The Practice of Friendship

When I was a child, I had a hard time making friends. It turns out that being geographically near someone and roughly from the same background isn’t actually a very good basis for friendship—these qualities are neither sufficient nor necessary for a deep and meaningful friendship. With some notable exceptions, my hometown had very few people that I felt I could really connect to, who I was drawn to and really liked me, too.

As an adult, I have no trouble with finding friends. If anything, I have more friends than I know what to do with—a “problem” I am very happy to have. I’m grateful to be past that era, to find it so much easier to make friends these days, and to have an abundance of friendship in my life. I feel blessed every day for the friends who fill my life.

Over the years, I’ve put a lot of work into learning to make and keep friends. It hasn’t come easy, but it has been tremendously rewarding. Developing these skills is one of the most meaningful, powerful, high-return-on-investment skillsets you can possibly cultivate.

This post shares everything I’ve learned so far about making and keeping friends. I hope that this will help you to deepen your existing friendships, to develop new ones; to live a happier life for yourself and all your friends, and together to find your way into a more loving, happier, kinder world for us all.

Understanding Friendship

Before I dive into specific suggestions for how to make and keep friends, I would like to talk about what exactly a friend is, and how I understand friendship.

On the one hand, friendship is an extremely simple, common experience that is not difficult to understand. Nearly everyone understands friendship from their own life. And yet, on the other hand, there is some variation in how different people and cultures view and practice friendship. 

On reflection, I think a mental model that many people have of friendship is something like this: friends are people who are physically located near you, who share some of the same interests as you, who you enjoy spending time with, and do so regularly. That’s a perfectly fine sense of friendship, but I think it is fairly limited.

Over time, I have come to a broader sense of what friendship is. I’ve arrived at views about what it is, and how to practice it, that have helped me to understand friendship more deeply, to be a better friend to others and to welcome friendship more deeply into my own heart and life.

One pivotal moment for me in this journey was my first podcast conversation with my friend Visa. Towards the end of the conversation (~1:36:38), I asked a vulnerable question. I noticed that he had referred to me as his friend, and I wanted to know what he meant by that—why he considered me his friend. What did he mean in general, and in our connection in particular?

Visa said that he considers a friend to be a person that you have a shared understanding or context with—that when you’ve talked to someone extensively, and met them, you have shared understanding and context and trust.  

For example, my oldest friend and I grew up in the same town together. We went to the same high school. We experienced similar themes in becoming adults. We went to college near each other, and visited each other often. We have lived together and traveled together. We’ve met each other’s friends and romantic partners at different points in our lives. We’ve shared different very specific aspects of our lives, and discussed many shared interests. We have a tremendous amount of shared understanding and context, and are very dear friends for that reason.

When I meet a new friend on the internet, we won’t be as close as I am with that old friend of mine. But we do have some shared context! Perhaps we’ve been hanging around the same Twitter circles together. Perhaps we both have a specific shared interest. Perhaps they’ve seen something I’ve created, or I’ve seen something they’ve made. There’s almost always at least some shared context—you’re both humans on the same planet, trying to be happy, after all—and then it’s just a matter of identifying it, connecting about it, building on it. 

This definition dramatically expanded my perspective on friendship. Friendship transcends physical proximity and shared interests—it’s more fundamental than that. If friendship is shared context, all you need to do to make friends is to establish shared context, and all you need to deepen a friendship is to add more.

The Ancient Greeks might agree with Visa. One of my favorite idioms comes from Ancient Greece: “κοινὰ γὰρ τὰ τῶν φίλων,” which is often translated as “the things of friends are common.”1Over time, I’ve developed two interpretations of this phrase. First, friends share things with each other; conversely, if you share something with someone, they are your friend. Second, people are friends because they share something in common; if you share something in common with someone, they are in a way your friend.

Over and above shared context, friendship is constituted of warmth: mutual heartfelt love and care, and the expression of that warmth as kind actions towards each other.

By seeing friendship as shared context, a huge amount of possibilities for connection and friendliness arise that might not otherwise be available or make sense. There are so many excellent, beneficial configurations of the social graph that are possible, if only we have the openness and imagination for it.

Choosing Friends

Before you decide to try to make friends, it’s important to reflect on what kind of a person you’d like to make and be friends with. As Jim Rohn said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” The friends you make will shape your life and your character.

First, I really pay attention to how it feels to be around someone. It should feel good to be around your friends—you should feel happy, enlivened, inspired, energized, excited during and after you spend time with them. I trust people who it generally feels good to be around, where it’s rare that I don’t.

If you feel bad around someone, or you don’t like how they’re treating you, it’s ok to listen to that information! You don’t need to put up with feeling that way around someone, and you certainly don’t need to be friends with them! 

Another really important feeling to pay attention to is who you feel drawn towards. If you are in tune with your body and your feelings, you will occasionally feel extremely drawn towards specific people. You may feel very curious about someone, interested in them—for example, wanting to pay attention to them when you’re around them, yearning to spend time with them or get to know them better, finding yourself thinking about them a lot.

