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

Nur·ture /ˈnərCHər/

Care for and encourage the growth or development of.

The process of caring for and encouraging the growth or development of someone or something.1

“Be slow to fall into friendship; but when thou art in, continue firm and constant. “ – Socrates

We nurture friendships with positivity, time, and vulnerability, which leads to us feeling seen, safe, and satisfied within the relationship.

According to Bronnie Ware, author of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, not maintaining friendships is among people’s biggest regrets at the end of their life.2

The magic of friendship (as well as the researched benefits) comes from the time and nourishment put into them. Looking at existing friendships with new intentions can help strengthen and deepen the ties around you.

We Asked People To Call Their Long Lost Friends

Jubilee surprises four participants by asking them to call their best friend that they have fallen out of contact with. While the reasons for falling out differ, the participants show sadness for the connections that they have lost.

Friendships Need Maintenance to Develop and Grow

“Friendship is a plant of slow growth and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.” – George Washington

When you look around your friendship greenhouse, are you nurturing your plants?

Two Approaches to Friendship:

The Harp Seal Method

Harp seal mothers work hard and leave before the work is finished. After giving birth, the seals nurture their pups tirelessly for twelve days, not even taking the time to eat. Then, after 12 days, the mothers abandon the pups to live on their own. The pups are not able to swim (and therefore not able to hunt for food) for another 6 weeks. While there are several animal species who abandon their young after maturity, harp seals abandon their young before they are fully grown. 30% of harp seal pups die in the first year of life.3

Letting a friendship survive on its own leaves things up to chance and could lead to that friendship not surviving.


The Houseplant Method

Houseplants can live for a long time if given the proper amount of nutrients, water, and sunlight. While these plants may be able to live outside without human interaction, stuck in a pot inside a home, they need help to survive. If neglected, they will die. While there is no guarantee they will survive, they have a much better chance of surviving if given nourishment and room to grow.

Friendships that are taken care of and maintained leave less up to chance. Check-ins, visits, and positive experiences all contribute to the health of the friendship as time passes. Nurtured friendships have a better chance of survival.

Think of friendships like plants. You can read books about them and you can think about them and hope they thrive, but if you don’t actually do anything to it, the plant will die. Friendships need to be nurtured and maintained to have deep and meaningful connections. If you gave every plant the same amount of light and water and the same sized pot, not all of them would survive. Friendships are similar. Social networks are made up of several different types of friends, each needing a different level of maintenance or nurturing.

Use the ideas on this page to show someone they are loved and valued and remember to water your friendships.

Taking time to first reflect on your connections to get to know each of your friends and what the relationship might need will be helpful going forward and discovering how to nurture deeper connections.

The goal is not to achieve some description of a perfect friendship and then stop because you got it, the goal is to continue growing, learning, and finding fulfillment through connection and intimacy.

Aristotle believed relationships based on profit or pleasure tend to be short-lived and surface level, while relationships where the partners appreciate each other’s values to be the perfect friendships.4

“Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies.” – Aristotle

Aristotle theorized a perfect friendship needed 3 things to develop:

  1. Affection based on the other’s goodness, usefulness, or pleasantness.
  2. Expression of affection through good wishes or favors and reciprocation from the other person.
  3. Recognition of a continued exchange of affection, reciprocity, and actions.4

Positivity, vulnerability, and consistency continue to be the aspects needed to develop deep and meaningful friendships.

Whether you want to strengthen an already wonderful friendship or repair a fractured one, there is always something more we can do to nurture and improve our relationships.

Even the best of friends may need to think of something new to do or reassess how they show up for each other. The most powerful thing you can do for a friend is commit to putting in the work to nurture your friendship. Exploring ways to expand on positivity, consistency, and vulnerability will help any friendship grow and develop.

“Love and friendship does change us, and can elevate us toward our highest potential.” – Kahlil Gibran

Self Love

One of the most important steps before trying to improve or strengthen any relationship is to examine yourself and find acceptance for who you are.

If I am the longest relationship of my life
Isn’t it time to nurture intimacy
And love
With the person
I lie in bed with each night

Rupi Kaur

Self-Compassion: When we are kind and caring to ourselves, as if to a close friend, especially during times of suffering, failure, or perceived inadequacy.

