Friendship Friendship: The Gist The Benefits of Friendship Friendship Myths Types of Friends Connection Reflection Looking Inward Nurture Exiting Friendships New Friendships Social Skills Understanding Community Building Community Friendship Practice and Exercises Friendship Resources

Imagine you had a medical emergency and were taken to the hospital in an ambulance…

You make a full recovery, but are stuck at the hospital with no way to get home or to work in the morning. Outside of family, do you know who you would call? Research shows 1 in 5 American adults report being lonely, and 21% of adults surveyed said they did not have anyone close enough (besides family) whom they would call in an emergency.1 While loneliness is one end of the spectrum, having friends we can rely on and call in an emergency is extremely important.

“Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” – Oprah Winfrey

Dr. Tom Stevens, consultant psychiatrist at the London Bridge Hospital says:

“From a purely psychiatric perspective, an important issue here is how your friend will respond when you are in trouble. In many ways, practical and emotional support during crises are undoubtedly beneficial. However, when exposed to life difficulties being let down by a friend has been shown to make matters worse than having no friend at all.”2

Social psychology is the scientific study of how people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others.3 Through the study of social psychology, scientists have been able to examine the effect of loneliness on a person’s physical health, mental health, and overall well-being. These studies are greatly nuanced since each person’s definition of loneliness is different. One thing these studies agree on is that we need deep friendships more than we may think…

Since having a network of friends has been proven to have several benefits like a longer life, better habits, and decreased risk of disease, you may think the more friends you have, the more benefits you will receive. With social media celebrating the number of friends or followers we have, it is hard not to think of making as many friends as possible as the “goal.” Multiple studies (1, 2, 3), have shown the quality of friendships matters much more than quantity in terms of benefits. 4, 5, 6

“We don’t need more or better friends, we need better friendships.” – Shasta Nelson, Frientimacy4

Explore a variety of reflections on your existing friendships and the network you have in place. Reflect on the roles friends play in your life, how much your intimacy bucket is filled, and how well your support network would respond in crisis to create a full picture of the depths of your friendships. Assessing the role friendship currently plays and how we want it to look going forward can help map a path towards more fulfilling relationships.

Take time to reflect on the health of your friendships

You can measure your Friendship, along with 50+ other factors and hundreds of subfactors of well-being, in the Assessment Center.

Not All Friendships Are Created Equal

Though the idea of ‘soulmates’ can be debated (and is in the Dating Section), it is true some people simply get along better than others, and not all of your relationships have the potential to become BFFs. Some friendships will happily remain casual, positive, and perhaps lacking vulnerability, and that’s wonderful! And, having 2 – 3 friends we do share vulnerability with can make a big difference.

Woman Keeps Promise, Adopts 4 Kids After Childhood Friend Dies of Cancer

When a single mother of four, Elizabeth, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, she asked her best friend Laura to take care of her children after she was gone. After Elizabeth died, Laura kept her promise and adopted Elizabeth’s four daughters into her family.

Not all of our friends need to be Lauras, but if you were in Elizabeth’s position, what would you do?

We need a balance of different types of friendships in our life

The Theory of Dunbar’s Number says people are able to maintain about 150 social connections.7 Those 150 people are divided between very close friends, good friends, friends, and acquaintances. Reflecting on our overall network can help us examine where we might be lacking in our network and help narrow down specific relationships we want to invest more into.

Assess your social network as a whole

The Types of Friends page goes in-depth regarding the different types of friends in our lives and why it is important to have a mixture.

Three Models for Analyzing our Social Network as a Whole:

Friendship Circles:
The people in a social network are divided between close friends, good friends, friends and acquaintances — organized in concentric circles. Within each of these circles, there is also a varying degree as to how close that particular person is to you.

Tree of Connections:
The trunk represents those closest to us. Our solid support system. Moving up and out the connections become weaker with the twig-like branches representing co-workers and acquaintances.

