You may have heard of the much praised and desirable ideal, a “satisfying relationship,” or a “great relationship.” But what does this mean exactly? Here are some of my thoughts. Firstly, there should be happiness in the relationship, where there are many more positive moments than negative ones. The friends should show mutual respect and appreciation. There is also open and honest communication. It is understandable that in some social circles and cultures, it is considered more desirable to conceal unhappy feelings to preserve the harmony of the relationship; however, I would say that a more significant, longer-lasting friendship should have more candour and transparency in it than a regular, more casual relationship might have.
In a friendship of high quality, there should be equality. It’s okay if there is an older sibling-younger sibling, or even parent-child dynamic. But you don’t want one person to always be the “boss” or the “dominant friend,” as this may lead to resentment in the future. Nobody likes to be bossed around or ruled over.
Similarly, we wouldn’t want one friend to feel that they are consistently giving more than the other person is in the relationship, or even to feel disrespected or taken for granted by their friend. Note that the other friend may not be deliberately disrespecting, taking advantage of, or not appreciating the other person; in some cases, they are not even aware that they are doing this. This is one reason why it’s important for friends to be able to voice their concerns about the relationship. Voicing dissatisfactions doesn’t have to involve yelling, cursing, or harsh criticism, however. There are ways to get your message across in a gentle, respectful, but also clear manner. For instance, making a polite request for how you would like your friend to act in the future. I find it effective and also much less hurtful to make a request rather than to directly critique someone. Expressing some empathy for your friend before delivering your request or voicing your feelings, can help to soften your feedback as well. You can find many more tips on clear and respectful communication in websites and books on assertiveness training.
A satisfying friendship would involve having common interests too. It’s true that some people can be good friends with folks who are very different from them, but it would be much easier to have enjoyable conversations if you can connect on at least one topic that you both like. Quality friendships often have the two friends share beliefs, attitudes, and values. Of course, we don’t have to have completely matching belief systems with our friends, but having some core belief and value similarities would make the friendship not just more harmonious, but also happier.
Doing fun activities together with a friend, like sports, drawing, writing, reading, and cooking, are good ways to feel bonded too. Friendships that are strong and lasting, likely involve frequent talking, preferably in-person hang-outs if possible; but online, text, or phone call communications can also be satisfying ways to stay in touch. I understand that some friends can have extremely busy lives, and not be available to talk as often as you would like to. But for particularly deep and treasured friendships, it would be desirable to talk fairly regularly. What counts as “regular enough” varies across different friend groups, but I would personally prefer to chat at least once a week. They do not have to be long, sustained conversations, however; they could just be a few back-and-forth messages to check in, catch up, or to share some notable event or idea from either of the friends’ lives.
Another very beneficial trait for friendships, is that the two parties are able to work through conflicts, unhappiness, and dissatisfactions in the relationship whenever they arise. I believe that for a friendship of significant length and closeness, it is inevitable that there will be low, awkward, or even painful times. Remember that this is normal, as you are different humans with different beliefs, backgrounds, experiences, and opinions; even if you are similar in many ways, you are not clones. Often, after you work through relationship dissatisfactions or conflicts, the friendship will grow stronger, because you know each other better, and have conquered an obstacle together. Moreover, you have come to a greater understanding of how things should be, and where the boundaries are. Note that the boundaries and hidden relationship rules can possibly change over time, but it is always good to be more aware of a friend’s comfort levels, expectations, needs, and other relationship concerns.
In a great relationship, friends can talk about their feelings or discuss topics that they both consider to be deep and meaningful, which could be anything, from philosophy, science, art, society, anime, video games, books, writing, family, friends, and anything else you both find stimulating and engaging.
A friendship would be more satisfying if it is balanced in the number of lighter versus more serious moments. If all or almost all of the relationship is filled with serious interactions, then it could feel stressful, too intense, or emotionally draining. But if it is almost all lighthearted, where you only joke or talk about things you don’t truly care for, then you may feel less engaged in this relationship. Maybe you won’t even value this friendship as much, because it’s too light and insubstantial to feel significant, let alone enduring.
Deep Emotional or Intellectual Connection
Now, I want to zero in on one particular aspect of a great relationship, which I had implicitly mentioned in some of the above descriptions: deep emotional or intellectual connection. What is this kind of connection anyway?
To start off, I will use a music analogy. Two friends with such a deep emotional or intellectual connection, have a matching tune, and compatible rhythms of heart and soul. I know this sounds mystical, but bear with me. The connection can be about feeling touched, moved, and bonded. It’s like when somebody sings or plays a song, and you suddenly feel a great resonance with the performer. Or, when you read an author’s work, and you feel the words strike something deep within you.
Connection is the feeling of happiness when somebody understands you. They get your perspective on an issue, and comprehend your feelings. Sometimes, you sense that the other person has a similar communication style, personality, or ways of thinking as you do. In this relationship, you and your friend are talking on the same wavelength. You “speak the same language.” Perhaps you have a similar sense of humor too, or have matching tastes or preferences.