Self Friendship: ​​It can appear easier to be friends with oneself when things are going as you had hoped: You get the job you applied for, you give birth to a healthy child, or you have a supportive community in your life.

It can be harder to be friends with oneself when things aren’t going as you’d hoped. Instead of blaming or abandoning yourself, you have the choice to turn toward yourself with kindness.

Practice: Placing Self-Friendship

Take a moment to consider an area in your life where you could practice more unconditional friendship with yourself.

Meaning, no matter your level of performance, you can practice loving yourself through it.

This act is not about checking out from tracking your growth or holding yourself accountable. This practice is about holding yourself like you hold your best friend when things aren’t feeling as joyful as they’d like them to feel.

Finding Compassion for Yourself Can Help Strengthen Your Friendships by:

  • Laying your stress and baggage on the table.
    Naming stressors for yourself can help with your ability to be vulnerable with friends. When you have already worked through things in your head and found acceptance for yourself, it can feel less scary to say things out loud to friends.
  • Practicing compassion
    Self empathy is often harder than empathizing with others because we are hard on ourselves. If you can find compassion for yourself, having compassion for friends will be a breeze.
  • Building confidence
    To love oneself takes a great deal of confidence. Confidence carries authenticity, which is a huge factor in friendships. We want friends who are genuine and take ownership of being themselves.

“If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else?” – RuPaul

Looking for more on self-love?
Explore the Looking Inward page of Friendship and the Self Love section for more.

Build Positivity


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

Building positivity encourages a step away from complaining, gossip, and bland-ness and encourages laughter, compassion, and fun.

“Mutual caring relationships require kindness and patience, tolerance, optimism, joy in the other’s achievements, confidence in oneself, and the ability to give without undue thought of gain.” 

– Fred Rogers (Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood)

For children, play is a fundamental aspect of building relationships. Play encourages laughter, shares common interests and values, and creates joyful moments and memories. Play supports creative and experiential intimacy in relationships.

Whether doing a hobby you both enjoy or trying out a new board game, playing with friends builds positivity within the relationship AND has several researched benefits for adults like community bonding, improving cognitive function, and an increase in serotonin.5

Read more about play in the larger section: PLAY

Four Ways to Find Play with Friends This Week:

  • Go someplace fun and pretend you’re kids
    Trampoline park, water park, amusement park, pumpkin patch/corn maze, zoo



“I will not play at tug o’ war.

I’d rather play at hug o’ war,

Where everyone hugs

Instead of tugs,

Where everyone giggles

And rolls on the rug,

Where everyone kisses,

And everyone grins,

And everyone cuddles,

And everyone wins”


Friends cheer us on, encourage us, celebrate successes, support us, and believe in us. Showing affection through celebrations gives our friends affirmation we care about them and their successes.

International Friendship Day (usually on July 30th or the first Sunday in August depending on the country) encourages friends to connect and celebrate each other.

Four Ways to Celebrate a Friend This Week:

  • Congratulate a friend on a milestone (big or small): getting a promotion, finishing a project, making a sale, going on a date, submitting their taxes, etc.
  • Cheer on a friend while they do something: Meet them at the end of the race, go to their award ceremony, encourage them at the gym, be their “hype man” when you go out.
  • Send your friend a thoughtful gift: something that reminds them of you, a handwritten note, a funny meme inside joke, etc.
  • Compliment them, express gratitude, and affirm their effort/work.

Leslie Knope (Parks and Recreation) — a Fictional Representation of a Celebratory Friend:

Leslie is always there for her BFF Ann (and all her friends) in the tough times, and she celebrates every small moment with an overzealous amount of enthusiasm.

“Your circle should want to see you win. Your circle should clap loudly when you have good news. If not, get a new circle.”

– Wesley Snipes

Choose Curiosity, Empathy, and Compassion

Part of maintaining positivity in a relationship is consciously choosing how we react in certain situations. Empathy is the ability to understand and share feelings of another person. Compassion is “the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering6.”

There is no such thing as an infallible human, we all get things wrong some of the time, and so do our friends! We all have the choice to get angry or frustrated, and by holding curiosity, we get to choose empathy and compassion too.