Friendship Mountain:
Similar to the circles model, the mountain is separated into 4 tiers representing acquaintances, friends, pretty good friends, and closest friends. Everyone not on the mountain is a stranger, potentially waiting to climb the mountain.

Some relationships may never get above the “acquaintances” or even the “pretty good friends” level, which is perfectly fine. Try not to think of the middle circle or the top of the mountain as a “goal” for all your friendships. There is value in having folks at all levels because varying levels of intimacy are needed to fill out our social networks. The closer the friendship, typically the more time it takes to maintain, so having more than 3 – 5 friendships in the “closest friends” category isn’t sustainable — you would either have no time for other things or friends would end up dropping down to the “pretty good friends” category as you lose touch.

Explore each of these models more on the Types of Friends Page.


Where are your friendships sparse? 
Where do you have the most people? 

If you find you have mostly weak connections (twigs on the tree model), you may want to think about nurturing a few of those to be stronger, more trunk-like connections. Alternatively, if your trunk is full of people, you may want to consider how many of those are genuine, intimate connections and how many are actually just friends.

Think about climbing a tree: we need the trunk to be a strong support  AND we need meaty branches to support our weight and smaller branches to pull ourselves up.


A student came to a teacher and asked him, “Master, how many friends should a person have – one or a lot?”

“Everything is very simple,” the teacher answered, “pick me that red apple from the highest branch.”

The student looked up and answered, “But it’s too high, Teacher! I can’t reach it.”

“Ask a friend, maybe he will help you,” Master answered.

The student called another student and stood on his shoulders.

“I still can’t reach it, Teacher,” said the disappointed student.

“Don’t you have more friends?” the teacher smiled.

The student asked more friends who started standing upon each other’s shoulders and backs grunting, trying to build a live pyramid. But the apple was too high, the pyramid crumbled and the student wasn’t able to pick the apple.

Then the teacher called him back.

“So, did you understand how many friends a person needs?”

“I did, Teacher,” the student said, rubbing the injured sides, “a lot – so together we could solve any problem.”

“Yes,” the Master answered, shaking his head in disappointment, “of course you need a lot of friends. So that among all of these athletes there would be at least one smart person who would figure out to bring a ladder!”

Assess the Role Intimacy Plays in Your Friendships

Humans need intimacy

I Like You is a children’s book written by Sandol Stoddard and illustrated by Jacqueline Chwast that explores how to measure liking and friendship through a sweet story.

The essence of intimacy is a high-quality, close connection with another person8

Everyone has a need for intimacy. Intimate relationships allow for vulnerability, reciprocity, affirmation, and support that is not found in lower-quality connections. Having a huge circle of friends is great, and if you are not close on an intimate level with one or two of those friends, you may feel a lack of intimacy. When we feel lonely, it may be due to a lack of intimacy in our existing friendships, even when surrounded by friends. Having close, quality friendships is one strategy that helps fill our intimacy bucket.

Many people associate intimacy with romantic relationships, often in a euphemistic or physical way. Intimacy is needed in more ways than the physical. Intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and experiential intimacy all play a part in our need for intimacy. While not all friendships reach intimacy level (some people will be just pretty good friends, which is fine), having a few friendships who can help fill our need for intimacy will create more meaning in life.

Friendship and Intimacy

In Shasta Nelson’s book, Frientimacy, she outlines how to build intimacy within friendships.  “Frientimacy is a relationship where both people feel seen in a safe and satisfying way.” 9 Nelson states there are three requirements of friendship intimacy (frientimacy): positivity, consistency, and vulnerability.

#1 Positivity:
The base of every relationship. Gratitude, empathy, laughter, play, validation, and affirmation. We want our friendships to feel good and be satisfying.

#2 Consistency:
Spending time together, consistent communication, and having a long-lasting relationship means we develop patterns and rituals and have a certain predictability. Patterns allow trust to develop. Building up trust and reliability also builds up feelings of safety in the relationship.

