"Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation . "
–George Washington (first President of the United States)
There are two phases in a friendship or relationship. There's the interest phase where something about a person has peaked your interest. Then there's the bonding phase.
The interest phase is typified by some commonality. Things are light and fun. You revel in common experiences or share a common interest. It kind of reminds you of the honeymoon phase of a marriage. You enjoy how you feel when with the other person. Whatever your warm and fuzzy is, this is the phase. "He understood me." "She believes my dream."
The bonding phase is the more telling phase. It is the revealer. In some respect, the person allows you to see who they really are. Differences, disappointments and conflicts are the tools of the bonding phase. The man who understood you when you talked about someone else is now remote and does not want to talk when it comes to a problem you have with him. The woman who once believed in your dream now complains that she never sees you.
Though most would agree that the bonding phase is essential, it is the most difficult to navigate. Why is it so hard? Perhaps there is a part of us retained from childhood that prefers fantasy to reality, day dreaming to working, romancing to loving. Sure children live to play but have you ever watched kids together. Sure they laugh, giggle and play but it's all intermittent with bumps, bruises and disagreements. The same child who limps into the house crying because his friend pushed him down hurries back outside to resume play once his boo-boo has been kissed and bandaged.
For me, college was where true bonding happened. It was not something that any of us did consciously. We simply shared our lives together for those four years. We shared food, challenges, disagreements, betrayals yet when all was said and done, we were still holding on to one another. Maybe it was because we needed a family unit since we were all hundreds of miles from home. I do not know. All I know is that I still have those friends to this day. My college roommate is still someone whom I can go for months without talking to, then with one conversation the bond is renewed. And though it's been marriages, children and a lifetime of experiences in-between, there is that knowing, that trusting, that safe place that my heart rests in.
It takes time to bond. No matter how nostalgic you feel during the interest phase, one can not skip past this. You might feel that you've found a special friend within moments of sharing common experiences and similar values. You might enjoy one another's company and be, as Forest Gump says, "like peas and carrots." Regardless, once the newness wears off, there is a weighty disagreement, and / or familiarity sets in, it becomes more telling if your "friendship" will remain at interest or can sustain true bonding.
As life is putting your friendship to the test, there are some gimmies. A gimmy is a concession for simply being human. The first time you and your friend have an intense disagreement, no one is going to feel good about the other one. You must take that into consideration. No one likes to hear criticism or that they have offended someone. Even the most loving or evolved soul feels that tightness in his stomach when someone points out a fault.
All things considered however, Maya Angelou say's it best, "if a person tells you who they are, believe them." If she tells you she loves her job, believe her. If he tells you he's not interested in settling down, believe him. Now, in the interest phase, you hear but you do not hear. You see but you do not see. A person can tell you something about themselves and it goes through one ear and out the other. I've been hurt many times because I did not believe what someone told me or showed me about himself.
So how do you know if your friendship is interest-based or has potential for a deeper bond? Here's my list:
o This friendship motivates me to be the best me I can be.
o My friend and I seek to resolve conflict, not avoid conflict.
o We are both equally invested in the friendship.
o My friend has my back (looks out for my best interest).
o The friendship promotes equality. It does not assume a parental, rescuer or enabler role.
o Despite the emergence of my faults, frailties and weaknesses, my friend still regards me as valuable and worthy of respect and dignity.
o My friend and I can be vulnerable and not feel violated or devalued afterwards.
o I'm welcome in my friend's world.
As I mature, I realize that every friendship is not destined to be a deep and abiding bond. However, if you choose wisely and approach each relationship as an opportunity to learn more about yourself, you'll find the treasure in every phase.