Alumna Shares How to Choose, Lose, and Keep Pals
BFF turned into bridezilla? Ex friended you on Facebook? Frenemy got your blood boiling?
AU alumna Andrea Bonior, CAS/MA ’02, CAS/PhD ’04, tackles those platonic predicaments and more in her new book, The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Losing, and Keeping Up with Your Friends. The licensed psychologist, who pens the Washington Post Express’ popular mental health column, Baggage Check, sat down with American Today to chat about how to make the most of friendships, whether old or new, online or in person.
What do we look for in a friend?
Some people love friends that accentuate their characteristics. If someone’s really dramatic, she might surround herself with people who let her have the stage. Others are attracted to people who share the same status, the same world view, while some people are just looking to mix it up. They like being challenged and bringing something different to the table. There’s room for all types of friendships.
What does a toxic friendship look like?
True friends are ones who can see our flaws and embrace us anyway. If you’re more pessimistic or passive-aggressive around someone; if you don’t look forward to spending time with the person; or if you honestly don’t wish the best for them, those are signs that you’re in a toxic friendship.
We put so much effort into choosing romantic mates, but we choose our friends willy-nilly. Sometimes it works out, but a lot of times it doesn’t. Typically, people have one or two toxic friendships.
How do you “break up” with a friend?
I always recommend starting with the slow fade: the gradual but respectful increasing of distance. You don’t return phone calls as quickly, you don’t ask as many questions. There’s a fine line between the slow fade and just abandoning someone. It’s not fair to the other person to just disappear off the face of the planet, especially in the era of Facebook.
If the slow fade doesn’t work, the next step is to be direct but firm. You might send an e-mail that says: “I value our friendship, but we’re moving in different directions.”
Does Facebook help or hinder platonic relationships?
Facebook can be harmful if you’re just going for quantity over quality. If you’re sitting on Facebook for three hours every night instead of nurturing your real relationships, that’s a problem.
On the other hand, Facebook can be a fantastic tool for keeping up with your friends’ daily lives. Just be careful to use it as a supplement, not a substitute, for talking in person or on the phone.
What’s the etiquette for “unfriending” someone on Facebook?
If it’s a toxic relationship or you’re just looking to cull the herd, I think sensitively unfriending someone is OK. There are some people who know exactly how many friends they have and you run the risk of driving them crazy when you unfriend them. The right thing to do is to drop a line saying: “I’m not going to be as active on Facebook and I need to cull my herd.”
How can we nurture our friendships?
We’re all busy and a lot of times, people don’t bother with the small stuff—even though it makes a huge difference. Send a goofy card; leave a friend’s favorite candy on her desk; frame a flattering photo of the two of you; go to the gym together; make a phone call, even if you only have nine minutes to chat. You can always do something small to brighten a friend’s day.
How do you deal with a friend who’s struggling?
If someone’s going through a loss that you’ve never experienced, like a death or a miscarriage, you want to avoid generic sentiments like “I know how you feel” or “let me know if there’s anything I can do,” which puts the burden on that person to reach out. Instead, offer to help in specific ways. You could say: “I’d like to come over and do your laundry” or “let me bring your favorite Chinese take-out.” Even when someone’s going through a rough time, life goes on. Plants still need to be watered.