#3 Vulnerability:
As consistency increases, we get to know each other better and the level of vulnerability also increases. Friendships without vulnerability tend to be very surface level (think colleagues or neighbors). Sharing dreams, successes, failures, and expressing feelings and needs, and then reciprocating empathy to our friends. Being seen.

Measure your Friendship Intimacy!

You can take this quick quiz to assess general intimacy in your friendships.

“Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.” – Kahlil Gibran

Types of Intimacy

There are six types of intimacy that can be present in a friendship:

Physical Intimacy

Physical intimacy can be powerfully present beyond romantic relationships.

Research shows physical touch has a range of emotional and physical health benefits such as better immune function, higher stress resilience, and faster rates of growth. Touch activates the part of the brain responsible for feelings of reward and compassion.10 Touch can be a powerful tool (though boundaries are important when considering physical intimacy).

Ways physical intimacy shows up in friendship:

  • Warm hug
  • A (literal) shoulder to cry on
  • High five
  • Pat on the back
  • Squeeze of the hand
  • Playful punch

Hindrances to physical intimacy:

  • Not wanting to cross boundaries
  • Unfamiliarity
  • Long distance or virtual friendship

Ideas to expand physical intimacy in a friendship:

  • Talk about love languages! You will be able to express your need/desire for touch and are better able to understand the ways they give and receive love.
  • Initiate/ask for touch — ask for consent first.

Emotional Intimacy

There are two sides to emotional intimacy:

  • You are able to express yourself freely to another person.
  • You create a safe space for the other person to freely express to you.

These two sides work together in a cycle of reciprocity.

It generally takes time and work to practice emotional intimacy with someone, so be patient and don’t rush into sharing your deepest secrets with someone you just met (see The 5 Levels of Conversation). Emotional intimacy requires vulnerability and trust to be built up. Trust and confidence in the relationship is affirmed with acceptance and understanding.

Sometimes, finding emotional intimacy with someone else requires us to first put the work into looking inward, self-love, and self-empathy. Usually, our own fear (of rejection, of loneliness, of judgment, etc.) is what blocks emotional intimacy in relationships most. Allowing our fullest selves to be seen can be a scary prospect, and has the potential for incredible payoffs when we reach a point in a relationship where we know we are seen and loved and we know our friend feels seen and loved.

Ways emotional intimacy shows up in friendship:

  • Talking about “tough stuff” (see below)
  • Expressing feelings and needs
  • Making requests and agreements around how you would like the friendship to look
  • Listening

Hindrances to emotional intimacy:

Ideas to expand emotional intimacy in a friendship:

  • Self Love.
  • Self Empathy.
  • Have a conversation with your friend about emotional intimacy and what intimacy means to each of you.
  • Be honest about any fear you have.
  • Listen intently when a friend is vulnerable with you and empathize.

Examples of “tough stuff” conversations to bring up with a friend you are close to:


  • Partner, dating, love life, sexuality
  • Unhealthy habits
  • Friendship agreements
  • Worries and fears
  • Future plans/dreams
  • Upbringing, parents,  family, childhood
  • Noticings and observations about your friend and their life/habits/partne


  • I would like to talk to you about something, but it is hard to bring up”
  • “I’ve been having some trouble with ___ and I wanted to hear what you thought”
  • “When you said _____, I felt _____.
  • “I am wondering if we can try not to interrupt each other…”


  • “How are you feeling about ___?”
  • “Can we check in about _____?”
  • “How is your heart?”
  • “What’s up?”


  • Yes/no questions like “Are you ok?”

Cliches we don’t usually expect a real answer to like “How are you?” “fine…”

Intellectual Intimacy

To be able to connect with someone on an intellectual level and share ideas and thoughts about topics in a respectful and productive way can be a wonderful way to fuel a relationship. Some people thrive off sharing ideas and discussing different points of view.

