Friendship 2.0

There is more than one kind of friendship. The standard model of friendship consists of sharing interests and doing things together, enjoying companionship and caring about each other and providing support. When they first invented friendship, this seemed like some pretty good stuff. That’s until the upgrade came along.

Friendship 2.0 makes a richer, more deeply satisfying kind of friendship possible! Three qualities characterize this deeper variety of friendship.

  • Growth-Orientation: Beyond mere support, friendships can be about healing and liberation and ongoing growth and development.
  • Realness: When we stop trying to look good, we can expose more and more of our true selves to one another.
  • Affection: We all need more nurturing touch and lovingness in our lives.

Watch the video to find out more!

View Video Transcript
Friendship 2.0
Steve Bearman
June 14, 2012

As a counselor, I spend time talking to people about their friendships. One reason for this is that I want to make myself obsolete. I want my clients to have rich enough networks of friendship that provide real enough support, that they’re not coming to me for counseling simply because they don’t have real support anywhere else in their lives. And what I find, when I talk to people about the kinds of friends that they have, is that those friendships are often not up to the task. Even though they enjoy and appreciate their friends, their friends may amount really to activity partners: people who they share sense of camaraderie with, or maybe have a kind of support that they share with where they check in with each other regularly about what’s going on in their lives, they fail to go deep enough to provide real support. In contrast, I lead Interchange’s year-long training every year and at the end of the training, which just happened, I’ve watched people walk out saying that they feel like they finally found their people. And they’re creating friendships that have a kind of unusual depth and quality. This is not because Interchange attracts an unusual breed of people. It’s because people are doing something unusual in how they create their friendships. They’re cultivating an unusual quality of friendship with each other. What I like to think about as Friendship 2.0. There are three qualities that I’ve identified, that these friendships seem to have in common that distinguish them from Friendship 1.0. And those are: a growth orientation, realness and affection. Let me tell you a little bit about what I mean by each of these. In Friendship 1.0, people tend to have a support orientation. It means that you may spend a lot of time listening to your friends vent and complain about something. Or when they are having a hard time, you offer them support and reassurance. You might even find yourself trying to fix them or solve their problems or give them advice. And that’s important, everybody needs support, but it’s a kind of a superficial support. In Friendship 2.0, people bring a kind of everyday counseling into the ways that they support each other so that you’re always looking for what someone’s growth edges are. So for instance, instead of listening to your friend vent for the third or fourth or fifth time about how everyone’s always betraying them or abandoning them, you might stop them and say “Hey, hey hold on a second, this sounds a lot like the same thing you said last time about the other person. It’s starting to sound like a pattern. And I know you’re not going to like me for saying this but you’re kind of stuck in the victim role and I’d like to help you figure out how to get out of that even though I don’t really know how to do that. I bet we can figure it out together.” Or maybe you recognize where someone wants to grow to develop a new capacity or take on a challenge that’s going to take them a long time, and so they’re scared to do it. Or they have to overcome some emotional obstacles, and you find ways to help them continue to grow because everyone needs to keep growing and healing and getting free. Friendship 1.0 often also has a kind of entertainment orientation. It’s like we get together, our favorite people all in one place and then play board games or do something that’s about entertaining ourselves instead of just really interacting with one another. Fun is great. I love fun. But in Friendship 2.0, when you have a growth orientation, even fun can be growth-oriented. You might do things together that are physically challenging that push your abilities. You might in public places find ways to challenge each other to be more real, to take more risks, to be more yourselves. You’re pushing the envelope on what’s possible even in fun when you have a growth orientation. A second quality that these kinds of friendships have is realness. Friendship 1.0 tends to be concerned with impression management. I want to make sure that you still think highly of me so I’m going to work to manage your impression of me by acting like I’m doing okay, maybe when I’m not. Or not showing you really what my struggles are even when I tell you that I’m having a hard time. There’s a kind of demand for a certain pretense because we’re competing with each other to try to look okay. Friendship 2.0 is very different. In Friendship 2.0, people are striving for intimacy. It means that you don’t really ask questions like “how are you?” And then, it’s a boring question you know, when you ask “How are you?” it’s like saying “Please evaluate your current emotional state for positive or negative valence.” It’s like people are trying to tell you “I’m positive now or I’m negative now.” And you’re always positive or negative. Life’s like this. It’s just kind of a not very interesting thing to know. You want to get real with somebody by asking them something more like “Where have you