3 Friendship Case Studies

28 March 2023

“Friendship is the rare kind of relationship that remains forever available to us as we age,” Jennifer Senior noted in an Atlantic piece last year. “It’s a bulwark against stasis, a potential source of creativity and renewal in lives that otherwise narrow with time.” And yet, despite all of its virtues and joys, many of us find friendship something we puzzle over as grown-ups: how to make friends? How to keep friends? How to care for our friends, and find time to actually enjoy their company? After all, says Senior, once we graduate, “we are ritual-deficient, nearly devoid of rites that force us together.”

And so, as adults, we must develop our own friendship practices, habits, and rhythms. Because I’m personally always looking for inspiration, I thought it might be fun to share a few “case studies” of successful friendships in my own life. They’re anonymous, but only lightly so – if you’ve been here awhile, you’ll surely know who I’m talking about. All part of the fun :)

This post turned out to be extravagantly long, so I’ve split it into two parts – three today and three in a future edition!

Case Study No. 1: The former coworkers turned friends

How we met: We worked together at a small business. I worked there first, and advocated for L’s hiring – we had connected via our blogs while she was still in college. From her writing, I knew she would be perfect for the role, and we were kindred spirits from the start once we finally met in person. (Still are :))

K and I have a particularly good meet-cute: the first time we met, at a reader event I was hosting for work, she came up to me and blurted out, “I know where you live.” Not creepy at all, ha!

How we got close: L and I sat next to each other five days a week for several years, and together the three of us (along with other beloved teammates!) road tripped, squealed over major business victories, survived one particularly painful team-building activity, sweated buckets at photo shoots, celebrated engagements and new babies, frolicked across fields in – there’s no other word for it – ballgowns, and much, much more. Small business life is not for the faint of heart, and relationships often grow deep and strong as you navigate it together.

How we stay close: Though we met as coworkers, we no longer work together. This could have been the end – I have said goodbye to many coworkers throughout my career, and without the regular face time (physical or virtual) of the workweek (and the chance to share the tiny details of life over Slack or while gathering for a meeting), it’s impossible to maintain the same type of relationship.

And so transition becomes necessary. Sometimes this is to a more distant, but benevolent, relationship. Other times – as in this one – you find a way to forge something new AND close.

As COVID lockdowns loosened a bit in August 2020, the three of us tucked kids into bed and met up on L’s back porch with glasses of Prosecco and bowls of popcorn. And then we talked for 2-3 hours, so happy to be together in person. Before we parted ways, we put a date on the calendar for our next get-together, and we’ve been doing it ever since.

What we’ve overcome: Navigating our transitions from coworkers to friends was challenging for me. Because we were used to seeing each other during the workday, we had no established rhythms to be together outside of work, and so in some ways felt we were starting from scratch with figuring out what our friendship would look like.

In both cases, I also dealt with feelings of betrayal when they decided to leave the business (and I stayed behind). It’s painful to admit, but I harbored bitterness for months that poisoned our relationship, at least on my side. To move past it, after clearly feeling God ask me to make a move, I had to initiate a dedicated conversation where I shared what I had been feeling and apologized. It was one of the scariest conversations I’ve ever had, but I’m so glad I had it. We would not have the friendship we have today without it.

What I love about our friendship: We’ve been through a lot together, and these ladies GET me: multi-state road trips leave lots of time for conversation. We’ve met each other’s families. We’ve celebrated and mourned with each other through major life events.

I love that the three of us are both different and the same. Many of the things that matter most to us we hold in common, but we are wildly different in other ways, with different personalities and interests and areas of expertise. I also love that our ages are slightly staggered – between the three of us, we span about eight years – which brings an interesting flavor to our conversations and allows us to speak into each other’s lives in unique ways.

I love that meeting up so regularly allows the tiny dramas of life to spool out in a way that engenders closeness: there’s always something to catch up on when we’re together, and yet there are never big gaps we need to fill.

And finally, if you’ve met these two ladies, you know ANYONE would consider themselves lucky to be their friend. They are supremely talented, extravagantly generous, passionate about all the right things, and just plain fun to be around.

Case Study No. 2: The couple friends

How we met: N was a photographer I met through work practically in my first month on the job. I started to read her blog, and when I saw she and her husband liked to play Settlers of Catan (a somewhat niche interest!), sent a VERY bold and uncharacteristic email offering to get together to play, if they wanted.

How we got close: They did, and we did, and we’ve been playing board games ever since. Things took a turn a few years in when we went camping together – there’s nothing like conversations around a campfire, or seeing someone un-showered first thing in the morning, to bump a relationship up a level. Since we were friends before any of us had children, we had time for long, honest conversations about the things that matter to us, like generosity, marriage, family, faith, travel, and, yes, eventually the decision to have kids.

How we stay close: Camping. Always camping, every year. It’s a guaranteed check-in where we know we’ll be able to connect and go beyond surface conversation, even if we have to brave bugs and dirt to do so.

