Years ago, I was friends with a very sociable couple who liked to host dinner parties. After dessert, the hosts would lead us in game-playing. Usually, the games were just something they made up and were not very interesting.

I thought the practice was strange – and disappointing. All the people at these dinner parties were friends, and I wanted to connect with them at a meaningful level. Game-playing made that impossible. It was almost as if the hosts were trying to keep the conversations superficial.

Suppose you have some friendships that you wish were deeper. What could you do to increase your closeness? That’s a question Julie Beck addressed in an article in Atlantic magazine, “How friends become closer.” Beck interviewed people studying friendship and shared some of their research findings as well as their speculations.

Here are some of the suggestions she gathered:

#1

Expand the contexts of your friendships. If you know someone only from work and would like to get to know them better, suggest a get-together outside of work.

#2

Initiate “bids” for connection. Do the kinds of things that encourage your friend to engage with you. Bids can be actions as small as smiling or starting a conversation, or as substantial as inviting your friend to travel with you.

#3

Initiate a regular get-together. I was once in a cooking club that met every few months for ten years. For shorter stretches of time, I hosted Sunday evening get-togethers for watching movies or bad TV. Book clubs are another good example of this.

You can probably think of other ways of deepening friendships. The most effective ones probably have two things in common: you are making an effort, and you are going beyond the superficial, at least some of the time. (Skip the game-playing and get to know your guests.)

The question of how to deepen your friendships may seem like an enviable one if your issue is that you don’t have as many friends as you would like. When I was researching How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, I found a summary of the conditions for fostering friendship that seems equally applicable to making new friends as to enhancing the closeness of the friendships you already have:

  • Proximity (for example, living in the same neighborhood or dormitory)
  • Repeated and unplanned interactions (as, for example, when you spontaneously run into the same people over and over again)
  • A setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other. (Many workplaces meet the first two criteria but may or may not meet this last one.)

William Rawlins, one of the social scientists Beck interviewed, thinks about friendship less strategically. “I see friendship as an ongoing conversation,” he said. “A way of literally coauthoring the story of our relationship.”

A friend of mine first got to know an older woman by living nearby. The two of them stayed in touch over the years, especially in her later years when she needed a lot of help. To me, they didn’t seem to have much in common. After the woman died, I asked my friend if he missed her. He said, “We had a 26-year conversation.”

Photo by jrsnchzhrs