been struggling lately? What’s been hard for you?” or “Have you had any new insights? What have you been learning?” Those are better questions. But you might not ask questions like that at all. Instead you might just be present with each other or talk to each other about what it’s like for you to be with each other in the moment. I might say something to you like, “I’ve been telling you about my struggles because you asked but I’m really afraid that I’m burdening you and I don’t want to do that.” And then you’ll say “No, no, no, no, no you’re not burdening me.” And I might say “Yeah, but now I don’t even believe you when say that and I find it’s hard to trust you because I’m so scared that you’ll leave me if I keep sharing you with what’s hard for me and maybe we can talk about how we can trust each other more.” And you grapple with those kinds of things together. Realness is rarely boring. Other kinds of conversations can be. If you’re listening to somebody tell a story or kind of going on and on and you’re waiting for it be over. It’s often because there’s this loss of connection. They’re talking but they’re not connected to you. When you’re striving for realness, you try to find a way to stay connected with each other so that you have more intimacy in your connection. A third quality that these relationships tend to have is affection. Friendship 1.0 tends to be a kind of friendship where there’s a limit to how close you can get. There’s a sort of segregation of which needs get met in your friendships and which get met in your romantic relationships or your familiar relationships. And so people limit the amount of physical affection that they have. Friendship 2.0 tends to be high touch. At the minimum people are hugging each other. But beyond that people will spend time sitting close to each other and cuddling and massaging each other. Bonding by being connected on this very basic level of being bodies together. This is something that can be very challenging for some people to do. In particular it’s challenging for a heterosexual men and their relationships with other men. There’s a lot of homophobia that has to be overcome for us to get close with men, in part because there’s this confusion of affection and sex. But those two things are not the same. In fact, often when people are seeking sex what they’re really after is a kind of affection. It’s a very unfair setup that we have in our society where people who are grown up and they’re away from their families and they haven’t created families of their own and they are not in a relationship, they often don’t get any affection. And we all need it. And we can get it on our friendships as well. And physical affection is not the limit of it. There’s other kinds of affection too. There’s a kind of sweetness, a kind of lovingness that exists in Friendship 2.0. We’re telling each other we love each other all the time. We’re nurturing each other. So that when we get these needs met we all feel more at ease and more relaxed. And like life doesn’t feel so desperate, or tense, or anxious. The question you want to be asking at this point is “How do you upgrade your friendships?” “How do you upgrade from Friendship 1.0 to Friendship 2.0? And the answer is that if you want to upgrade your friendships, you will have to take risks. You’re going to have to a risk to try to go for a growth orientation to see if you can find where someone you’re friends with needs to grow and tell them you’re noticing that. Or expect that of them. You’re going to have to take a risk to get more real with somebody and say things that you wouldn’t normally say and find out what happens when you do. Or you may have to take a risk to initiate a greater level of physical affection or contact than exists in your friendships already. And if you do that you’ll find that you often succeed, that you often have relationships that get richer and deeper and more satisfying as a result. And everything about your life changes when you have those relationships. Know however, that these risks are real risks because not all friendships are upgradable. Some people just want to stay, for their own reasons, at the Friendship 1.0 level. And so you may need to lose some of those along the way as you develop your 2.0 friendships. If you do take these risks and have some successes, please share them with us. Maybe even down on the comments below right there so we can know about it works on your end when you take real risks to have more real friendships. Keep in mind that I’m not just talking about your best friends. You can bring this quality of friendship 2.0 to people who you only see every couple of years just as easily as to people who you are in contact with everyday. It’s the quality of how you relate not the quantity of time that you spend together that makes the difference. A final note, for those of you who think your friendships already are at the 2.0 level, good for you, that’s awesome! You have friendships that have all the best qualities of counseling relationships and more in them. So for you the questions is “What’s Friendship 3.0 look like?” How can you keep raising the bar and going up the upward spiral to find out what more is possible when we develop these rich deep networks of interconnection.

About the Author

Steve Bearman, Ph.D., earned his doctorate in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He founded Interchange Counseling Institute in 2002 and is the lead teacher of Interchange's San Francisco-based year-long counseling and coaching training. When he's not counseling people, leading workshops, and advocating for social justice, Steve climbs mountains, adventures in the urban wilderness, explores the edges and limits of what's possible, deconstructs everything, and finds new ways to put it all back together.