Other than that, in this season of life we make do with infrequent get-togethers, like dinners at one of our homes with all seven of our kids and the occasional double date night.

I also consider myself the number one fan of her podcast and will frequently text her my commentary and feedback :)

What we’ve overcome: We’ve overcome physical distance. We’ve never lived particularly close to each other, but the distance was easier to overcome in our kid-free days, when no one was paying for babysitters and driving 40 minutes for a game night was nothing.

We’ve also bridged difference. Though we share many important things in common, we’ve also made different choices on church, education for our kids, work, type of neighborhood, and more. It’s easy to judge or feel judged when your loved ones choose differently from you, and I’m proud that our friendship is stronger than that.

What I love about our friendship: One thing I treasure about our relationship is that I like to think we learn from each other. I know I have personally learned SO much from N and from watching N and W’s relationship over the years. And this is the beauty of difference – if you’re exactly the same, there’s no room to grow :)

Case Study No. 3: The group of friends

How we met: A mostly-online friend who had just moved to the area approached me about starting a monthly discussion group, and I enthusiastically agreed. We issued open invitations on our blogs, opened our homes to perfect strangers, and the rest, as they say, is history.

How we got close: Seven years later, four gals from that first night are still in the club. The other eight joined us over time – some, blog readers who responded to periodic open invitations, others who knew someone on the inside :)

The most obvious way that we got close is because 1) we met regularly – every single month, without fail, and 2) every time, we discussed things that mattered over several hours. I mean, if you want a formula for developing a deep relationship, I don’t think you can do much better than that. There were a few other key factors over the years, though:

About a year in, we decided to hold our discussion over dinner instead of over wine and snacks. There’s something about cooking for each other and sharing a meal that engenders familiarity.

During the pandemic, we found creative ways to meet – on Zoom, bundled in ridiculous layers of clothing around a fire pit, on blankets in the park with takeout boxes on our laps. In a time starved for companionship and rife with things to discuss, we had each other.

Finally, we started a group text thread. This might sound inconsequential, but it provided an immediacy to our friendship that hadn’t existed before, as we didn’t chat much outside of our monthly gatherings. Now, we’re a part of each other’s lives in a more mundane way that is beyond delightful.

How we stay close: Yes, it’s the fact that we meet monthly. But to go one level deeper, I’ve got to give credit to my co-founder, who sends the email that confirms our date each month, another a few days before that reminds us where and when we’re meeting and what we’re reading, and creates a SignUp Genius link for our meal. She’d tell you it’s nothing, but it’s not. Organizational skills are one type of glue that holds friend groups together, and that’s certainly the case in ours.

What we’ve overcome: This group has never felt rocky, which is both shocking – considering the controversial, personal, and deeply meaningful things we discuss – and a deep testament to these women. I also think it signals a truth our modern, very online, culture seems designed to conceal: that there are very few people you wouldn’t love if you spent time with them, around a table, in good faith.

What I love about our friendship: I mean, so many things – I’ve waxed poetic many times over the years :) But man – that text thread! Everyone needs one in their life! A smattering of topics from the last week: line-drying clothing, Demon Copperhead, OB/Gyn recs, Amazon + One Medical, someone’s cute new tennis bag, thank you note methodology, an undershirt for sweaters, everyone’s favorite types of butter, where to donate dress pants, and an absolute deluge of hype over one member’s marathon finish that qualified her for the Boston Marathon (!!!). It’s also an official rule that you must share a selfie after you get a haircut.

If you’re in need of a local recommendation, have something exciting to share, something you want to discuss, something you need an opinion on or a cheerleader for anything at all – this is your thread. Everyone needs one!

Up next: a church friend, a neighborhood friend, and either a preschool friend or a long-distance friend – you tell me which you’d prefer! :) I’d also love to hear something that moved you closer to one of your friends, if you’d like to share.

P.S. The best way I’ve found to regularly see my friends.

In search of photos to use in this post, I searched “flower” in my camera roll and these were three favorites that popped up: an iPhone snap from one of the last SW photo shoots, sunflowers at Dix Park, and a backyard centerpiece plucked from our garden. Also, affiliate links are used in this post!

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March 28, 2023 5:55 am

Grateful to be a part of one of these groups! :) Also, did not know you all were Settlers of Catan fans – we love this game as well and have found it’s quite polarizing.

Selfishly, I would be interested in both preschool and distance – currently in the preschool throws and also I have a dear friend moving at the end of this year.

March 28, 2023 10:09 am

Love it! Vote for preschool friend ????

March 28, 2023 11:44 am

“I also think it signals a truth our modern, very online, culture seems designed to conceal: that there are very few people you wouldn’t love if you spent time with them, around a table, in good faith.”
Wow, wow, wow. The wisdom in this will stay with me. I love these stories!!