Situation Reaction without curiosity, empathy, and compassion Reaction with curiosity, empathy, and compassion
Friend canceled plans at the last minute. Ugh! They always flake! I should really find some better friends who actually prioritize my time. I’m disappointed our plans didn’t work out, and I wonder if everything is ok with them?
Friend shares a secret you told them. What a backstabbing hypocrite! I’m going to share secrets I know to get even! Wow. I am mortified and feeling a bit lost on where our friendship stands. I wonder if they knew how important that was to me?
Friends make plans with others and don’t invite you. I always knew they liked those other friends more than me, and this proves it! I guess they aren’t very good friends after all. I’m feeling jealous they are having a good time tonight. I would like to get to know their other friends a bit more so they feel comfortable with us all hanging out.

**Choosing empathy and compassion doesn’t mean we become content when things do not go as expected. Instead, use self-empathy to identify your own feelings and needs (I’m disappointed our plans didn’t work out). Having empathy for yourself also helps create a space for understanding and compassion as you will be able to express yourself as well.

Patience and resilience can be invaluable tools in the world of friendship. We are all living very different lives, and sometimes our expectations of others can lead to disappointment. By practicing patience with yourselves and others, you are able to see: you and your friends are human, and you all express love, affection, friendship, frustration and so much more in different ways. Try to consider others’ perspectives and how they are trying to be the best version of themselves.

When things don’t go exactly as planned or desired in a relationship, humility and resilience can give you a path to learn and grow, instead of relying on anger or resentment. When we look at an interaction as a lesson in which we learn more about ourselves and others, the results can only aid us in our personal and relational journey. Allow your friendships to have an impact on you, and even change parts of you that you are willing to.

If you are unhappy about something to do with the friendship, keeping it to yourself is much less likely to result in change than if you are willing to share and explore how to improve things together. Honesty and feedback in a friendship let you address things without the buildup and bottling of emotions— which can often come out in ways we live to regret.

When we choose to react with curiosity, empathy, and compassion, we turn a potentially negative or angry interaction into one of love. Constructive communication and reactions contribute to the overall health and positive feelings of a relationship.


The world is full of complain-worthy things, and we all have something to complain about at some point. However, no one wants a friendship based around negativity. We want to feel refreshed and happy when we spend time with friends. Listening to people complain or moan exclusively can be draining, and is much more likely to damage relationships than strengthen them. According to Gottman, healthy relationships need to have a 20:1 ratio of positive to negative experiences.7 In a friendship, it is ok (and inevitable) to whine/complain/experience disappointment, as long as those interactions are balanced by 20 positive interactions.

Being critical is counterproductive without curiosity, compassion, and action. If you complain about something and have the power to change things, then you can move into strategy and create instead of complaining. Turn judgment into curiosity when complaining arises. Ask questions to understand the feelings behind the complaint, and use the power of empathy to acknowledge why it is important.

If it seems like you have one friend where all you do together is sit and complain, mix it up! Try something new like taking a cooking class together or going for a walk or going to the gym. Creating more positive interactions will open the door for deeper conversations down the road.

Things to do instead of complaining:

  • Take Action — Instead of complaining about cars speeding in your neighborhood, take action and commission a stop sign to be put in. Turn your complaints into good.
  • Practice Gratitude — When all we think about is the bad, it is easy to lose focus on all the great things in life. Express to a friend what you are grateful for or start a gratitude journal.
  • Praise Successes — When you see that friend you love to complain to, shift your mindset and talk about things that are going well instead. You’ll both feel better.
  • 100% Responsibility Hard rock vs. soft ass.
  • Find Play or do Something Fun — Spontaneity can refresh a situation, too hot outside? Try a spontaneous trip to the beach!
  • Self-Care — Sometimes when we complain, it is an indicator that our needs are not being met. It’s ok to ask a friend to reschedule so you can take some time for self-care. Meditation also allows us to take some time, decompress, and relax.
  • See a Therapist —Everyone needs to vent, and if you are continually venting to friends, try seeking professional help. You’ll be able to have more positive interactions with friends and may get better, professional advice to help you.

“Instead of complaining that the rose bush is full of thorns, be happy the thorn bush has roses.”


Check out our sections on these topics to learn more in detail:

Build 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.

Invest Your Time.

The most valuable thing you have to offer in the world is your time, and time is one of the most important building blocks of any relationship. Building consistency requires us to invest more time into relationships.

