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The Deep End

What types of friendships do you have? Do the friendships you value the most leave you full of life and encouraged? If so, why is that? And if not, why are your friendships not meeting your expectations? Let’s examine what makes a friendship meaningful and how to turn a good friendship into a great and memorable one.

Before we dive into what makes a deep and meaningful friendship, I want to make a disclaimer. If you are looking for friends in order to find meaning in your life, you won’t succeed. Friendships will make the joyful moments better, and the painful moments more bearable, but they will not fulfill you completely. What friendships can do though is help guide you to that place where true fulfillment is found.

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What are the ingredients that make a good friendship?

There are many types of friends. There’s the childhood friend, the college roommate friend, the mentor friend, the work friend and many more. Friendships will come and go during your lifetime. A friendship in kindergarten looks much different from a friendship in your 20s and 30s. As you discover more about yourself, you’ll also discover what you value in friendships. When you get to know yourself better, you’ll find that you know your friends better also.

No matter the friendship type, a friendship becomes a deep one when you begin to form trust. If you don’t trust someone, there isn’t a reason to share the deep things of your life and vice versa. So to enter into a deep friendship, you must first establish a mutual trust. Mutual trust can be formed through shared values and experiences over time. Oftentimes, this can be established by first finding common ground. Once there is a mutual trust, then the friendship can go deeper.

Deep friendships require vulnerability. You can still be friends on the surface (share fashion tips, talk about sports, etc.) but you will also want to set aside time to share how you are doing. When you start opening up about your life, and when your friend does the same, the friendship will begin to blossom. This doesn’t just mean sharing the struggles that you are having, but also sharing the joys. As a friendship develops, you will have a vested interest in how they are doing as they are invested in how you are doing. When you have a big test or interview, they’ll encourage you. When you have a hard day, they can console you. When something hilarious happen, that moment becomes ten times funnier with a deep friend who shares your humor.

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The right gear allows a diver to go deeper, even beyond what he can see clearly.

Taking things deeper is a lot like SCUBA Diving. SCUBA gear allows a diver to breathe underwater and go down deeper than when just holding their breath. When they start to descend though, they have to equalize the air in their ears or else the pressure will begin to cause physical pain. By blowing out their nose gently while shaking their head, their ears equalize. They can then proceed to descend further down.

With a friendship, there is a point where going deeper is painful and embarrassing. Maybe there is something ugly that you want to share but you are afraid. It may be painful at first, but sharing the hard things is like equalizing the air – once you do it, the pain subsides and the friendship can go even deeper.

Just like SCUBA Diving, deep friendships are something you prepare for. You wouldn’t just go to the ocean and jump into the water and expect to breathe under there; you have to have the right tools. You can have a friendship at the surface, but if you want to take it deeper, you have to prepare yourself and have the gear to take things deeper. If your friendship consists of worrying about how you are perceived, you’ll have trouble diving down deeper. If your friendship leaves you drained, you’re going to have trouble opening up to them. But if you have established trust and vulnerability, then you’ll be able to go deeper.

Going deeper in relationships will require giving grace.
Going deeper in relationships will require giving grace.

A deep friendship requires grace. When you begin to be vulnerable, your friends will inevitably let you down and hurt you. This does not mean they are now an enemy, it just means they are flawed. But we are all flawed, so we have to understand that there will be moments where our deepest friends fall short of our expectations. Don’t let that ruin your friendships.

I have a close friend from my college days who harbored resentment towards me and I harbored resentment towards him. I remember saying something hurtful that caused him to walk out of the room we were in and head home. Being stubborn, I chased after him and we started hashing everything out as we walked down the street. It was uncomfortable and painful for both of us. But then the most wonderful thing happened. We extended grace toward each other. We both decided to move forward from the hurtful things we said and not let that define what our friendship was. That moment of grace is something we both point to as a beautiful moment. Without that grace, we would not likely be friends today.

So remember, you may let your friends down, and your friends may let you down, but that provides an opportunity for grace to be extended. That grace will open up channels for you to build greater trust. That greater trust will enable you to experience a deep and enriching friendship.

Michael Aalseth