In fact, with a deep emotional or intellectual connection, you have a strong feeling that your conversations and interactions are leading somewhere, so it’s productive and fruitful; you’re creating something new. This something new could be all sorts of things, like generating new ideas or theories with your friend; giving mutual inspiration for life, your art, or work; discovering new insights about yourself, your friend, your relationship, friendships in general, or even about humanity or the world; challenging each other to see the world in different ways from before, or helping one another to question beliefs and assumptions; offering each other emotional support, comfort, or encouragement; or simply feeling that your relationship is improving, growing, or deepening.
Finally, in profound emotional or intellectual connection, you feel close to the person in some way, which leads us to the next part of this post.
What is Emotional Closeness, and Why Are Many People Afraid of It?
In emotional closeness, there is a great bondedness, connection, and sincerity in the friendship. About sincerity, you are friends with them because you genuinely enjoy their company and like them as a person. You’re not friends with them just for the sake of survival, such as to keep yourself from being lonely, to have somebody to rely on, to have somebody help you on things, etc. So, for a relationship to be authentic, you are friends with them because you want to, not because you have to, or because nobody else is available.
Moreover, there is a sense of depth in the relationship. You don’t just chat about school, trivial events at work, or the weather. Instead, you talk about things that you both care about, like common interests; life philosophies; society or politics; favorite books, films, anime, or video games; friends or family; personal goals and ambitions; your worries and feelings; or other important aspects of your life. What precisely you talk about depends on the dynamic and relationship you have with your friend, but to be “close,” there should be a feeling of depth, maybe even richness, to the friendship.
Preferably, there is a sense of togetherness, where you do enjoyable activities together, such as cooking, exercising, playing video games, reading, singing, or making arts and crafts. Having a good rapport is a part of closeness as well, where you understand each other’s likes and dislikes, make and get inside jokes, and know one another’s idiosyncratic communication styles. You would feel a comforting familiarity, or even safety, towards your friend.
It’s better to be in contact more frequently, especially in-person contact if possible, though this is more difficult when friends have very packed schedules, or if they live in a different city or country. Sharing some secrets or more sensitive, personal information could contribute to a feeling of closeness. And telling your friend “everything,” or at least, telling them about many important things in your life, would also make two people feel closer and more bonded.
In the friendship, there is warmth rather than cold distance or detachment. Yet, friendships can sometimes feel cooler and more distant; for instance, if one or both parties barely had any time to talk in a long while, if there was a big conflict or hurt, or if one friend mistakenly believes that the other person is avoiding them.
Some close friendships may feel “intense.” There are good, bad, and in-between types of intensity, and every friendship is different; but we will not go into this topic about intensity today.
Some particularly close or best friendships may feel transcendental. Similarly, you may sense a “mystical, special bond” between you and your friend. But admittedly, I have felt mystical, special connections towards some people I don’t consider to be close friends.
As well, you each respect, love, and value the other as a person. You love them beyond just their appealing personality traits and their common interests with you. Even if their personality or interests change over the years, you would still cherish, love, and care about them for the person they are inside.
With that description of what “emotional closeness” may look like in a friendship, why do many people fear getting close to others?
My guesses are that they might feel vulnerable, exposed, or unsafe, because they have to show so much of themselves to somebody else, both mentally and emotionally. One might fear becoming dependent or attached to somebody, because it makes them feel “weak” or “needy” when they want to be strong and independent. You might be afraid that you’ll be so in need of the person, and yearn so much for their attention and company, that it would hurt or even destroy you if you lose them one day.
Maybe you don’t want to become so affected by somebody else’s opinions and emotions; you want to preserve your autonomy. You don’t relish the thought of anyone having any power or influence over your mind or feelings. Perhaps you’re scared that you’ll “merge” with that someone else and lose yourself, or lose your identity and individuality. Alternatively, you might be afraid that if someone gets to know you well, they will dislike you or find you boring, and you’ll end up feeling hurt and rejected. Or, you’re scared that you’ll be disappointed when you get to know someone in depth, because you will see sides of them that you don’t like, or you will find them less interesting or inspiring as you had believed them to be. There’s a fear that the real person is less amazing than the person you imagined, so it seems better to keep your distance and continue to idealize them.
There could also be something about the great depth or intensity of an “emotionally close relationship” that sounds scary, overwhelming, or unbearable. It feels like you would be physically unable to sustain such high and intense levels of emotion with somebody, no matter how much you sincerely like and respect them as a person.
As this post is a little long already, I will write another post to address some of these reasons for fearing emotional closeness, elaborate on them, and suggest alternate ways to frame these fears. And I will reflect upon the question: what is the point and meaning of emotional closeness?
What are your thoughts on emotional closeness, deep connection, and satisfying relationships with friends? Do you have any points to add? Is there anything you disagree with? Feel free to leave comments!