Busyness is consistently listed as a top reason when people are asked why friendships are hard to maintain. People often choose not to prioritize friendships over family, jobs, and dating.

The Time You Have (In JellyBeans)

A pile of jelly beans is used to visually represent a human life. Every jelly bean is equivalent to a single day.

How many jellybeans would you devote to friends if given the choice?

Five Ways to Invest More Time into Friendships:

  • Set aside a special time each week: your own personal time set aside to reach out to friends, connect, and make plans. Could be 20 minutes before bed or during your lunch break. Work it into your schedule so it feels easy.
  • Take charge of making plans: If you are waiting for random invitations, you are missing connection opportunities you could have been initiating yourself.
  • Set up recurring plans: instead of thinking of something new to do each meeting, set up recurring plans: could be a standing “date” with friends like a Wednesday wine night or yoga class you all attend and get dinner afterward.
  • Double Dip: things that take time away from connection and make us “busy” can double as time spent connecting if used with intention. Make friends at work, invite a friend to work out with you, call a friend while you make dinner, invite a friend to shop with you, etc. Use things you have to do to build consistency in your friendships.
  • Take the time to swap calendars with a friend and find a time that works, even if it’s a month or two out. Hold yourself accountable for making sure your plans stay planned!

A huge factor in building consistency is actually following through with plans.

Instead of “We should totally hang out sometime” try: “When are you next free? Let’s set up a time now so we actually make it happen!”

Looking for More?

Lifelong Friends

What is the difference between two people who have been friends for 40 years and two people who have been friends for 1 year? Time. And, it is quite possible to have a “lifelong friend” feeling in a one-year friendship if the quality of time spent together has been deep and fulfilling.

Consistency is not just about hours clocked in, but quality time invested into intentionally deepening and strengthening the bond.

Oprah and Gayle Reflect on How They’ve Remained Best Friends for 45 Years—and Counting

  • “One of the main reasons we’ve remained friends…Surround yourself with somebody who is as happy for your happiness as you are for your happiness.”
  • “I think it’s lasted all these years because we are very similar…similar in life philosophies”
  • “In order to have really great friends, you’ve gotta have really great trust”
  • “First and foremost you’ve gotta be happy with yourself — you need friends who are happy in their own lives so they can be authentically happy for you”
  • “Friends who tell you the truth.”

Friendships can be Long Term and Long-Distance:

Jill and Cathy have been friends for over 70 years, and live 10,000 miles apart. The friendship started when they became penpals at age 12. Jill is from Australia and Cathy is from Scotland, the two have been sharing letters their whole lives and feel like they are family, even though they have only met in person 3 times. Read the full article here.

Show Up

Opportunities will arise in every relationship where you get to be there for someone else, whether in a supportive role, a celebration, or simply talking about your week over coffee. Know that your presence and being there for someone else can mean the world to them.

Carlsberg puts Friends to the Test

A commercial for Carlsberg, a Danish beer, asks people to call their friends because they are in trouble, then rewards the friends with beer when they show up.

“Showing up” for friends builds trust, which at its core is what the consistency aspect boils down to.

Showing up Can Begin a New Friendship

When Sammy was in college, she broke her ankle during a skating party at a local roller rink. Everyone at the party was really supportive when she fell down and someone she didn’t know gave her a lift to the hospital and dropped her off. By the time she was finished at the hospital, it was 1:00 AM. She had no idea who to call. Not only were most of her closest friends probably asleep, but none of them had cars. Thinking it was a long shot, she called Lucia, a friend from her biology class that she knew had a car. They didn’t know each other that well, but they had studied together a few times. Lucia was asleep but happened to wake up and pick up the phone. She came and picked Sammy up right away, took her to the 24-hr pharmacy to get her pain medication, and offered to drive Sammy to her follow-up appointment in a few weeks. Lucia ended up being instrumental in Sammy’s recovery and ability to keep up with school, and the two are still very close friends 10 years later.