Ways intellectual intimacy shows up in friendship:

  • Discussing bigger picture ideas (universe, philosophy, psychology, etc.)
  • Sharing articles or books
  • Shared interests and hobbies
  • Challenging each other

Hindrances to intellectual intimacy:

Ideas to expand intellectual intimacy in a friendship:

  • Be humble
  • Share articles when you think they will find them interesting
  • Watch thought-provoking movies and shows together
  • Discuss the world
  • Learn a new skill together
  • Read the same book as your friend about a topic you both share an interest in, then plan to discuss your opinions and ideas around it.

Spiritual Intimacy

While spirituality means very different things to different people, as an intimacy category, spirituality refers to sharing our beliefs and values with our friends. Connecting with someone on a higher level can lead to new dimensions of being seen and understood. Spirituality can be a difficult path of intimacy for some people, as it requires you to connect with yourself on a spiritual level first, and can sometimes bring up differing opinions and views.

Ways spiritual intimacy shows up in friendship:

  • Sharing a special holiday with a friend’s family
  • Respecting a friend’s values and practices
  • Learning about each other’s beliefs

Hindrances to spiritual intimacy:

Ideas to expand spiritual intimacy in a friendship:

  • Share mindfulness practices
  • Meditate or pray together
  • Talk in-depth with someone about the meaning of life
  • Ask questions about things you are curious about

How Our Friendship Survives Our Opposing Politics | Ted
Caitlin Quattromani and Lauran Arledge

“When we engage in dialogue, we flip the script. We replace our ego and our desire to win with curiosity, empathy and a desire to learn. Instead of coming from a place of judgment, we are genuinely interested in the other person’s experiences, their values and their concerns.”

Experiential Intimacy

When we share experiences, we create memories together which add layers to our relationships. Since vulnerability and consistency need to build at a similar rate, the more experiences we share with someone, the closer we can become. Sometimes, sharing a traumatic experience can build a huge amount of experiential intimacy with someone in a short period of time. When we share a traumatic experience with someone, they truly understand what we went through and that can bring us closer.

Building experiential intimacy without sharing trauma is also possible. There is no limit to how you can experience intimacy through shared experience— sports, recreation, travel— could all be ways of finding new levels of intimacy with someone.

Ways experiential intimacy shows up in friendship:

Hindrances to experiential intimacy:

  • Time / busyness
  • Family prioritized over friends
  • Money (tight purse, less likely to go out)

Ideas to expand experiential intimacy in a friendship:

  • Learn something new together
  • Go somewhere neither of you has been
  • Plan an adventure around a shared interest

Check out hundreds of more ideas on the Megalist of where to meet people.

Creative Intimacy

Creative intimacy is when we share passion, creativity, or innovation with friends. People don’t often consider creative intimacy when thinking about friendships, however, it can also be important and can help fill our intimacy bucket. Art, music, dance, board games, puzzles, sports, and cooking are all passions we can share with friends.

Since common interests can be the foundation for friendships, sharing your interests with friends will help you feel closer. With the wide range of activities within the realm of creativity, we can share creative intimacy with friends –no special skills needed. At work, being part of a team that uses problem-solving to find solutions may help you feel closer to those co-workers because you are sharing creative intimacy.

Ways creative intimacy shows up in friendship:

  • Learning new skills from friends who are masters
  • Making plans for what to do — “Ooo maybe we should try ____!”
  • Problem-solving when plans do not work out
  • Jamming (music, dance, flow arts, 1-on-1 basketball, etc.)

Hindrances to creative intimacy:

  • Judgments — I’m not very creative
  • Lacking passion
  • Reluctance to try new things

Ideas to expand creative intimacy in a friendship:

  • Share your passion and ask others to share theirs
  • Team Building games  and escape rooms
  • Invite a friend over to cook a meal with you
  • Try a new craft together
  • Play a board game or do a puzzle together

See more ideas for things to do with friends to build intimacy on the Megalist.