This feeling of being drawn towards someone is often pleasant but it can also be uncomfortable, including feelings of nervousness, fear, envy, or dislike. You will have to come to understand yourself, your own emotional make-up, and what signals indicate that you are drawn towards someone. 

In my opinion, it is extremely important to trust these intuitions, and to go towards the people you are drawn towards, to befriend them and see what kind of relationship unfolds.

There are some specific qualities I look for in a friend. I want friends who share similar values to me. My own values are mindfulness, love, fun, pleasure, sexuality, romance, service, simplicity, generosity, curiosity, empowerment, and nurturance. Above all, I look for good people: people with a solid sense of ethics, who are doing good deeds, learning and growing, doing their best.

I also value friends who are peers: who I feel like I can learn something from, support in their process of unfolding, and grow alongside with. This of course relates to our external work and goals, but it also relates to internal developmental capacities. 

One such capacity that is extremely important to me is theory of mind: the ability to understand that others have thoughts, feelings, and perspectives different from one’s own. If you have theory of mind, and you understand that other people are different than you are, you can model who someone is and come to understand and relate to them better. In my experience, having theory of mind makes you a better friend.

What I value most in my friends these days is those who see me for who I am—in all my strength and beauty, in all my mess and imperfections, and who love me anyway—not merely in spite of it all, but because of it. 

I highly recommend being intentional about choosing your friends. Befriend those you are drawn to, and hold yourself and your friends to a high standard for what friendship means to you.

Making Friends

Having understood what friendship is, and considered what kinds of friends you wish to make, it’s time to actually make those friends.

These days, I make most of my friends online. It’s my preferred approach. Online spaces are an excellent place for finding potential friends, because it widens the net and helps you find people who resonate with the things you’re interested in—even your very obscure interests. 

Of course, it has tradeoffs. When you use the internet to optimize your friendships you’ll find all the friends you could ever want and need and more, and also, one of them is going to live in Albania. (I speak from experience here.)

The specific tactics you might use to make friends differs based on whether you’re doing so in person or online, although the overall approach and strategy is the same. 

Making Friends in Person

Maybe you’ve moved to a new city, or you just want more friends with whom you can share your bachata obsession. Although I am less experienced at making friends in person, here’s what I’d recommend. 

Find—or organize!—events, meetups, or clubs that relate to your values and interests. You could also take a class, or volunteer for a cause that you care about. If you put yourself in settings you feel drawn to, you’ll probably resonate with some of the other people who are drawn there.

I’d also recommend increasing the degree to which you are outgoing a notch or two. Strike up conversations with people. Remark on the circumstances you find yourself in, crack a joke, or make a question. See them as potential friends, and you might just find that they are. This approach may seem random, but you probably share a lot in common with the people you encounter in your everyday life. 

Put yourself in situations and circumstances where it’s more likely that you’ll meet people you resonate with, and act in ways that make it easy for people to interact with you, get to know you, and befriend you.

Making Friends Online

The internet allows us to find incredible people all over the world and be connected to them 24/7. I see it as a playground, where we can find our friends, and play together.

If you want to make friends online, there’s a pretty reliable pipeline for doing so. Of course, the details will look different for you and each person you connect with, and also depend on the platform you are using, its technical affordances and the culture of the communities you are connected to there—but the basic shape of becoming friends with someone online is pretty consistent.

There are certain steps or moves you can take to indicate that you’re interested in becoming friends with someone. If they mirror your interest, you two can take it up to the next level. If there’s someone you want to become friends with:

  • follow them
  • reply to and interact with them
  • send them a direct message (DM) and strike up a personal conversation
  • invite them to do a video call
  • begin a long-term correspondence
  • find something you can do together, like an interest you can explore or a project you can create

Importantly, not everyone will mirror your interest. If you follow them, and they don’t follow you back, that’s a signal. If you reply, and they don’t continue the conversation, that’s a signal. If you send them a message, and they don’t reply, that’s a signal.

Of course, just because they don’t follow you back or reply immediately doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to be friends, or that you should never talk to them again—but it’s worth taking into account what that signal means. Maybe you should try a different approach—or maybe you should ease off, and wait a while before trying to build a connection. In some cases, you will decide it makes sense to back away entirely, and let go of the intention of making a particular friend. 

If this process of developing a new friendship goes well, though, and they consistently return and mirror your interest, you are well on your way to developing a new, beautiful, meaningful friendship. 

Moreover, if you do this process with many different people on the internet, you will very likely develop a number of these deep connections. Some of the people you’re drawn to won’t return your interest, but many of them will! If you do 30 video calls with people you are connected to on the internet, I would bet anything that you’ll find at least three friends for the next thirty years. 

Allowing Friendships to Unfold

When I meet someone new, I try to tune into the fact that they could become anything to me: a peer, a best friend, a colleague, a business partner, a founder, a lover, a mentor, an inspiration. This radical openness helps me to let go of fixed ideas about who they are, or what I want out of a connection with them. I can be attuned to the present moment in connection, and make space to allow something else to arise, something beautiful, unexpected, that I have not yet imagined or never considered.

