Alka Dayal has many friends in college. One day she came home early from class and went to her room and shut the door. She would not come out, eat or talk to anyone. Her cellphone was switched off—unusual for a teenager. Worried, her mother called up her close friends. Many of them were even unaware of what happened until one of them told the mother that Dayal’s boyfriend had thrown her over for another girl. Worse, the girl was part of Dayal’s core group of friends. In school, college, at work, at parties, on vacations people make casual acquaintances that could either deepen into friendship or fade away.
A new book out this month Better You, Better Friends: A Whole New Approach to Friendship by Glenda D Shaw defines the four levels of friendships that can help you to streamline your relationships and energy levels. The wrong relationship can exhaust you physically and mentally, even affecting your self-esteem. Advice: strengthen existing relationships. Discard unsupportive ones. Make new friends by recognising how supportive they can be in need.
Essential friends: They are your core group. Write down a set of words that identify your aims for life. Shaw’s are: “Curious, visionary, encouraging, enterprising, and purposeful.” The words vary from person to person but those who among this group will accept and support these values the most are your essential friends. They are your confidants. They will stand by you at all times, good or bad. There is nothing like a conflict between two people that brings out an essential friend. Just because you fear losing a friend and ignore the conflict, the suppressed emotion can surface later. Bring it out into the open. Discuss with your friend. If you can truly cross the bridge and resolve the conflict with empathy, you have an essential friend.
Collaborators: When Ratti’s sister passed on due to Covid-19 during the first phase, even her close friends stayed away. Only a neighbour she did not know too well stepped up. Ratti feels that without the emotional support and practical help she got, getting through the loss would have been too traumatic to consider. A month later, she got a new job and moved to Bengaluru. Initially she was in constant touch with her neighbour but over time the calls diminished. She had shared an emotional connection at that specific time when her sister died which was reinforced by physical proximity. It was crucial in that context but faded when the context changed and readjustment happened. Shaw calls them collaborators with whom there are boundaries unlike with essential friends—you aren’t texting them regularly or interested in hearing about how the day went. They are those friends whom you connect with when you have time and energy to spare.
Associates: They are on the third floor of the friendship building. These are people with whom you have a common interest or hobby like going to a regular movie club or the gym. You don’t confide in them your deepest fears nor do you ask them for life advice. You don’t expect anything from them and they are relevant only when a specific related context pops up. But watch their behaviour nevertheless: they may be at their best while working out or discussing a book that you realise their commitment, positivity and empathy. They may even become essential friends, who knows.
Mentors and mentees: Your boss may be your friend, but it is an unequal relationship. One person has more power and control. You have an equal say with collaborators, associates, and essential friends, while mentors have achieved more and are older and hence, decide the depth of the relationship. Usually your teacher or boss is a mentor. Or a cricket coach, a yoga guru or a life coach who you hold in high esteem or even revere. These relationships are mutually beneficial and fulfilling. But not always though. Madhu married her boss after working for him for four years and quit her job. Now they are separated—he was too domineering. What Madhu thought was protection was in reality control.
A new book out this month called Better You, Better Friends: A Whole New Approach to Friendship, by Glenda D Shaw, defines the four levels of friendships that can help you to streamline your relationships and energy levels