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Do you REALLY want "low-maintenance" friendships?

As you leave your yoga class, you begin chatting up a woman who attends every week. You two continue your conversation into the parking lot and hang there for 20 minutes, talking about everything from your newest Netflix obsession, to trading book recommendations, and surprisingly a little bit about politics.

She seems cool. And you find yourself thinking, “I'd like to get to know her better”.

After exchanging numbers, you tell her, “I'll text you tomorrow to figure out a time when we can meet up for coffee or something”.

She smiles and waves her hand dismissively, “Oh, don't worry. I'm such a low maintenance friend. If we get around to hanging out, that's fine. But if not, that's cool too.”

You say, “Okay,” and smile politely. But what does that even mean? She couldn't care less if you guys hung out? And are you high maintenance for actually wanting to link up next week?

So there's a phrase that's becoming increasingly popular on social media: “low maintenance friend”.

It's used to describe somebody who's stress free to be around, doesn’t require a lot of effort. And it's a nice sentiment-- the idea of somebody that you can be yourself with and you don't have to do much to maintain it. We don't want to be in something where we feel pressured to perform and where there's this expectation that we might not be able to meet.

And on the surface, these traits do like the recipe for a hassle-free friendship.

BUT—and yes we know how cliché this sounds-- you tend to get from friendships, what you put into them.

With low-maintenance friendships, it’s as if we want this sense of security in our friendships without having to work for it. But if you want something that will offer security that you don't have to think about every day, you're describing an insurance policy. Is that what you want?

There are friends who only speak to each other twice a year. And then when they do, they pick right up, where they left off, but what you're speaking to there is chemistry. And if you want an annual feel-good event, go to a music festival.

We often forget that friendship is a relationship and any relationship of importance requires effort, just like a romantic relationship or a strong family bond. Friendship requires time, effort and an investment satisfying and fulfilling relationships where we feel connected.

And that requires a little trying from time to time.

But if we're viewing friendship as a fun, problem-free source of refuge and recreation, we don't know how to respond when conflict arises or when things become challenging.

So before adopting the “low-maintenance” philosophy, first consider:

  1. Is there any part of you that wants to claim low maintenance friendship as a way of absolving yourself from responsibility? Do you say that you want low-maintenance friendships because you don't want to have to do much? No one can really keep you accountable? If you front load your relationships by saying that you don't want much and therefore can't be expected to give much just a thought.

  2. Are you trying to avoid being perceived as clingy or demanding for voicing your actual needs and expectations? Do you secretly desire more than what you're getting, but you fear, if you say it you'll be too much that your love is too great, your expectations too high, your needs to burdensome. If so, are you ready to join the low maintenance gang and give up the yearning that you have for more, for fear that you won't find it, or for fear that you'll be misunderstood if you speak on what you require?

Now, if you've already joined the low maintenance friendship gang, three questions for you:

1. Is it the exception or the rule? Is your friendship in a low-maintenance season because people are busy and they're going through situations like grad school? Have you accepted that this relationship will have to subsist on a little text here or there that will keep the pulse until you can come up for air? Because that's one thing-- it's the exception to the rule of needing a continual care and investment, because that's what your circumstances allow right now.

When you say low-maintenance friendship, are you referring to a season where you're allowed to give a little because you know what each person has a lot going on? Is that the exception or the rule for all of your friendships at all times?

2. Is the “low-maintenance approach” for everybody or for just some people? If it’s just something you apply to some of your friends, then you’re referring to “acquaintances”-- those people you see occasionally, and it's a good time when you do, and you don't value the friendship enough to be constantly checking in and finding new experiences for you to share and expressing appreciation proactively and supporting them because they're like a tier three in your mind. So you invest accordingly, but that means you're getting what you want for the level that you're putting into it.

And that's fine. You only have so much time and mental energy, so not everybody can get all of you. But is that for all of your friends or for some?

3.Are you satisfied? if you're claiming low maintenance friendships, but privately, you would like more, then you don't want low maintenance friendships. Now I can speculate all day as to what's going on there, but I really hope we haven't gotten this watered down version of friendship. And instead of questioning it and resisting it and being motivated by it to put forth more effort, we convinced ourselves that that's what we were really looking for. Resist! The culture might be shifting toward wanting friendships that you don't have to give much effort toward, but you get what you give.

It's okay to want more, to plan new experiences for you guys to share, to take her flowers when she gets a new apartment, to offer to help her move before she has to ask, to join her at a doctor's appointment when she's especially nervous, to offer to read over a big report before she submits it to an overly critical boss, to put your Cape down and allow other friends to finally give you some help.

It's human to want things to come to you easily, but is it realistic? It's important to remember that those types of relationships don't exist in the way that we think they do.

In fact, there's a research study that involved asking participants. If they believed that making friends should be easy and organic, or if it might require work five years after initially asking participants this question, the researchers discovered that those who said that friendships should be easy, were experiencing greater feelings of loneliness than those who acknowledged it might take work.

So the low maintenance friendship might sound great in theory, but it's not always the best way to cultivate lasting meaningful relationships.

So before you write-off effort as something that shouldn't be associated with your friendships, I want you to think about what you might be missing out on.

Note: There are two MAJOR caveats to “low-maintenance friendships” that I explain in an episode of the Friend Forward podcast. Tune in if you want all of the context!

As your new official friendship coach, here's your homework:

Think about the friendships that you really, really enjoy.

Then identify what specific elements make that friendship make it so wonderful. Take those things and find a way to replicate them in friendships you’ve put on auto-pilot. It’s a subtle, simple shift toward showing actual effort in friendships that you value, but that have stalled for one reason on another.

Until then, you know that I'll be right here rooting for you, always on your ongoing journey toward better female friendships. Until next time.

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