March 28, 2023 12:16 pm
Reply to  Megan

As someone who lives an expat life, where for work reasons we move every few years, I think this is so true. In each new country, we start again, looking for people to be friends with and a community to be part of… and to do that, we honestly cling to any source of connection (oh you also have curly hair, let’s be friends! You also have a garden, let’s get together. Oh your kids also speak English- great, who cares how old they are). We have made such wonderful friends with people much older, much younger, of different faiths, with different values– and each of them adds something amazing to our lives. I wonder what life would be like at ‘home’ if we did this too, and sought out similarities rather than focusing on differences. I bet we would all have richer, more diverse friend groups and far more fulfilling lives.

March 28, 2023 12:15 pm

What a delightful lunch time read! Thank you so much for this lovely post. If my family of origin (including extended family) and family of creation (my spouse and my children) are the goodness that make the cake, than my friends are the icing on the cake. Love that your post inspired reflection on the sweetness that friendship brings to my life!

March 28, 2023 4:15 pm
Reply to  Teresa

What a lovely way to describe family and friends!

March 28, 2023 3:27 pm

I love this post! What a clever way to write about friendships. Now I’m thinking about my friendships and how I could categorize them into case studies.
I vote for the long-distance friend because all of my friends from school are now long-distance.

March 28, 2023 3:33 pm

I always love your thoughts and truly have felt so lucky to call you a friend! I have found going first to be one of the most potent ways of deepening both old and new friendships- sharing the vulnerable parts of my life rather than keeping the conversation at surface level. Another is praying for that friend before I see her always grows my heart towards her! When I take time to pray for her I find that the conversation and questions are much more intentional and I am a far better listener. :-)

March 28, 2023 3:40 pm

THE TEXT THREAD THOUGH. Forever grateful to you all for willingly folding me back into the group after our DC departure! ???? (And another vote for the preschool friend!)

March 28, 2023 4:17 pm

Oh I love this so much, it makes me miss all my friends I moved away from recently! I vote for long-distance friend as I feel that everyone else studied are local friends.
I’m still in the accumulating acquaintances phase before I start seeing who I really click with.

Kelly Strawberry
March 28, 2023 4:55 pm

Love this! I feel very blessed to have a life full of dear friends. I appreciate your honesty about the bitter feelings, and also I would never have thought to be so grateful for Steph’s monthly logistical email and sign up genius, but you are so right! It is not nothing.
One of my best friends and I get together most weeks for a walk. Always the same spot and we’ll usually just text until we find a good mutual time that week. Sometimes it varies on the amount of kids that come along and sometimes it’s just us, but walking for an hour is free and easy and great catch-up time!

March 28, 2023 7:46 pm

I really enjoyed this post – it gave me so much to think about regarding my own friendships. My vote is for the long-distance friend! I feel like I am still learning how to navigate being thousands of miles away from friends. I struggle with ways to stay connected (without feeling like I’m the only one making an effort to stay in touch).

March 28, 2023 10:24 pm

This couldn’t have been more timely! We‘ll have our very first articles club meeting and it’s about friendship!! This post makes me even more excited about it – if that is possible.
I‘d love both preschool and long-distance friend! But if you make me choose, I’ll choose long-distance. Fortunately/unfortunately I have lots of those.

March 29, 2023 10:06 am

Preschool friend, please! Thank you :))

March 29, 2023 10:46 am

I’d love to hear about your long-distance friend! Most of my best friends are a flight away and it’s a challenge! Would love to hear how you nurture that relationship.

March 29, 2023 12:19 pm

Friendship, a timely topic and so important right now given the significant number of people who have reported having no friends and feeling lonely. You might be interested in this podcast from my job, or maybe you’ve already listened/read about this: https://www.apa.org/news/podcasts/speaking-of-psychology/happy-life
I’d be interested in the preschool friend. Most of my friends fall into the “friends who became moms” category. So I’m curious about how people acquire friends in the “mom from school, who is now a friend” category.

March 31, 2023 6:18 am

I loved this post, it made me think deeply about my own friendships in the best way! Another vote for both preschool and long distance friendship here :)

March 31, 2023 7:49 pm

Like Mary Poppins and Virginia’s cucumber sammy thingies we’ll hopefully get to eat next month, this was practically perfect in every way ♥️♥️♥️

April 7, 2023 3:21 pm

Absolutely loved this post, Em! I love sharing about friendship, and this was an amazing way. Thank you for the inspiration x

April 10, 2023 4:05 am

Such an amazing and thoughtful post! It was especially refreshing to read the “What We’ve Overcome” sections, as it’s easy to look at established friendships as perfect or without awkwardness, but that’s simply not true!

April 23, 2023 3:54 pm

Well, several parts of this post had me tearing up!! Very, very grateful for your bold email all those years ago that brought us together (and our memorable evening of Winston peeing all over the carpet while we played Catan! Ha! And you still called us friends!!) What a gift you and John are to us, Em. I know my comment just gave us away but since I’m a little late to the comment party, hopefully it didn’t matter too much. Love you and our camping trips more than you know (even when we are the worst at getting dates on the calendar!)