feelings. We may form a commitment to the relationship, such as marriage or significant other. 

Women tend to hold onto friendships formed before the committed relationship. We typically establish a bond with a small number of people that lasts for years. Men do not do this as often. They form relationships with activities, such as athletics or work, but they do not, as often, see these people outside of those environments. Men do not take time to meet with friends as much as women do. 

Friendships serve as a powerful source to explore and express our personal thoughts and feelings. When we are in a bind or feeling stressed, friends serve as a wonderful resource. If we have a friendship that formed when we were young, that person knows our history and perhaps shared it. They know the characters who played roles in our lives. They often know the background of whatever is currently affecting us. 

These are the people we can laugh with, cry with, travel with and ignore when we choose to. There are more options than there are with the people we live with. 

Relatives remain constant. We see them for family events, celebrations or losses. Hopefully, there is love, respect and enjoyment with these people. Being related can often be a lovely experience. A relative can also be a friend. 

When committed relationships end, friends are a valuable resource for support. This is why women often go through an ending with less pain than a man. Women have support systems that have been in place for years. Too often, men do not have someone to turn to.
Developing friendships can be a challenge, but it is worth pursuing at any age. 

 

Dr. Natalie Gelman is an Alameda-based therapist. Submit questions to drnataliegelman@gmail.com or through her website, www.drnataliegelman.com.