For me, this early phase of a friendship often feels like an awkward period: a time of trial, error, dancing, and experimentation where two people learn about each other and figure out what is the right relationship for both people.

What do you like talking about? How do you like to play? What rhythm of connecting feels good for both of you? What mediums do you like to connect through—on twitter DM’s, text messages, phone or video calls, in person? 

I tend to rush, boxing new relationships or connections into specific labels or roles. I have to remind myself to be patient, exploratory, and open-ended—to allow a relationship to become what it wants to become.

Deepening Friendships

Having made a friend, there are two related, but I believe distinct, aspects to continuing that friendship—deepening the friendship and maintaining the friendship. 

Deepening a friendship is about spending time together, building intimacy, trust, and shared context.

One of the simplest, best ways to deepen a friendship is to spend time together in person. Especially with internet friends (as opposed to friends in the same city or region) it’s possible to go a long time or your whole friendship without ever meeting in person.

If you have never met your dear friends in person before, see if it is possible for you two to find a way to do so. I am writing these words from Albania, where I went to see my longterm internet friend River—and several other of our friends have joined us to spend time together.

Even if you’ve met your friends in person before, if you really value a friendship, it’s worth it to spend time together. If you know that one of you is passing through the city or region that the other lives in, or will be near, see if you can make time to see each other while you’re close. Alternatively, see if you can plan a visit together. See your dear friends in person whenever you can.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, it’s also possible to spend quality time together at a distance. One of my favorite ways to do so is to collaborate on a project together. Another is to set aside dedicated time to share an activity or conversation in an intentional way—e.g. reading and discussing a book together, or taking an online course together.

Another really excellent way to deepen a friendship is to ask for help when you need it. For example, perhaps you need some emotional support in a difficult time, or want advice about a confusing situation you find yourself in; or maybe you need help moving into your apartment, or taking care of an elderly friend. A specific friend may or may not be willing or able to help you in a specific way that you need, but a good friend will want to be there for you and be touched that you asked—and with enough good friends in your life, at least one of them will likely not only able to help you, but excited to do so.

I believe that with each connection, there is something I like to call Right Relationship that wants to arise. There is a volume your friendships and relationships wish to fill, a directionality and shape and intensity in possibility space. Different relationships wish to fill and occupy different spaces and dimensions, to take different shapes. 

If you open your heart and imagination to what is possible, no two shapes will be alike, for you with any of your friends, or even between friendships in the history of this world. Every single friendship is unique, just like the souls it is composed of, made possible by. 

The shapes of your friendships will change with time, ebb and flow, expand and contract, fracture and repair with the growth and developments of each of your hearts.

Allow for the vastness of what is possible to surprise you, benefit you, delight you. Be brave enough to be a friend in a way you’ve never seen or felt or received before. Be patient as the shape of your friendship unfolds, emerges, changes, shifts, dances. This is a performance you are blessed to witness and also participate in—let it touch your heart anew, change your life and the world you live in.

Maintaining Friendships

Maintaining a friendship is about tending to the connection, keeping it alive, and staying connected, even when you are physically apart from each other or in very different chapters of your life. 

This is the relatively simple part, once you’ve done the hard work to find and make a friend, to develop and deepen that friendship. The internet makes it much easier to maintain friendships, even across long distances and in widely different contexts of our lives.

However, it might be tempting to overlook or skip maintaining a friendship, leaning on the strength and depth of a particular friendship, and assuming that you don’t really need to. Or even if you recognize the importance of maintaining a friendship, it can be difficult to do so practically. Being in different parts of the world, distinct time zones, and having obligations and responsibilities at work and in other relationships can make this feel overwhelming and burdensome.

Know that it can be relatively simple to maintain a friendship. For starters, Don Mexlar says that he follows a simple rule: “every time i think about a friend i try to let them know.” NVPKP does this in a simple, easy fashion by sending the word “smooch” to a friend—she calls this practice “smooch doctrine”. I like to follow smooch doctrine by sending my friends ❤️’s. 

Another good option is to send a brief text message or email with something simple: perhaps sharing a little bit about what’s happening in your life, or telling them something you saw or did recently that made you think of them. 

Another option is to share something that you think they’d enjoy, like a song, video, article, or meme. Be sure you know their taste, and you’re not just projecting what you like! Sharing something can make people feel very seen and connected if it’s genuinely resonant for them, or unseen and disconnected if it’s not. 

This is especially important if you’re sending something that takes time to consume, like an article or a podcast. While of course people are responsible for their own time, an invitation to spend time in a way that ends up feeling dissonant for them can be a subtle but significant fracture in a connection. 

Following your friends on social media platforms you both like makes it easy to keep an eye on what they’re up to. (It’s no secret I’m very fond of Twitter.) If you’re connected on the internet, you can engage with what they share if you feel called. Doing this even once or twice every year or two can go a long way towards sustaining that shared context and friendliness.