Showing up can take on several different forms, depending on your level of friendship and the type of friend you are. After exploring more about types of friends and the type of friend you are, choose some ways you would be able to show up for friends in the near future:

Be present put your phone away while they are talking, engage in conversations, and enjoy moments together Say YES to plans and adventures Let them know they can call you in an emergency.
Celebrate things with them (see celebrate section above) Make things special — go all-in on a costume for their themed party, make signs Answer and show up if they call you in an emergency
Help them: moving, painting, baby/house sitting, etc. Go with them to things they are nervous about like a doctor’s appointment Dress up — costume, fancy clothes, sports gear, etc.. go all in.
Let them talk while you listen Make a silly sign for an “event” Be their designated driver home from a special night.
Practice things with them Buy into their ideas Offer them a place to stay if they need

Practice Date – Parks and Recreation

In this episode of Parks and Recreation, Ann shows up for her friend Leslie and lends her a dress for a date and then practices the date to help Leslie feel more comfortable.

Thai Ads: A Story of Friendship and Hope

In a heartwarming Thai advertisement, friends show up to see a friend in the hospital after an accident.

A Tale Of Two Funerals

-From Teen Mentor Jeffrey Leiken

Funeral #1: A Girl & Her Friends Who Showed Up

A girl from California was going to school in Arizona at the time, and no less than 6 of her friends from high school and college flew in from around the country to be with her at the funeral, and many more from the local community were there. She was surrounded by a lot of amazing, loyal friends who went over and above to support her, even at great expense and inconvenience to travel last minute.

I went to the funeral too. While it was appreciated by her and her father, my being there wasn’t as critical in that moment as she had so many friends there too.

Funeral #2: A Boy & His Friends Who Didn’t

The boy shared the news of his father’s death with his closest group of high school and college friends. This included a group of boys he spent pretty much every weekend of high school hanging out with.

Not a one… Not a damn single one of them made the effort to show up for him and be at the funeral… He went to college just a few hours drive from home and not even a single one of his college friends showed up either.

His friends from high school were spread out around the country, some in other parts of the state others on the opposite coast… While it would be inconvenient to travel last minute, they all came from families who could have afforded the ticket…

But they didn’t show up for him for his dad’s funeral.

I did. It was me as the lone person there for the son. Aside from family, the rest of the people who were there were (no surprise – there is a trend here right?) friends of his sisters, and then friends and colleagues of his parents.

One of the boy’s high school friends told me “He told us not to keep talking to him about it… that he was fine.”

My response was:

“There’s a point in friendship where you override what a person says they want, and instead you give them what they Need… You know as well as I do that he was just pushing away the feelings of how hard this is and telling you guys he is fine even though he’s going through one of the toughest things anyone will ever face… In my opinion, you get on the damn airplane and you show up…. In this case, it’s not about what you say. It’s about what you do!”

Funerals are always sad… but knowing he had no friends who showed up to be there the day they buried his father, to me, was the worst of all.

The worst of all because in the decades I’ve been doing this, I’ve recognized by not having deep connecting friendships we don’t learn to process emotions, work through things or build our capacity to truly be there for others. This makes adulthood exponentially more difficult, less enjoyable and leads to more cynicism and self-destructive behavior.

Anyone can show up when it is easy.

But a real true friend is the one who shows up when it’s not easy.


Whether you live next door to your friend, or on the other side of the world, regular communication makes all the difference in your friendships. Research says to build strong friendships, we need to check in every 2 weeks at least, and reciprocate the friend’s efforts to communicate.8

Meaningful conversation doesn’t have to be dire: catching up and joking around are especially effective at bringing us closer together.9

There really is no substitute for hanging out with friends in person, but for some of us that’s not possible. The technological strides made in the last century mean we can stay in constant communication with the people we care about. In between the memes and texts, make time for phone and video calls and connect with someone on a more personal level. Also, try to find new ways to have meaningful communication and interactions with friends—

  • Handwritten Letters/Notes
  • Handmade/Meaningful gifts
  • Create (or recreate) traditions & rituals
  • Travel together
  • Regular meetings (virtual or in-person)
  • Express gratitude
  • Enrich your conversations and talk about the tough stuff — see vulnerability below

10 Letter Writing Prompts for Friends:

  1. Describe your first or favorite memory with them.
  2. Express gratitude or describe why you are proud of them.
  3. Write a fictional short story with them as the main character.
  4. Write them a poem — a funny limerick, and acrostic, or a haiku with an inside joke.
  5. Draw a portrait or picture of them (or color something that reminds you of them).
  6. Create your own word search or crossword puzzle using words to describe them or your friendship.
  7. Re-write song lyrics to be about them.
  8. Create a bucket list for the two of you to do together.
  9. Draw a commit strip of a funny story/experience you had together

Send a postcard — there are even apps to help you create a postcard and then they will mail it for you!