The Intimacy Gap

When intimacy is lacking in a relationship, we may experience an intimacy gap.

An Intimacy gap is when there is a difference between how much intimacy you are expecting to have within a relationship and how much is actually there.

When we feel there is an intimacy gap, there is a deficit between the level of intimacy we are getting and the level we are expecting.9
We can also experience a gap if our friend’s understanding of intimacy differs from our own. 

To have platonic, intimate relationships, we need to be able to be mentally, emotionally, and physically vulnerable with friends and we need to create a space where friends can do the same (reciprocity). If our ideal level of a certain type of intimacy isn’t the same as the level we are experiencing within a friendship, there is a gap. The gap may be shared, or not, since everyone has their own sized intimacy buckets and different experiences.

Harry, who isn’t close with his family, relies on friendship to fill a large portion of his intimacy bucket. With his friend Ron, he may expect to have his bucket filled, but Ron doesn’t always want to talk about the deep stuff, so Harry feels a gap. Ron, whose family is very close and supportive, doesn’t feel a gap because the closeness he shares with Harry combined with his other close relationships is enough to fill his bucket.

If our need for intimacy isn’t being filled by our existing relationships (i.e. if we don’t feel safe being vulnerable or our friends do not reciprocate), we may turn to other strategies (or other friends) for filling our need for intimacy. Not all friends are created equal —-

Not every friend is made to fill every intimacy gap.

While there are ways (listed with each type above and additional tips below) to strengthen intimacy within a given relationship, sometimes through conversation and understanding each other’s needs, we find X person isn’t the right avenue or fit for what we are looking for.

Understanding what strategies you use to fill your bucket and which types of intimacy you are craving will help develop your understanding of your existing friendships. When we look to strengthen our friendships, it is helpful to do so with the need for intimacy in mind.

Communal and Exchange Orientation

Reciprocity: noun
Reciprocity is a relation or state in which two people or groups perform mutual or corresponding actions based on the actions of the other.11

Reciprocity is an important aspect of deep relationships. When friends reciprocate the effort or affection we are putting in, it helps affirm the friendship and create mutual satisfaction. Reciprocity does not always need to be an equal exchange, however, and generally, keeping track of things and bean-counting can add tension to friendships. The differentiation between exchanges being equal or not is called communal vs exchange relationship orientation.12

In exchange relationships, members benefit each other to incur or repay the obligation, quid pro quo. In communal relationships, the basis of benefit is a concern for the other’s welfare.13

In exchange relationships, there is a more “economic” engine. Exchanges are estimated on a scale with a “pay back” quality to favors. Think: “You scratch my back I’ll scratch yours” mentality.

In communal relationships, there isn’t a scale anymore.  It’s gone.  It could be, for sake of comparison, 80/20 and that’s fine.  It’s about clean communication, healthy boundaries (which doesn’t mean equal), and a mutual experience of love/care.

It is possible for communal relationships to have more equal exchanges, however, the focus is not on payback, but rather the needs of each person. Communal relationships lend themselves better to understanding everyone has a different sized bucket. Some people have overflowing buckets that can help fill others, and some are deep wells.

Everyone needs SOMEthing, but not everyone needs the SAME thing.


  • In what ways (types) do you enjoy experiencing intimacy with friends?
  • What types of intimacy have you not explored as much with friends?
  • Can you think of any friends you experience an intimacy gap with (you expect to have intimacy with them but it isn’t always there)?

Evaluate the types of intimacy and how much they show up in your life. For each type, rate your ideal amount (on a scale of 1 – 10) and rate how much you feel you are experiencing currently (on a scale of 1 – 10). Then, subtract the current amount from the ideal amount to get the gap.

Intimacy type Ideal Rating Current Rating Gap

Any gaps greater than 2? Take Action — have a conversation!

So, how do we bridge the gap?