I have extensive correspondences with many of my friends—Twitter and Discord DM’s, text message exchanges, emails and more. Different mediums and norms work for different people. 

Since I have an increasingly large number of friends and correspondences, I’ve found it helpful to give myself the space and time to maintain these friendships at a rhythm that feels good for me. Friendships are important, but specific interactions are rarely urgent.

If I get a message from a friend, I will definitely respond, eventually, but I don’t guarantee when I will respond. It might be immediately, it might be on the same day, or the next—and it might be several days or weeks later. I prioritize which messages I reply to when based on a combination of my own desire and interest, my availability, the importance and urgency of the message, and how many overall messages I have yet to reply to. Usually, I am able to respond to all messages within a few weeks or a month.

It also helps me to give myself permission to send short messages in reply, including just defaulting to emoji reactions. Just because someone sends you pages and pages of messages, doesn’t obligate you to send them very long and thorough messages in response—or even to reply at all!

Over time, it’s nice to develop a sense of what and how you like to correspond—not only where and when, but also which topics you like to discuss, and how you like to converse. For example, I know that I like to talk about things like productivity and entrepreneurship with one friend; optimistic scientific and technological developments with another; or that I like to talk about mythology, fiction, and magick with yet another. 

Doing phone and/or video calls is an excellent way to stay connected. These can be spontaneous (just picking up the phone and seeing if your friend is free), as desired (“hey! want to do a call soon?”), or regularly scheduled (once a month or quarter friend calls). Different friendships will have different rhythms that feel good—and those rhythms will very likely change over time.

When I am friends with someone, I will often ask them what their birthday is, or note it down when it comes around. At the beginning of every month, I look ahead to the next two months, and see whose birthdays are coming up. I make a task to send my friends messages on their birthday. 

When I feel called, I will make or purchase someone a birthday gift. I find it useful to keep a list of possible presents to get my friends for their birthday and other special occasions. Creative inspiration and the practical circumstances where expressing love is called for don’t always arise at the same time. Usually I have creative ideas for what to get or make them months before the actual occasion actually rolls around on the calendar.

I recommend taking pictures when you are together, so that you can remember your time together. It’s increasingly common for people to ask strangers to take pictures of two or more friends when they are together, so feel free to do that. (You can also make a new friend by being willing to do so for someone else, or offering to do so!)

One of my favorite and most beloved friend practices is to create a photo album at the end of the year of all the places I went to and all the people I spent time with, and to share that album privately with all of those people. 

On a personal level, this allows me to reflect on the year, to remember and celebrate what was beautiful about that year—and then I get to share that with my friends. They also get a peek into the rest of my life, and my other relationships outside of our own shared context.

If your friend is making something—a piece of visual art, a comedy short, or a new start-up—it’s a kindness to tell them what your favorite things they’ve made are and why. Your honest specificity and your abundant love will encourage them in something that is both difficult and important to them.

If you know your friend is suffering, it’s a simple kindness to tell them you see their suffering, to put words to what arises in your heart as you witness their pain or confusion or despair or agony or illness or loss. It’s also kind to follow up with them a day or week later to see how they are doing, feeling.

One thing I love to do to maintain my friendships is to express appreciation for the friendship. I feel into the gratitude I have for friendship, and take a moment to voice what specifically I appreciate about them as individuals and that friendship as a bond. This warmth and love feels good to tap into, connecting you to the past experiences that you’ve shared together, and making way for more beautiful connection to unfold in the future.

Relatedly, I’d recommend cultivating gossip. I know, shocking! What I would actually, specifically recommend is talking to your friends about how great your other friends are—how amazing what they’re doing is, what virtues you see in them, what wonderful things they’ve done for you or other people or the world. 

Not only does this feel good for everyone, but it helps your friends get a sense of the kinds of things you’re likely to say about them when they’re not there—which, if it’s wholesome, makes them feel safe and loved.

I aspire to say every kind word, or loving speech act that I can. That may be as simple as just saying “I love you,” or it may mean giving a thorough reflection or compliment, with all the depth and love I can muster.

I’ve found it helpful to be able to articulate and express exactly what you mean when you tell a friend “I love you.” This precision isn’t always needed, but it can be so clarifying for both friends if you state this explicitly.

For example, you could say something like: “I love you—you make me smile, I feel good being around you, I am grateful I know you, I always feel happy hanging out together, my heart feels warm as I think about you.” 

Having this move available makes it much easier for me to be brave and say “I love you” when I might otherwise be hesitant or scared to do so. In my experience, it also makes it much easier for love and warmth to flow in a relationship where it might not otherwise.

While I would highly recommend and encourage you to maintain your friendships, and to build the skills and habits I mention here (and others like them), you don’t necessarily need to work too hard at it. These things should feel good to do, rather than a burden. If they don’t feel good, don’t do it! Above all, you can trust that established shared context exists in your friendship, even if you aren’t in touch with your friend for an extended period of time. The friendship can be picked up, re-established, and deepened in its own time and season.

