The Difference Between Being Friendly and Being Friends


I write about friendship here. A lot. I’ve written about my closest friends and why I call them my best friends. And last month, I wrote about why I don’t want diverse friends.

When I wrote that, my friend Leigh Kramer pushed back a little in the comments. She said, in part, “…not many people seek out friendship with those who are different from them and I think we all miss out when this happens. Having a diverse group of friends requires some intentionality.”

I think this is an important point, and something that I missed in that post.

I have not always been good about this. Much of my life, I have only sought friends in the places where I was comfortable. I wasn’t looking for ways to shut out people who were different from me, but I also wasn’t going outside of what I already knew in order to find people with whom I could develop a relationship. I stayed primarily in my insular world where I didn’t expect to be challenged. Thank heavens I was challenged even there, but it wasn’t a challenge that I was seeking.

For those years, I don’t think I was being very friendly.

Oh, I wasn’t mean. I didn’t shun people who were different from me. I didn’t intentionally insult people who didn’t fit my mold. I didn’t roll my eyes at the idea of meeting someone who wasn’t like me.

But I rarely went out of my way to meet a diverse group of people.

In the past few years, that has changed.

Particularly since Jason told me that he was an atheist, I have put myself into situations where I will meet people who are a good bit different from me. At first I did it because I wanted to understand more about him. But that has extended to me looking for situations where I can understand more about myself. I didn’t wait for other people to come to me to find opportunities to be friendly. I began looking for places where I could push myself to be friendly, even when it wasn’t comfortable for me.

The result of being friendly has been that I have made some new friends.

But those friendships have developed out of our commonalities. I have found friends in unexpected places, but the why of our friendship is the same as it was when I was looking in the smaller circles. Similar senses of humor. Similar tastes. Similar passions. Similarities in some or all of these categories have made our differences – even some profound differences – much less important.

I am so thankful that the friends that I already had ended up being far more diverse than I initially thought. Discovering that their lives extend beyond the small boxes that I had put them into allowed me to see that in so many other people and I will never be able to repay them for the gift that they have given me.

Most of us probably know that being friendly and being friends are two different things, but I think the way these are achieved is also different. I can be friendly regardless of differences, and sometimes being friendly requires that I seek out specific opportunities to interact with people who are different from me. When I stay within my comfort zone, I am limiting how friendly I can be. And that puts an artificial limit on who I can add to my friends.

When it comes to developing friendships, I still believe that we will find friendship with those we’re like. I can’t think of a single person who I would call a friend who isn’t like me in some key way.

But maybe when we choose to be friendly in ways that stretch us, the places where we find those similarities may be stretched as well.

  • Vernon Harmon

    Considering that we’re all human, yes, I think it’s fair to say that all of your friends are like you in some key way. And I don’t mean that to be flippant.

    This post reminds me of the “friend-compatible” comment that led to us becoming friends. We seek out commonalities because we need to have something to relate to; you see this in the ways we start conversations with strangers, by trying to find a (usually generally innocuous) common ground — what do you do? where are you from? But as you mention, taking stock of the differences between us invites greater understanding of others and, by reflection, of ourselves.

    And I love your final line.

    • Agrajag

      I think you need both. Different enough to be interesting, yet similar enough to be able to relate to oneanother. But there’s a million-and-one ways to relate, you can find someone to relate to in any group of people.

  • Linda Dillon Baley

    There’s a great scripture that says something like he who would find friends shows himself friendly. I have a really diverse group of close friends now. A lot of them started in weird ways including online where they were taking even an adversarial position. Kindness and a willingness for a deeper dialogue won us both over. Sometimes friendliness grows into a wonderful friendship with time and tending.

  • Agrajag

    This is pretty much spot-on. There’s real value in having friends with diverse views — but it’s also true that friendship hinges on fundamental compatibility, you can make an effort to socialize and be friendly with diverse people, but you can’t just *decide* to become friends with someone.

    That said, in practice, the law of big numbers is pretty reliable. If you hang out and socialize and are friendly with a reasonable selection of diverse people, odds are that among those, you’ll find some who will become friends. Meanwhile, if you limit your social interactions to those who are near-copies of yourself, odds are that your friends will be a lot less diverse.

    I’ve deliberately sought socializing with people who differ wildly from me for 2 decades, because I discovered that there’s just so much you can *learn*. This comes in addition to all the usual perks of friendship. A friend is a wonderful thing to have no matter what, but a friend who has perspectives and knowledge that you yourself lack, is even better.

    I could go an read white-hetero-male-norwegian-atheist-blogs. But it’s unlikely I’d learn all that much new, so I don’t. Instead I read, and enjoy chatting with the weird and wonderful folks at blogs all over the religious, geographical, race and gender-landscape. I don’t consciously attempt to make anyone in particular my friend, nevertheless trough the years every now and then, it just happens anyway, the way friendships do.

  • HopefulLeigh

    This is such a great distinction, Alise. Friendship does need some common ground (though I’m sure there are exceptions even to this) but we should do our best to go beyond demographics so we can learn who the person really is and so they can do the same about us.

  • Heather Goodell

    Good post, I have trouble stretching myself to make new friends.

  • Miles O’Neal

    God has brought me to a place where I pretty much just love on everyone in sight (there are a few exceptions I’m recognizing; those will have to go!) When you do this, some of them love you back (more than I expected). My pool of acquaintances has grown hugely and diversely. Out of this my pool of friends has grown quite a bit… and diversified as well. But to some extent I have always had diverse friends, which can make life interesting when both “sides” are miffed at you… but that’s OK.