Intimacy type 3 ways to build intimacy (or at least start the conversation) in the next week:
Physical Talk about love languages! You will be able to express your need/desire for touch and are better able to understand the ways they give and receive love. Make up a secret handshake. Playful and satisfying! Initiate/ask for touch (and ask for consent).
“Can I give you a hug?”
“High five!”
Emotional Have a conversation with your friend about emotional intimacy and what intimacy means to each of you:
“I read this article today about emotional intimacy in friendships and it got me thinking…”
“I’d love to get to know you on a deeper level. Emotional intimacy is really important to me in a friendship.”
Be honest about any fear you have:
“I’m feeling nervous about sharing this because I haven’t really spoken about it to anyone.”
“Sometimes I hide my true feelings because I am afraid of losing friends.”
Invite vulnerability from friends:
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“I’m here if you ever want to talk about it.”
“Would you like to get coffee with me and talk?”
“Come over to my place, I’ll make you some tea and we can chat”
Intellectual Share articles, books, podcasts, etc. that you think your friend may find interesting — and let them know why it made you think of them.
“I remembered you were interested in _____, have you listened to _____ podcast?”
Watch thought provoking movies and shows together and talk about them afterward:
The Matrix
V for Vendetta
Black Mirror
There are tons more!
Learn a new skill together:
Foreign language
Spiritual Invite a friend over to spend a special holiday with you or your family. “What do you think is the meaning of life?”
Set the stage for a deeper conversation — they may not be ready to go deep. Ease into it with the Five Levels of Conversation.
Share mindfulness practices
“What are some ways you slow down and practice mindfulness?”
Experiential Learn something new together. Go somewhere neither of you has been. Plan an adventure around a shared interest.
Creative Invite a friend over to cook a meal with you. Play a board game or do a puzzle together. Try a new craft together.

Building Intimacy

For each type of intimacy, name a friend you can think of that you share that type with. Then, choose 3 intimacy types you are interested in expanding and write 3 actionable steps to take to build up intimacy with that friend.

Friendship Assessment

Though ‘assessment’ sounds like a serious and almost clinical phrase to use when talking about friendships, it is rooted in love and care: to step back and assess gives you the perspective you need to improve and grow each of your friendships further.

Robin Dunbar | What Three-Sided Football Tells Us About Friendship

Robin Dunbar is an anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist. He theorized a formula that determines humans have a 150 person limit to the number of people we can hold meaningful relationships with. In this video, he explains some hidden rules of friendship and social networks and how allegiances are formed and broken in something termed ‘triadic closure’.

At the top of this page and on the Types of Friends page, models are presented to assess your social network as a whole. Now, zoom in on specific friendships you are interested in growing and developing.

While intimacy is one metric you can use to define your relationships, another way to look at individual friendships is to ask yourself how satisfied are you with the relationship? Is it positive? Is it trusting?

Where does your friendship fall on the following graph?

With the concept of having friendships that are positive, vulnerable, and consistent in mind, we can categorize social connections using trust and positivity.

Most new friendships will start in the ‘Positive but not trusting’ category since it often takes time to build trust. Some will stay in their zones forever, some will move into different zones.

Note: a friendship with low positivity doesn’t necessarily mean negative. Instead, think of positivity more like the fun/spice/spark within a friendship. A coworker whom you trust to get their portion of the work done but you find boring to hang out with isn’t a negative relationship, but may not be as enjoyable as the coworker you go out for drinks with.

When the feelings associated with a person are positive, supportive and uplifting, we feel good about them and ourselves. Positivity is the sweet stuff that brings the health benefits and spice of life we look for in friendships. No relationship is without the occasional struggle, hardship or complaint but when a relationship is more negative than positive, we are not getting all the benefits we can from the friendship.

Mixtures of Vulnerability, Positivity, and Consistency create varying levels of friendship.