Introducing Your Friends to Each Other

It’s incredibly powerful to introduce your friends to each other. If two people like you, it’s very possible that they’ll like each other, too, and become friends. 

However, it’s not guaranteed that they’ll hit it off. Before even mentioning the possibility of connecting two friends, I like to consider whether there’s enough in common between them to merit an introduction. Things like shared values, shared goals, shared interests, a shared location, and a timely opportunity to benefit each other are all good reasons to consider an introduction. 

Once you’re sure that you feel called to introduce two friends, make sure that it feels good to them, too. Use a double opt-in introduction: reach out to each friend individually to gauge their interest in meeting the other person. Mention what called you to consider it as a possibility, and why you think it would benefit them. If both people are interested, then it’s time to introduce them. Double opt-in introductions allow you to respect your friends, their time and needs and boundaries, and also their autonomy—while acting on your intuition to make new connections.

If you introduce two friends to one another, and they become friends, not only do they have a new friendship, but your friendship with each of them will deepen, too. If you regularly introduce your friends to each other, your entire web of friendship will grow denser, stronger, more tightly woven—an increasingly deep fabric of friendship and love. As Christine points out, this “strengthens the overall network and lessens the burden on you…a dense social network allows everyone to chill out with the Catching Up™️.”

Navigating Challenges

Everything I’ve shared so far has been about how to create and cultivate friendships. While this is a beautiful process, filled with joy and connection, it also comes with challenges. In any meaningful relationship, you will face challenges, obstacles, and moments of disconnection.

These moments of challenge and difficulty are a juncture in any relationship. If you run away from the conflict, you will either lose a relationship entirely, or it will lose its vitality, becoming flat and disconnected, lifeless, lacking joy and meaning for both of you. But if you work through the conflict together, you will grow as people and in your friendship, understanding yourselves and each other better, and reaching new heights of intimacy and connection.

This section describes some of the challenges you might face in developing friendships, and provides some suggestions for how to work with them.

Friendship as the Basis

One common thread in many of the challenges that friendships can face is losing touch with the basic attitude of friendliness, kindness, and love in your connection. 

This can happen for many reasons, but one is that we can get caught up in another aspect of human relationship, or specific circumstances of your shared reality and lives.

We can have all kinds of relationships with other people: familial ties, work relationships, romantic partnerships, and more. I see friendship and an attitude of friendliness as the basis of all healthy relationships, whatever kind or combination they may be.

That means having an attitude of respect and kindness towards others, knowing they are worthy of being treated with love and care, regardless of circumstance (just like you are). It doesn’t mean you need to see someone as your best friend, want to hang out with them regularly, or forgo having healthy boundaries.

Before you build a specific kind of relationship, or add a new layer of complexity to an existing one, consider whether there is a strong foundation of friendship, or whether you might benefit from intentionally taking time to rekindle that felt sense of friendliness and intentional behavior of kindness towards each other.

Romantic and Sexual Tensions and Friendships

Similarly, if you are friends with someone, it’s very possible that one or both of you might feel romantic or sexual tension in that connection at some point. 

On the one hand, friendship is the basis of excellent romantic connections. Many partners describe their boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, and wives as their best friend. 

On the other hand, those dynamics have the potential to harm or destroy what would otherwise have been a deep and beautiful friendship. Moreover, it’s very possible that these feelings will be one-sided, asymmetrical. 

How can you know if you should act on these feelings, and move into romantic or sexual territory? And how do you work with your friend feeling romantically or sexually towards you, if you don’t feel that way towards them?

First, take the time to get clear within yourself how you feel about your friend, and what you’re wanting. Introspect, journal, and reflect on your own emotions, desires, patterns, and needs.

In my experience, the most important part of navigating these dynamics skillfully is to be honest with yourself and your friend. It’s perfectly normal to have sexual or romantic feelings towards another human, especially someone you feel close to. Whether it’s you or your friend, or both, experiencing those feelings, it’s important to not add shame or blame to the experience.

Instead, just be honest, and say what you’re feeling or experiencing. Maybe you’re sexually attracted to your friend. Maybe you have been feeling a desire for a romantic connection with them. Maybe they’ve been feeling that way, but you aren’t. Simply speak in a way that is honest and kind, whatever your truth is—and listen to your friend’s truth, as well.

Having said your respective truths, you need to respect your own boundaries as well as those of your friend. Where things get messy is where one or both parties intentionally or subtly disrespect their own or the others’ boundaries, intentions, and needs. Especially at a critical juncture like this, there’s no easier way to damage a friendship. Conversely, deeply respecting your friend’s feelings, desires, and needs—even when it may not be what you yourself hoped for—is one of the best ways to show them you really love them.

If you’ve both spoken your truth, it’s generally pretty simple to decide together what to do next. Often, you keep it simple, and just stay friends. Or maybe you’ll decide to add another aspect to your connection. No matter what, if you’ve shared the truth with each other, and respected each other’s autonomy and needs—you’re bound to be even closer to your friend, regardless of what unfolds.

