Random header image... Refresh for more!

Close Friends

I really love linguist Deborah Tannen’s work (and I think every writer should read her books before tackling conversations between characters) so I was excited to read her recent article in New York magazine about female friendships.  She writes,

As a linguist, I’ve tried to figure out how language can be both an unseen source of trouble in relationships and the key to making them better; why it can be so comforting when an exchange feels perfectly tuned, or so disconcerting when it goes awry; and how the words we use to describe relationships can also help to define them.

Specifically, why do we call some women our close friends?

While some people used the term to mean people they see often, more women used it to mean someone they spoke to intimately.  “True friends, I tell them everything I feel and everything I think.”  I’m assuming that by “everything,” they mean a curated intimacy.  (There are people I speak with more openly and I would never hide a major moment in my life from them, but everyone gets a curated intimacy.  I don’t think anyone out there wants to know everything I feel and think.)

But it’s not really the information imparted, it’s the fact that someone is willing to listen.  You can have a close friendship without imparting anything you wouldn’t technically tell the rest of the world: “You feel closer to someone if you know they care about where you went, what you ate, and who you saw. ”

I thought that was the most interesting part of the research.  Closeness isn’t defined by what is being revealed.  It’s not as if people need to spill their secrets to consider each other close friends.  It’s entirely based on whether we believe the other person cares.

It made me think about how often I reach out (an action that lets other people know I care) or how well I listen.  The types of questions I ask.  Am I good friend?  Someone worth being close with?  Do other people think they can be themselves with me?

I aim to be someone “you can just be sitting quietly on a log and feel good and happy that you are with that person.”  Whether I achieve that is determined by other people.  But I can say, on my part, that I’m grateful for my log-sitting close friends.


1 Jill A. { 05.10.17 at 5:10 pm }

You are right, what makes a close friend is hard to pinpoint. I’ve come back to this post a number of times today, thinking. I think close friends are beyond reason. First we fall in love with them and then we figure out why later. I can write directions for being a good friend, for being a good neighbor, but not for being a close friend.

It comes down to the love. It can be quick or can take 10 years of knowing someone, but the mutual love makes the friendship close. As you say, the fact that they listen and care and take the time to try and know us as much as possible. While giving us the chance to know them.

2 Lori Lavender Luz { 05.11.17 at 3:11 pm }

My answers to the questions you ask would be yes, yes, and yes.

I have discovered a lot about abiding from you and from the ALI community.

3 Elsie { 05.12.17 at 2:42 am }

I think what we perceive the other person to mean to us, irrespective of the physical distance, makes them close to us.

I am eternally grateful to the blogosphere to let me discover people who care.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
The contents of this website are protected by applicable copyright laws. All rights are reserved by the author