Conversation Starters

For tons of tips on conversations and starter questions, explore the following links—

How Our Friendship Survives Our Opposing Politics

Caitlin Quattromani and Lauran Arledge present their differing views in their TedTalk. The key? Genuine dialogue. “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.”

The TED talk above outlines what open dialogue can mean to a friendship. The presenters advise us to “choose dialogue over debate.”

Part of communicating with friends also means sometimes having tough conversations. With curiosity, honesty, and open dialogue, ‘conflicts’ do not have to turn into fights, and instead can be avenues to vulnerability and more connection.

For More on Tough Conversations, Explore:

Build Vulnerability

Sharing dreams, successes, failures, and expressing feelings and needs, and then reciprocating empathy to our friends helps us feel seen and closer to friends.

Find TONS more in the larger Vulnerability section

“Ultimately the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is conversation.” – Oscar Wilde

The Importance of Vulnerability in Friendship

The School of Life Youtube channel explains the importance of sharing vulnerability in friendship.

Key Takeaways:

  • There are moments when the revelation of weakness is the only possible route to connection and respect.
  • These revelations may serve to endear us to companions, humanizing us in their eyes and letting them feel their own vulnerabilities have echoes in the lives of others.
  • Vulnerability can be a bedrock of friendship.
  • Good vulnerability doesn’t expect another person to solve all our difficulties.
  • It is upon the sharing of vulnerability that true friendship and love can arise.

“The dynamic of friendship is almost always underestimated as a constant force in human life: a diminishing circle of friends is the first terrible diagnostic of a life in deep trouble: of overwork, of too much emphasis on professional identity, of forgetting who will be there when our armored personalities run into the inevitable natural disasters and vulnerabilities found in even the most average existence. But no matter the medicinal virtues of being a true friend or sustaining a long close relationship with another, the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self; the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.”

David Whyte

Without vulnerability, a friendship will hit a glass ceiling and be unable to move into a deeper and higher quality connection. Some friendships remain surface level, which is fine! We need a mixture of types of friends in our lives to fill out our social circle. With friends in our inner circle, vulnerability is key to maintaining a quality connection.

According to Bronnie Ware, author of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, not maintaining friendships is among people’s biggest regrets at the end of their life2. When your time is up, will you regret a small amount of uncomfortability that comes with sharing your opinion and feelings, or will you regret stunting the growth of a friendship from lack of intimacy and vulnerability and not having the deep connections you crave?

Not quite ready for the “share all your secrets” level with a friend? Ease into it with:

The Five Levels of Conversation.

The five levels of conversation can act as a guide to know how much to share. Sometimes in friendships, people can be scared to share because they don’t want to scare the other person away or be a burden or undesirable in some way. Jumping from “How’s the weather” to “I struggle to feel like I’m ever good enough” seems like a huge risk if we don’t know how the other person will react.

Generally, when asked a level 1 question, people expect a level 1 response. To give a level 4 response may be overwhelming to the other person. Inversely, if asked a level 4 question deeper into the relationship, the other person would expect a level 4 response. Reciprocating the level of depth the other is putting out will allow a deeper connection.

As you build consistency within the friendship, trust is building, and the conversations will naturally go through the levels listed below. Some friendships won’t reach level 4 or 5, which is normal.

Level 1: Surface Level Clichés
Level 1 is the shallow level of conversation you can have with anyone. The “small talk.” Nothing personal is shared and pleasantries are exchanged.

Level 1 Questions
“How are you?”
“What do you have planned for today?”
“Beautiful weather today, isn’t it?”

Level 1 Responses
“I am well, thanks, and you?”
“I am running some errands”
“The weather is so nice today!”

Level 2: Factual
Level 2 shares information — what the camera sees. Information you wouldn’t necessarily share with the grocery store clerk but in a longer conversation would be the first few things to share. Facts are necessary for communication but do not necessarily build deep connections.

Level 2 Questions

“What do you do for a living?”
“Where are you from?”
“Do you have kids?”