Collaborating with Friends

If you’re friends with someone, it’s possible that one or both of you might feel called to collaborate on a service or work project. Depending on the person, the project, and your—hopefully shared—purpose, that could be an incredible idea that is a lot of fun and deepens your friendship, or it could be a non-starter. How do you know if it’s a good idea to collaborate with a friend?

In many ways, I’m far pickier about who I collaborate with than who I am friends with, or even who I have romantic relationships or connections with. First and foremost, it’s important for me to know myself: my values, my vision, my goals, my current projects, commitments, and responsibilities. Ideally, I know my potential collaborator that deeply, too. 

If we know each other very well, and a specific project arises as an idea and a possibility for us, it will typically, ideally be very clear to both of us—hell yes, or no. If we both have a big, resonant yes, I trust that. If not—I forego that particular collaboration, at least at that time.

If I do decide to work with someone, I put the relationship first. I care about them on a personal level, as humans with big hearts and whole lives. People and relationships are more important than any project.

One tactical way that I honor this value is by starting all of my work or collaborative meetings with a check-in. I find it’s so important to know where each person is at, what circumstances they find themselves in externally and how they’re feeling internally—and to reveal that myself. This is incredibly important context that, to me, supersedes any specific topic that’s being discussed or decision that needs to be made.

Importantly, if it seems like there’s a juncture where I have to choose between a working relationship and a friendship with someone, I know in advance that I will choose the friendship. Tasks, projects, deadlines, meetings, and responsibilities can often bring up various conflicts. While ideally these serve as the basis for difficult conversations that lead towards personal growth and increased intimacy, in practice, they may just make it feel harder to feel connected to someone. If I’m consistently hitting that point with someone, I will voice that, express the desire to end the working relationship—not as a severing of connection, but as a way to re-emphasize what is truly important to me.

Working on a project together can be a beautiful way to build a friendship together, to deepen what you share, and to give birth to something excellent you both care about. If it feels right for both of you, trust and explore that—and if not, it’s fine to keep the relationship as “just friends.”

Balancing Time and Energy Across Friendships

One potential downside of making friends in the ways I describe here, especially online, is that it becomes possible to have many, many friendships—quite possibly enough that it feels overwhelming, like more than you can reasonably manage.

On the one hand, I think it’s important to be honest with yourself about your time and energy constraints, and what kind of friendships you have the space and interest for. It’s perfectly valid to set limits and constraints on how many friendships you have, how many people and relationships you can invest your love and care and energy into. And you’re allowed to communicate that to people respectfully, lovingly, as a boundary—that you don’t have the space for new friendships. 

On the other hand, I believe that the frame that I’ve shared here, that Visa shared with me on my podcast—that friendship is fundamentally about shared context and understanding—makes it possible to radically expand how much friendship can enter your life.

From this perspective, it seems to me that people radically overestimate how long it takes to become friends; they radically overestimate how much time it takes to maintain a friendship; and they radically underestimate the vastness of possibility space of what a friendship could look like. 

So far, for myself, I’ve chosen to err on the side of always meeting new people, always making new friends, always developing the connections I’ve been blessed to make. That does mean that I may not be able to spend as much time and energy on every friendship that I have as I’d like—or that I may not be able to show up to the degree or in the exact way that my friends might want. I’m not likely to be the friend who shows up at your door with soup when you’re sick, or who can, on short notice, hold your hand when you’re going through a difficult time. Honestly, I’ll probably be in a totally different time zone and country. But there is a kind and depth of friendship that my approach makes possible, which suits my disposition and desires.

You have to know yourself, and decide what tradeoffs you want to make, how you want to approach friendship. Would you like to cultivate extremely deep friendships with relatively few people, or potentially more superficial friendships with a large number of people—or perhaps idealistically, perhaps vainly seek a balance between these extremes?

Energy Exchange

In an ideal friendship, you both give and receive energy in a way that feels good and is supportive of both of your flourishing. At their worst, friendships can be draining and exhausting. If they are perpetually draining your energy, something needs to change.

It can be helpful to discuss with your friends which energies specifically are being exchanged in relationship: what you each are giving and receiving, how that feels, and what, if anything, wants to be shifted. 

Not only is this a useful practice for tending to the health of a particular friendship, I’ve also found that this leads to increased self-knowledge for both parties. We don’t always know what impact we are having on other people, or how we touch their hearts. 

Attachment Styles and Friendships

While attachment style is often discussed in the context of romantic relationships, it also affects all kinds of relationships, including friendships. Knowing your own attachment style, and that of your friends, can change the way you show up to the activity of friendship.

If you’re both secure, great! Then things are easy. For those of us that sometimes experience unhealthy attachment feelings and behaviors, it’s helpful to know ourselves and our friends, and to approach that accordingly.

For example, if you tend towards having an anxious attachment style, you might be more prone to feeling insecure in your friendships, or to needing reassurance. If your friend has an avoidant attachment style, they might be more inclined to create distance or avoid emotional intimacy. 