Below is another way of visualizing the mixing of vulnerability, consistency, and positivity within a close relationship. This model was inspired by the Triangular Theory of Love, which is further explained in the Love section of this website.

Con•sum•mate adj.14

  1. Extremely skilled and accomplished
  2. Of the highest degree
  3. Complete in every detail

Consummate Friendship: a friendship of the highest degree.

The mixture of consistency, positivity, and vulnerability, affects how consummate (high quality, fulfilling, and meaningful) the friendship is. Different mixtures are what contribute to varying levels of friends (like in the Circles of Friendship Model)

The three attributes can change over time, leading to friendships developing or weakening (changing levels) throughout the lifespan of the friendship. Recognizing what the mixture is in your relationship at a given point in time can help you see where the potential for growth is.

Hard to visualize?

In the piecharts below, different mixtures of these attributes are shown with summaries of how they could show up in a friendship.

Afterward, each of the extremes of the triangle (dry, speedy, and surface) are explained in further detail with a few levels of each laid out.

Friendship A
50% positivity, 40% Consistency, 10% vulnerability

Nate is your cheerleader at work. You don’t know much about each other outside of work, but at work he is constantly singing your praises and providing affirmations that you are doing a great job. You and Nate usually eat lunch together, share a laugh, and send each other inside jokes throughout the day. You appreciate Nate and without him, you wouldn’t enjoy work quite as much.

Friendship B
20% positivity, 70% Consistency, 10% vulnerability

Charlotte is your sister-in-law. You see her all the time but haven’t made a very deep connection. You feel slightly obligated to be friends with her because she is married to your sibling. She complains to you often and you offer her advice, but she doesn’t tend to take it very often.

Friendship C
40% positivity, 30% Consistency, 30% vulnerability

Tyrone is your best friend. He knows pretty much everything about you, you hang out with him on a regular basis, and you not only enjoy but specifically seek out each other’s company. He is who you would call at 3 AM if you needed something.

Low Positivity = Dry Friendship

A friendship with low positivity doesn’t necessarily mean negative. Instead, think of positivity more like the fun/spice/spark within a friendship. Low positivity usually means “blah” neutrality, but in extreme cases can be hurtful or harmful. When a relationship lacks positivity, it is cranky, whiny, or even manipulative. According to Gottman, healthy relationships need to have a 20:1 ratio of positive to negative experiences.15 In a friendship, it is ok (and inevitable) to whine/complain/experience disappointment occasionally, as long as those interactions are balanced by positive interactions.

Level 1 (Lowest) Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
Manipulative or physically/ mentally harmful. Most interactions center around complaining and gossip. Some interactions center on complaining and there is a serious tone to conversation. Not very much in common, nothing to talk about, boring.

Low Consistency = Speedy or New Friendship

Consistency is how we build trust within our friendships. Without spending much time together, being overly vulnerable could be coming on too strong. We all have needs, and when we need a lot of support for our challenges, a new friendship is likely unskilled in providing support. We need time to get to know our friends, and for them to get to know us. Vulnerability grows as consistency grows. Without the safety of consistency, being too vulnerable may not be received well or be reciprocated.

If you find you need someone to listen and provide support ASAP, speaking to a professional could be beneficial in filling your need, and leave room for you to gradually build vulnerability with new friends.

Level 1 (Lowest) Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
Brand new friendship. Fairly new friendship, haven’t had much time to build depth. Only calls when they need something or are looking for support. Flaky or hard to make plans with.

Low Vulnerability = Surface Level Friendship

We may see some of our friends all the time and have positive interactions with them, but the relationship lacks vulnerability. Feeling comfortable enough in a relationship to be more vulnerable is all about building trust. Sometimes, the relationship has lasted a long time but the level of vulnerability isn’t growing, which may mean a friend is meant to stay as just your pretty good friend (which is great too!).

