Acknowledging Our Intimacy Gaps
Though many of us have friends and friendships we care about, we don’t necessarily feel the depth of intimacy we’d like to feel.
Most of us need six to eight times together before we start feeling a rhythm of being together and reach a comfortable familiarity. But it can take years before we might feel we have the frientimacy—friendship intimacy—that we crave.
To realize we’d like more intimacy than we have is to acknowledge we have an intimacy gap.
We didn’t get to this point in a vacuum; there are lots of reasons why many of us feel less connected than we’d like.
It’s important to acknowledge that maintaining intimacy gaps—in essence, sustaining our sense of disconnection—damages us in the long run. One of the best things we can do for ourselves is to deepen the intimacy in our lives.
Committing to Closing Our Intimacy Gaps
It’s important to realize that acknowledging our hunger for greater connection doesn’t create an intimacy gap—it only identifies what already existed.
Acknowledging our gaps creates energy, providing the impetus to make meaningful changes.
In imagining our preferred future, our brains can map out the strategies to lead us to the destination we desire.
We can expect that making changes will trigger insecurities, but that’s all part of the process.
It’s important that we take responsibility for what we bring to each relationship, and know it’s not another’s job to make us feel loved. Love starts with us.
We can be gentle and patient with ourselves as we practice personal growth, acknowledging it will take time.
It’s a myth that there is a “right” person to be one’s BFF. And it’s a truth that friendships don’t start with frientimacy; they are developed.
Frientimacy doesn’t just happen; we have to work at it.
The Way to Intimacy: The Frientimacy Triangle
Frientimacy is any relationship where two people feel really seen in a way that feels satisfying and safe for both of them. To create, foster, and protect our intimacy, we must practice three things: positivity, consistency, and vulnerability.
For us to feel satisfied, we must feel our interaction is rewarding, practicing positivity with each other. And in order to maintain a healthy balance in each relationship, it’s imperative that the positives consistently outnumber the negatives: at a ratio of 5:1.
For us to feel safe, we must feel some level of trust, practicing consistency with each other. Without a sense of growing commitment, we won’t establish the confidence in our friendship that frientimacy requires.
For us to feel seen, we must be willing to reveal ourselves, practicing being vulnerable with each other. But we must also be strategic and thoughtful, ensuring we reveal, share, risk, and disclose in healthy and appropriate ways.
Frientimacy is best built with the three requirements—positivity, consistency, and vulnerability—increasing in tandem. And we do that by identifying, and righting, any frientimacy gaps we encounter.
Identifying the 5 Intimacy Gaps
If frientimacy is a relationship between two people that is positive, consistent, and vulnerable, then it stands that every intimacy gap reflects an imbalance of one or more of those qualities.
Identifying the imbalance can indicate which of the three imbalances we need to develop in our relationship.
Since positivity is the foundation of frientimacy, we risk leaking intimacy if our positivity:negativity ratio isn’t protected.
When we increase our vulnerability faster than we develop our consistency, we can exhaust and overwhelm a friendship.
When we build up history through consistency without matching it with shared vulnerability, our lack of disclosure can limit or damage a friendship.
Note that not all gaps need to be fixed: We don’t need every friend to be a “10” in order to create meaningful community in our lives. Our goal is to grow every friendship we can, as far as we choose or crave, and then to appreciate what we have with each one.
Positivity: Giving and Receiving
When positivity is low, it’s usually because we think we’ve given more than the other person. So it’s crucial to not just “give more”—but to also understand why we feel a lack of equanimity.
It’s important to be aware of the obstacles to productive giving: our limited resources, our fear of being used, our perspective on giving vs. taking—even the particular gifts we choose to give.
We can develop ourselves, our relationships, and our world with generosity: giving to ourselves so we’re not depleted, giving to others in ways that matter to the other, and giving to friendships by learning how to receive.
It is our job to develop our sense of self-worth so we don’t give just to feel needed or valuable. And that means keeping our energy reserves in the healthy zone, offering when we can, and saying “no” when we need to.
Sometimes the “fault” in a giving imbalance doesn’t derive from our friends’ not giving, but from our not taking. This can happen when we fail to advertise that we need, or when we fail to specify what we need.
We will feel happier when we look for—and find—the qualities we appreciate in our friends.
Consistency: Building Trust
It’s social factors that have the strongest impact on our happiness: being married, having friends, the size and quality of our network, our involvement in social organizations, and our participation in societal institutions.
To receive the meaningful benefits that belonging can have in your life, friendship has to be a rock that you schedule the rest of your life around.
We can’t reach depth with our friends if we only dedicate an hour a month to them. The gift of time is the currency of intimacy.
Letting go of the need to categorize every person as either “all” or “nothing” reminds us that each encounter can be meaningful, and each might lead to more depth.
The willingness of our friends to initiate is in no way a reflection of us—it’s a reflection of them.
It’s in prioritizing a few women—staying in touch and ensuring we’re consistently dedicating time to them—that we move some friends toward frientimacy.
Vulnerability: Deepening Meaning
In a friendship, healthy vulnerability is any action where we’re willing to relax our need to protect ourselves from our insecurities.
If vulnerability is the risk of letting others see us, we have to first know who that “us” is.
Every relationship develops a pattern of what’s normal, so it will feel vulnerable to initiate new or more frequent activities or bring up previously undiscussed topics. But these acts of vulnerability are crucial to expanding the territory your friendship covers and broadening the way you interact with each other.
Talking about our relationships is as important as having relationships. One of the best gifts we can give our relationships is the commitment to learn and practice new communication skills.
One of the most undervalued acts of vulnerability is supporting each other’s success in this world.
Like anchors, when we practice sharing the hard things, we end up grounding and rooting our friendship in the most important aspects of our lives.
We can deepen our intimacy with friends in mutual, incremental, and consistent ways by simultaneously engaging in new activities, expanding our communication, shining in front of each other, and sharing shame and insecurity.
Leaning In to Intimacy
Anytime there is a fight, an unmet need, a slow-boiling frustration, or a repeated judgment in one of our friendships, we have the sacred opportunity to try to repair it, develop it, enhance it, and grow it—before we end it.
If our goal is to become people who make a difference in this world, then we are called upon to engage with each other and build our emotional muscles.
Once we understand just how relationships mature, and that it’s only through conflict that we can move into true intimacy, we can see that conflict isn’t just not to be avoided—it’s to be expected, even welcomed.
We can work to heal rifts and deepen intimacy in our friendships by expressing love, validating feelings, removing blame, and requesting willingness.
Though not all friendships can be saved, ideally with every relationship we practice taking initiative and taking responsibility, all with honesty and heart.