A specific idea has been very useful to me in considering these dynamics, what Sadal calls the push/pull model of social interactions:

I’m gonna introduce y’all the most useful model for understanding social interactions I’ve ever learned: push/pull.

it boils down to this: all conversations consist of “push” or “pull” interactions, where a push adds something to a convo and pull removes something

now, examples

an example of a push can be – sending a text, liking a tweet, asking a question, volunteering information, joining a convo, literally leaning in

pulls are a little more complex, but essentially – not replying, ignoring, avoiding a question, leaving a convo, leaning back

push/pull ultimately helps you identify who has the power in an exchange–typically, whoever is pulling has more power b/c the pusher wants something from the puller

If you tend to have an anxious attachment style, you may find yourself often initiating the “push” interactions; if you have an avoidant attachment style, you may lean more towards initiating “pull” interactions. 

Understanding attachment styles and how these dynamics show up in your friendships can help you navigate the specific relationships you have so that they feel better for everyone involved.

Friend Breakups

Sometimes, friendships go through what seem like irreparable damage. A friendship may seem to have ended forever. While that’s certainly possible, it’s possible that at some point in the future, you may be able to reconnect and rebuild your friendship. No story needs to end forever. Forgiveness, healing, and new adventures are always possible.

Sometimes, you or your friend may wish to end your friendship. In our culture, it’s common for friendships to end quietly, subtly—the universe of your connection ending with a whimper rather than a bang. There may be a wisdom to this—the wisdom of avoiding unnecessary hurt, or irreparable damage where new connections might return and blossom in the future—but this may also come from a tendency to be conflict avoidant.

When romantic relationships end, they typically end with a break-up—one or both partners deciding that it’s time for the connection to end or change. Break-ups are often messy, but they don’t need to be. It’s possible for a romantic relationship to end intentionally, in a beautiful and almost ceremonial way.

Similarly, while it’s not especially common—and admittedly it’s not something I’ve done myself (and I hope not to)—I believe it is possible to have a conscious, intentional, and mature friend break-up. One of my dearest friends and I have promised each other that if one of us decides our friendship needs to end, to appreciate what we shared together and to say goodbye to each other. 

Here’s how I imagine such a friendship break-up might transpire in a wholesome, clear, kind way:

  • one or both friends decide the friendship needs to end or change
  • they state their desire and intention explicitly, kindly
  • each person states their boundaries, needs, intentions, and desires (no contact? altered friendship rhythm or context?)
  • they take time together to celebrate what they shared, to remember what they experienced together, how they learned and grew
  • they say goodbye

Everything changes, and everything ends. If beautiful friendships need to end, not from the natural death of a friend but the changing of seasons and circumstances, it’s worth taking the time and care to say goodbye to a friend and your relationship in a beautiful, excellent, noble way.

Friendship as a Spiritual Practice

Not only is friendship deeply joyful, I also view it as a spiritual practice. There is a famous sutra where Ananda suggests to the Buddha that friendship constitutes half of the holy life. The Buddha corrects him, emphasizing that “admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie are actually the whole of the holy life.” (SN 45.2)

Friendship is an incredibly important part of our lives. To the extent that we value living our life in an intentional, beautiful way that is aligned with our values and our ethics, with our sense of what the universe is and our purpose in being here, friendship can be a venue and vehicle for spiritual cultivation. 

Seeing Others as Friends

I use the word “friend” liberally as a spiritual practice, following the custom of the Religious Society of Friends (The Quakers); I picked up this habit from the Monastic Academy community.

Saying the word “friend” to another person will help you see them as so. If you see others as friends, you will treat them in friendlier ways. If you treat others in a friendly way, they will tend to treat you that way, too. This will make the world feel like a friendlier place. 

These days, I also sometimes use other, similar words, like “brother” or “sister.” (I was first inspired to do so by Cornel West.)

brothers, made in collaboration with Anansi

For me, one of the most valuable parts of calling people “friend” or “brother” or “sister” is noticing how it feels for me to use those words—or any resistance I have to do so. If I have a hard time calling someone my friend, if it is difficult to see someone from a perspective of friendliness—I’ve consistently found that there is meaningful information there, about myself, the other person, or our relationship that it is useful to listen to and integrate.

It may feel strange or even uncomfortable to see everyone you know and meet, including acquaintances and strangers as friends. Not only is this practice unfamiliar for many of us, but it may feel unsafe. Many of us have been hurt in the past by being overly trusting, or trusting other people too quickly. We may have been tricked, manipulated, or taken advantage of by people, who absolutely did not treat us like friends.

Having an attitude of friendliness towards others doesn’t mean you need to be naïve, overly trusting, or easily manipulated. You don’t have to tell a stranger your Social Security Number or loan them $10,000 dollars. It’s not about being overly trusting—it’s about having a default attitude of friendliness, about acting in kind ways towards others and finding it easy to smile with happiness as you go about your life. 

