Several times a week I hear from people, especially men, wondering about how to engage in more intimate personal relationships. One young man told me that he has a few people with whom he has been friends since kindergarten. Another man told me that he has four buddies whom he talks with several times a week. Both of these men indicated that while they love their friends and feel very close to them, the conversations have become repetitive and predictable. They spend their time together watching sports, shooting pool, and drinking beer or Scotch. They talk about women, work, sports, and memories from their youth. But nothing deep, nothing personal.
Both of these men, and dozens more just like them, are craving a more intimate connection with their friends. They recognize that women seem to have deeper, more meaningful, and more fulfilling relationships with their friends than they have with their guy-friends. When I have inquired about the nature of their relationships with their lovers or spouses, they indicate that those relationships are more satisfying, but still not as fulfilling as they would like.
For these men and others like them, the following may serve as guidelines for creating deeper and more fulfilling relationships, whether with friends or partners.
- Curiosity: It is important to be authentically curious about knowing another person; it is key to creating meaningful relationships. People who are genuinely interested in and fascinated by other people tend to like people. They want to know more about others, how they think, how they became the person they are today, and what motivates them. They are good listeners. Their questions are engaging rather than merely information gathering. Such questions as: How did you come to that point of view? How did you feel about that? What did you mean by the word…..? Have you always thought that way?
- Self-Disclosure and Openness: Be willing to share your own thoughts, beliefs, and feelings with another person. But do so in a self-disclosing way rather than in an opinionated or pedantic manner. Self-disclosing people are open to others; they want to be known and seen by others, rather than being self-protective and distant. Sharing such things as how you felt about some situation, what was triggered by something the other person said, or revealing your own struggle with an issue; these disclosures often invites disclosure on the part of others.
- Mutuality and Reciprocity: People who are able to create intimate relationships engage in mutually beneficial engagements. They tend to share the airwaves rather than having all roads leading back to themselves. There is a give and take. When with these individuals one feels a sense of being in a shared space. Engaging relationships are similar to tennis matches where the conversation goes back and forth always keeping one’s eye on maintaining contact.
- Vulnerability: In order to develop intimacy with another person, you must be willing to risk being vulnerable. Vulnerability allows you to be touched by someone. Vulnerability is endearing. It encourages others to be vulnerable. When you are being vulnerable you are revealing your soft underbelly rather than only your tough shell. You are taking a risk of being seen and possibly hurt.
By cultivating these traits and practicing them, you will increase the probability of deepening your engagements will people in general, and close friends in particular. It will change the dynamic between yourself and them, inviting others to follow your lead.