My sister and I have an ongoing conversation about what we call “The Levels of Friendship.” For both of us, it has helped us in our interactions with others in knowing what it is that we need when we’re going through different things. When we are intentional in our relationships, understanding what others need from us, and what we need from others, our relationships become more meaningful. We realize where we’ve neglected others in their needs. We also can see where we have failed to ask for what we need in our own lives.
I’ve listed the 3 levels of friendship that we have talked about. Sometimes I think there’s a gaping hole between ideas and souls. Take a look and tell me what you think.
Shared Experiences: We do things together and the experiences become reference points in the future as “remember when….” or inside jokes. Our relationship is based on the experiences we share, and our common memories about them. It is powerful to share a memory. It connects you to the people you shared it with but it doesn’t require a huge amount of vulnerability. Because you did something together, you share a bond to the person even if it isn’t something deep. One time I was at the beach at Tybee Island and there were probably 75 other people also swimming right off the beach. Dolphins joined us, making fish jump in the air, smacking people as they flopped back into the water. It was incredible! As we were leaving the beach that day we were talking with all the other people who were swimming around us. We didn’t know them, but because we had this shared experience, we connected in a common way.
Shared Ideas: In these relationships we talk about our love for music, books, movies, and ideas. We pass along books to each other, send each other songs, talk about how they made us feel and why we love them. It moves beyond having a common experience into building a connection based on what we believe about an idea. It moves the vulnerability a little deeper because we are talking about beliefs, opinions and thought processes. We have enough change in the bank, so to speak, that we can risk sharing something deeper that would alienate perhaps just a common acquaintance. A relationship at this level can handle the challenge of possible conflict as you share beliefs that may or may not agree with one another.
Shared Souls: Sharing souls becomes the deepest level of vulnerability. Our relationship is based on a connection deeper than experiences and ideas and moves into what makes us who we are. I don’t think you can share your soul with someone until you have shared experiences and ideas with them. There is definitely a progression that gets you to this level of vulnerability. Maybe talking about a song or experience helps, but when you share your soul you are opening up the deepest parts of what makes you who you are and freely giving that to another person. If through the processes of sharing experiences and ideas a deep level of trust has been built, this is not exhausting, but rather freeing. After these interactions I feel rejuvenated, refreshed, encouraged and ready to face the world because one of the people who means the most to me just spoke life into me and I am ready to face all the rest who try to steal my humanity and personhood through their lack of caring. This level is where you cringe at times when you realize that you shared this part of yourself with someone who you hadn’t done the work to actually earn the right to be this vulnerable with them. For relationships to be healthy at this level, there has to be a basis of mutual trust and respect. You can give your soul away without doing the work of sharing experiences and ideas but shame, guilt, embarrassment, etc. follows you and makes you regret rather than treasure this level. Likewise when another shares this level of vulnerability you immediately realize the significance of what they shared. This ought to be protected and treasured.
The people in our lives move in and out of these different levels. If we’re lacking in relationship with people who fulfill the different levels, we feel the missing piece. Loneliness sets in, and we can see how we are affected. If I never share an experience with someone, I am missing the common memory that makes us laugh at ourselves. If I never share my ideas about how I take in information I may not be fully able to process and make the most out of what affects me, likewise I can’t learn from how others are processing those same ideas. Lastly, if I’m never sharing my soul with those I love and trust, I will never understand the deepest parts of myself, what makes me fully who I am. I will not experience the glorious fear, relief, and honesty that comes with saying out loud who it is that I am becoming. And once you get to the shared souls level, if you want to keep that relationship (which sometimes you don’t) then it takes great intentionality to continue to share experiences and ideas so that you grow with the person. Relationships can never plateau and either you work to understand each other in each new phase and path of life or you drift apart and lose the soul connection through lack of initiative.
What do you think of these levels? What would you add? How do you think facebook and social media have affected these levels?
[Thanks Manel Selfridge, for your help.]