Sometimes it’s also scary to do this practice. It feels unfamiliar, uncomfortable, strange to say the word “friend” to someone else. It can take courage to take up this practice, and you may have to sit with, listen to, and love your fears before it feels possible to do so. 

Moreover, other people might even be upset or offended. They might say something like, “I’m not your friend!” Or they may feel uncomfortable, as if you are implying that you expect them to see you as a friend, to call you one or treat you in specific ways. These kinds of reactions have been rare for me personally, but they do happen from time to time.

By seeing others as friends, by describing them and relating to them as such, you manifest the friendship you put out into the world. As Peace Pilgrim said, “Life is like a mirror. Smile at it and it smiles back at you. I just put a big smile on my face and everyone smiles back.” 


In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle identified three types of friends: friends of pleasure, who enjoy each other’s company; friends of utility, who benefit practically from their connection; and friends of virtue, who share values and grow in virtue and excellence through being connected. Aristotle argues that the best kind of friend is a friend of virtue, although it is possible to have a friendship with multiple overlapping types, including all three subcategories. 

Friends of virtue lift each other up towards greater and greater heights of goodness. They remind each other by presence, example, and words of the virtues they wish to live by. They inspire each other to cultivate new and deeper virtues, and bravely, honestly reflect when one friend has fallen short of their shared virtues and values. 

I believe the phrase “spiritual friend” points to the same kind of friendship as a friend of virtue. It’s important to have spiritual friends in this life: not just friends that we enjoy, or who are useful to be around, but who lift us up, who help us to live our best lives as our best selves.

Loving-Kindness Meditation

One part of my life’s work is spreading loving-kindness and the brahmavihārās. Loving kindness is a technique that reliably amplifies friendliness. You can literally increase how kind, friendly, and loving you are. It’s actually pretty easy to explain how this happens: 

Cultivating love directly affects your perception—the way you perceive yourself, and the way you perceive others. As you perceive others in more loving ways, that will change the way you act towards them—you will act in kinder ways. As you act in kinder ways towards others, that will shift how they perceive and act towards you. This is a virtuous cycle, where loving perceptions and kind behaviors between self and other feed each other, growing ever deeper, ever kinder, ever more loving.

Take the time to learn to do loving-kindness meditation. Learn what thoughts and images resonate in your body as feelings of love. Having gained the basic skills of the brahmavihārās, send love to your close loved ones, your dearest friends and family and partners. They are worthy of your love, and this will work the land of your hearts, in preparation for deeper friendship and ever more love to grow.


I believe in reincarnation. You may or may not believe in reincarnation, but it provides an interesting lens on friendship that has been valuable for me to consider and reflect on.

In Christopher Bache’s book Lifecycles, which discusses the concept of reincarnation in extensive detail, he introduces the concept of a soul family (as distinct from a biological family):

The concept of soul family carries different meanings for different authors, but in general it speaks of a family of beings whose relatedness extends beyond one lifecycle. In some contexts, the concept of soul family reflects the belief that people travel together in groups from the beginning to the end of their human experience. We might think of them as classes going through school together. These family members might not ever cross paths during one physical lifecycle, but they are always connected to one another psychically. If one of them succeeds in resolving a particular life challenge, all of them are nourished, while another’s failure also touches them all.

In a broad sense, as I shall use the term here, one’s soul family consists of those with whom one shares joint adventures extending over many lifetimes. They may be persons we have come to know, trust, and love through our previous lives together, or conversely ones we have wronged. Through our many lives we’ve obviously made mistakes, and mistakes injure people, creating bonds of ill will. Thus we may be in conflict with members of our soul family because of misunderstandings that have not healed, injuries sustained without compensation, and wounds still unforgiven. These persons too become our traveling companions, badgering us until we treat them with the respect they deserve or until we compensate them for the loss we have caused them.

From the reincarnationist perspective, when we are drawn to someone, it may be because we have known them in a past life, or because they are a part of our soul family. Similarly, if we experience difficulty in an existing friendship, it may be because of unresolved issues from previous lives. Being aware of these dynamics may change how you see a particular friend, or the dynamics you share with them.


I’ve tried to share everything in this post that I know about friendship that might be of some use to you. I hope that reading this post has touched your heart, and that has paved the way for deeper friendship to enter your life, for kindness and love in all forms to ripen and blossom in ever more heartfelt ways for the rest of your days.

Friendship, love, and community are the greatest treasures in the world. Doubling down on them every chance you get will make you terrifically happy and be a tremendous gift to the world. 

May you have all the friends you could ever need or want, may an abundance of friendship fill your life and your heart, and may that shared love and warmth overflow to touch all who cross your paths. ❤️

Further Resources

Thank you to Alexandra, for consistently, persistently encouraging me to write on this topic for years; to Cedric, who also requested that I write about this topic; and to June and Abi, who encouraged and supported me during this writing process. Thank you to Alexandra, Ellen, Alex for providing feedback and comments on the drafts of this post. 

Thank you to Visa. In many ways, this essay (and much of my work) is like “footnotes to Visa.” Bless you, brother.

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