Level 2 Responses

“I work at the bank.”
“I grew up in France.”
“Yes, I have 3 children.”

Level 3: Sharing Ideas and Opinions
Ideas and opinions share a bit more about us, how we experience the world, and what we are thinking. There starts to be slightly more risk with level 3 because the person you are talking to may or may not agree with your opinions. Level 3 gets deeper into who are you? Going beyond occupation and hometown.

Level 3 Questions
“Would you like to grab drinks sometime?”
“What do you think about the city?”
“ Why don’t we hang out at the beach today?”
Level 3 Responses
“I would rather go out for coffee than to a bar”
“I enjoy living here — the city has too many people for me”
“I don’t really like the beach, can we go for a hike instead?”

Level 4: Sharing Feelings and Needs
Sharing feelings and needs can be vulnerable and out of the comfort zone.

Level 4 Questions
“You seem upset, what’s coming up?”
“What are you needing right now?”
Level 4 Responses
“I am feeling lonely.”
“I need play and to have some fun”
“I love you”

Level 5: Vulnerability and Truthfulness
Vulnerability and truthfulness are essentially sharing feelings and needs, but on a deeper level than Level 4. Level 5 builds intimacy. When we share things about us few people know, it can be scary, and it can build deep connections as well.

Level 5 Statements
“I am feeling sad and need reassurance that I am doing well”
“I am struggling to keep my head above water and could really use some support”
“What you are going through must be really hard. I can’t imagine. Know that I am there for you if you need anything.”

Top 5 Tips for Embracing Vulnerability

In the book Frientimacy, author Shasta Nelson lays out 5 practices for embracing vulnerability:10

    1. Know yourself to share yourself— See Looking Inward and Self-Love for more
    2. Initiate new activities — Take a risk and try something new — and be the one to suggest it! For ideas, explore the random activity generator and the megalist of things to do and where to meet people.
  • Expand your conversations — Levels 3, 4, and 5 of the five levels of conversation is where vulnerability and connection really start to grow. For more tips on conversation, see the social skills page or the conversation starters linked in the section above.
  • Shine in front of each other Celebrate each other and create a space where sharing successes is natural and encouraged
  • Share shame and insecurity —Share the good news and the bad and show empathy for the other person when they share something too.

** Bonus tip: LISTEN

Listening is as important as sharing when embracing vulnerability! Sharing to a brick wall doesn’t build trust or connection, it cuts it off.

Explore the science of listening and tons of tips and strategies: Listening


Friendship & Vulnerability

School of Life Youtube channel explains there is something at the heart of friendships that seems important to identify and in a way get good at: vulnerability.

Shasta Nelson TEDx — Frientimacy: The 3 Requirements of All Healthy Friendships

Our world is getting better at connecting us, and yet we report feeling more disconnected than ever. The issue is loneliness. The solution is understanding the three requirements of a relationship that lead to belonging and intimacy. Shasta Nelson is passionate about all things friendship. As founder and CEO of, a female-friendship learning community, she speaks and writes regularly on friendship. More videos from Shasta Nelson: Shasta Nelson | Videos

Brené Brown: The Biggest Myth About Vulnerability | Inc. Magazine

Brene Brown, vulnerability expert, shares her thoughts. The biggest myth about vulnerability is it’s weakness. Actually, what Brown’s research discovered is that vulnerability is our greatest measure of courage.

Hunger Games Teaches Friendship

This clip from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire shows Peeta, the compassionate male lead, explaining vulnerability in a friendship to Katniss, the tough heroine. “See, Katniss, the way the whole friend thing works is you have to tell each other the ‘deep’ stuff.”

Explore More:

Ideas and Inspiration

The following sections provide examples of activities and day-to-day habits which can foster closer relationships, along with some inspiration sources for what friendships can mean for someone. They won’t work for all folks but can be a starting off point.

Build Positivity, Consistency, and Vulnerability



  • Set aside special time each week
  • Take charge of making plans
  • Set up recurring plans
  • Double Dip
  • Send Handwritten Letters/Notes

– Describe your first or favorite memory with them.
-Express gratitude or describe why you are proud of them.
-Write a fictional short story with them as the main character.
-Write them a poem — a funny limerick, and acrostic, or a haiku with an inside joke.
-Draw a portrait or picture of them (or color something that reminds you of them).
-Create your own word search or crossword puzzle using words that describe them or your friendship.
-Re-write song lyrics to be about them.
-Create a bucket list for the two of you to do together.
-Draw a commit strip of a funny story/experience you had together
-Send a postcard — there are even apps that help you create a postcard and then will mail it for you!