Level 1 (Lowest) Level 2 Level 3 Level 4
Conversation never goes beyond small talk — like with a neighbor in the elevator. You only see each other with lots of other people around or in a place where you don’t have the opportunity to have a deep conversation (like at work) You have known each other for a long time but do not hang out very often. Now, it may be awkward to ask a get to know you question after all this time. Fear of rejection stops you from expressing vulnerability, and since you are not expressing it, neither is your friend.

Questions to ponder to find your friendship’s mixture

Think of a specific friendship in your life (you can take the quiz multiple times if you have more than one in mind). For this particular friendship, answer each question of the quiz to see your analysis of the mixture of vulnerability, consistency, and positivity in your friendship.

Friendship Inventory

The Friendship inventory is another way of categorizing and visualizing the friends in your life.
Take the time to reflect on your connections to see where you can work to create stronger bonds.

Once you have filled in the inventory, use the below sections to explore certain topics more and find tips for building more depth in relationships:

  • The Five Levels of Conversation: The Social Skills page lays out the five levels (cliches, factual information, ideas and opinions, feelings and needs, and vulnerability) and provides some tips for each level.
  • Random Activity Generator: Need something new to do with old friends? Try a new random activity, hobby, or adventure!
  • Hygge: Hygge is a defining characteristic of Danish culture which essentially means a feeling of coziness, contentment and well-being.
  • Vulnerability: Explained in detail in its own section, vulnerability plays a big role in adding meaning and purpose in life and building strong relationships. See also: Building Vulnerability in a Friendship.
  • Intimacy: The types of intimacy are laid out and tips for building upon each type of intimacy are explained.
  • Building Consistency in a Friendship: Top three tips for building consistency: invest your time, show up, and communicate.
  • Building Positivity in a Friendship: Positivity is the base of relationships. Gratitude, empathy, laughter, play, validation, and affirmation. We want our friendships to feel good and be satisfying.

There Are Two Sides to Every Friendship

It can be easy to assign blame to friends for not being good enough:

They are never available.

They don’t make an effort.

They never return my calls.

They have too many walls up.

It is important to recognize: there are two sides to every friendship:

Them to me

In what ways do their actions affect the friendship?

We can’t control what someone else does, but we can have conversations about connection and make requests to our friends. (When you start the conversation, your judgments of what they do turn into you taking responsibility for the interaction!) 

Conversation starters:

  • “I want to invest more time into our friendship and I am wondering your thoughts on meeting up more often?”
  • “I am needing some time for connection, what are you up to?”
  • “I really want to see you while I’m in town. Can you make that work with your schedule?”

Find more in the intimacy section

Me to them

In what ways do my actions affect the friendship?

Take responsibility for how you show up in the friendship.

Hold curiosity for your friend. Think:

How can you support them?

Express gratitude and appreciation for the effort your friend puts in.

“Thank you so much for sharing that with me, I know it was scary for you to open up.”

Make the time.

“Let me shift some things around because our time together is important to me.”

When we settle for assigning blame to the other person for how the friendship looks, we close the door for building depth.

Take responsibility for your actions and reflect on the kind of friend you want to be for others.

Take the lead on strengthening your bonds and find new ways to connect to keep the spark of friendship bright.


  • We don’t need better friends, we need better friendships.
  • Intimacy is built upon positivity, consistency, and vulnerability.
  • It is ok (and necessary!) to acknowledge our need for intimacy.
  • Everyone has a different need for intimacy and different strategies for filling needs.
  • Building trust in a relationship helps us feel safe in sharing vulnerability and builds depth and understanding between friends.
  • Different mixtures of vulnerability, consistency, and positivity create varying levels of friendship
  • There are two sides to every friendship — take responsibility!

Up Next:

Friendship Friendship: The Gist The Benefits of Friendship Friendship Myths Types of Friends Connection Reflection Looking Inward Nurture Exiting Friendships New Friendships Social Skills Understanding Community Building Community Friendship Practice and Exercises Friendship Resources


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