  • Create (or recreate) traditions & rituals
  • Travel together


  • Express gratitude
  • Enrich your conversations and talk about the tough stuff
  • Be honest about any fear you have:

“I’m feeling nervous about sharing this because I haven’t really spoken about it to anyone.”

  • Invite vulnerability from friends:

“I’m here if you ever want to talk about it.”

  • Conversation starters

Social Skills

Build Intimacy

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, and they may not be the person that fills this need if they never get there.
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.

More Ideas for Things to do with Friends

See even more on The Megalist of Activities


  • Send each other handwritten letters/notes
  • Make each other handmade/meaningful gifts
  • Express gratitude
  • Enrich your conversations and talk about the tough stuff
  • Attend a lecture by an unfamiliar speaker on an unusual topic at an unfamiliar place
  • Go to an exhibit for an unfamiliar artist
  • Play a new Board Game together
  • Go See a new play or musician together
  • Make your own Pub Trivia Team and play
  • Do a scavenger Hunt together (find an online scavenger hunt for your city)
  • Try a new off the wall hobby together like Bird Watching


  • Take a dance class that none of you have tried before, e.g. Afrobeat, Bhangra, Pole, Zydeco
  • Volunteer together to help an organization that none of you are familiar with
  • Travel
  • Go to an amusement park you’ve never been to (Like Holiday World)
  • Go for a morning Hike to see the Sunrise
  • Do a high intensity activity like skydiving, zip lining, or paintballing
  • Geocaching
  • Do a themed 5k or Fun Run race.
  • Go to a Trampoline Park and act like kids
  • Search “Things to do in ____” and do one of the tourist-y things you haven’t done.

Unconventional / Wacky

  • Take the strangest cooking class you can find
  • Go to an art class or workshop that’s new for all of you, like pinhole camera making, ceramics, puppet-making, screen-printing, or glass blowing
  • Be a spectator at a game that none of you is familiar with
  • Go to a meetup for something you’ve never heard of
  • Get off the train somewhere you’ve never been and take a neighborhood discovery walk
  • Go to a concert for a band none of you has ever seen live before
  • Visit a music shop and play around on unusual instruments
  • Go to a protest or demonstration
  • Go to an Ax Throwing or Archery Range
  • Go to this website: Atlas Obscura and find a unique place to explore in your city


Ben Rector – Old Friends

Vitamin C-Friends Forever

Saved By The Bell – Friends Forever

Brent Ogden – Best Friends Forever

LSD – No New Friends

Kenny Rogers – You Can’t Make Old Friends (Duet with Dolly Parton)

Coldplay – Old Friends

Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Ray Price – Old Friends

Orla Gartland – New Friends

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

Up Next:


  1. Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Nurture. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved October 17, 2021, from
  2. Ware, B. (2012). The top five regrets of dying: A life transformed by the dearly departing. Australia: Hay House.
  3. Bailer, K. (2019, October 10). The effects of sea ice loss on Harp Seals. ScienceBuzz. Retrieved October 17, 2021, from
  4. Schollmeier, P. (1995, March 31). An Aristotelian Definition of Friendship. The Open Repository at Binghamton. Retrieved October 17, 2021, from
  5. Yenigun, S. (2014, August 6). Play doesn’t end with childhood: Why adults need recess too. NPR. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from
  6. University of California, Berkeley. (2019). Compassion definition: What is compassion. Greater Good Science Center. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from
  7. Benson, K. (2019, September 11). The Magic Relationship Ratio, According to Science. Retrieved November 08, 2020, from
  8. Nizza, M. (2008). A Simple B.F.F. Strategy, Confirmed by Scientists. The New York Times. Retrieved 2020, from®ister=google
  9. Latson, J. (2021, February). The New Social Orbits. Psychology Today, January/February 2021, 52–60.
  10. Nelson, S. (2016). Frientimacy: How to deepen friendships for lifelong health and happiness. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press. Print.