Why is it so hard to make friends?
May 20th 2014, I wrote: “I have a ton of associates, and acquaintances, in my life, but for years I’ve wondered: How does one move from acquaintance to deep friendship?”
Three years later, July 4th 2017, I wrote, “Now I understand the reasons why I don’t have deep friendships quite keenly. I understand it so well that I begin to wonder if I’ll ever bother to form deep friendships. Confused yet? Give me a minute – or twenty – to explain.”
A year-and-a-half later, February 21st 2019, I wrote, “I find that friendship is still the area of my life where I’m the least satisfied. I filled out a form that asked me about my satisfaction in life in eight areas: Finances, Inner Growth, Family, Fun & Leisure, Friends & Community, Learning, Home, and Career. On a scale of one to ten I found myself rating each area of my life with an eight, nine or ten! . . . Except for Friends & Community. There, I put a four.”
Nearly four years later, in November 2022, I find that I finally have buckets of friends at long last, but even still, there is often a sense of dissatisfaction. I’ve become increasingly good at creating rapport, staying in touch, and finding people who are genuinely good matches for me as a friend, yet I still often crave more.
Raederle’s high-school friend, and Raederle
Why listen to me if I’m so bad at friendships? Well, because, when you struggle with something a lot, and yet you keep trying, you learn more than the average person. In fact, it was my ten year struggle with my own digestive system that turned me into an expert on digestion. It is a subject which I still continue to absorb information about because of my vested interest in my own stomach’s health.
Similarly, I learn everything I can about relationships. As a child I struggled with chronic loneliness. As an adult, I study the psychology of loneliness – among everything else.
Most people don’t know how to form functional relationships.
It took me a long time to see it, but most everyone I’ve ever met doesn’t know how to form functional relationships. I thought everyone was making more friends that I was, but over time I’ve come to see that few adults ever make new friendships that are deep and lasting.
Consider when you were a child. You were emotionally vulnerable before you accumulated filters from your parents and society. Over time you began to internalize the judgments you heard from others:
- “Don’t go outside without a coat – you’ll get pneumonia!”
- “You ask too many questions. Nobody likes somebody so nosy.”
- “Those colors clash horribly! You’re hurting my eyes!”
- “Don’t spin! You’re making me dizzy.”
You tell children, “Shut up!” because they are too loud.
You tell adults, “Speak up!” because they are too quiet.
As toddlers we’re working on developing our identity and our personal boundaries. Read: Developmental Trauma. Unfortunately, most of us are taught by culture to reject our highest truths – our identities, our boundaries – in favor of societal norms.
As small children we’re floundering in a sea of what we’re not allowed to be. Parents, school teachers, guidance counselors – and even the law – tell us all about what we’re not supposed to do – “Don’t flunk out of school,” “Don’t kill people,” “Don’t lie,” “Don’t cheat on your spouse,” – but rarely do these figures of authority teach us what to do.
Classmates will troll somebody for bad hygiene but unless the parents teach good hygiene, who is going to teach you how to wipe yourself properly? School is silent on this subject, and it isn’t exactly a subject friends discuss. In the case of a child who is getting teased for smelling bad, he may internalize himself as a yucky person. Later, no matter how my good hygiene he learns, he’s stuck with this negative belief about himself. Short of some serious consciousness alchemy, most people acquire dozens of negative beliefs about themselves as children that sabotage their adult goals and ideals.
We’re given lots of general, impractical advice – “Just be yourself!” That is good advice, but good luck following it without a handbook. First of all, how do you identify your true self among all the bullshit programming that mother culture stuck you with, and the multitudes of conflicting opinions inside yourself? Read: I Am Multitudes, Not Monolith.
Noticed the growing number of introverted people?
More people are choosing to be themselves . . . in the privacy of their own homes! Read: “Just Be Yourself!” and Why that Doesn’t Work for Introverts.
Most people relegate all of these conflicting beliefs to their subconscious and adopt the same mentality as the dominant culture they grew up around. This is how psychological patterns pass from one generation to the next; as we mature, we learn to identify more with how our parents felt toward us as children than how we felt as children. So much for believing the masses aren’t empathetic – on the contrary, we’re so chronically empathetic with others that we forget to believe our own personal experience! The average example of this is the codependent, whereas the extreme example of this is the empath.
As adults, we pass the buck by telling children:
- “Don’t [things I – the parent – judge as bad]”
- “Do [generic advice without any actual tools for looking inside oneself for answers]”
Did your parents teach you how to have deep, connected, loving relationships? Did your parents demonstrate a deep, loving relationship?
In my observation, few parents demonstrate anything remotely close. Even romantic movies rarely demonstrate something enviable.
I grew up with such a keen sense of longing and loneliness that I spent the majority of my teen years learning from both books and personal experience what a deep, romantic, loving relationship was. I was honestly a little obsessed. At the age of thirty-three, I still am.
Raederle (age 19) and her third love, 2008
Mostly, I learned what it wasn’t in those first six years of my experience. Fortunately for me, I wasn’t afraid of commitment, and because of this, each of my relationships limped along to their final conclusions with no avenues of reconciliation left untried. Dedication (or desperation) combined with fervent reading on the topic made me a local expert on romantic relationships by the time I was twenty. At twenty I had already had three serious relationships under my belt of two or more years apiece, each including living with my partner for at least nine months of the relationship. At twenty-one I married, and well over ten years later we’re still growing together.
Raederle (age 21) and her fourth love, Lytenian; married June 2010 (same year as photograph)
My years seeking the answers to deep, loving relationships yielded answers. Although, that’s another story. For a detailed treatise on love, read: What is love?
Why do so many of us (like myself) have such lasting romantic relationships, but no deep, lasting friendships?
What makes friendships last?
Most relationships are born of convenience: you work together, you live in the same area, you go to the same places, you share hobbies. But once the convenience is gone – you move away, they move away, you change careers, they change careers, etc – so is the relationship.
So what was different in childhood? What we like before we learned to school our faces to neutrality? We talked with abandon about the things we liked with open joy on our faces – and we talked about the things we didn’t like with open horror. We didn’t worry about whether the other person might be repulsed by our likes or dislikes, and thereby our relationships were more honest. We scared away the people who couldn’t handle our authentic selves.
Those who liked us as children liked us for who we were.
This is why many people’s deepest, truest friends are the people they befriended in childhood. And this is why so many people who didn’t make friends in childhood still remain without deep friendships in adulthood.
Façade, Meet Façade
Moral judgment and political correctness replaces authenticity and nobody can befriend anybody because nobody can actually meet anybody else! It is as if you’ve sent your secretary to talk to someone else’s secretary every time you encounter someone.
And thus, your friendships are based on surface-stuff – convenience and commonalities. Common cultural associations – shared favorite movies, shared sports, shared ethnic background – are something we know how to look for. But this isn’t the stuff of deep, lasting relationships. Both friendships and romances must have underlying complimentary values, and for them to last it must be grounded in necessities – the meeting of one another’s needs.
So how do we identify people who we can have a relationship of mutual need-meeting?
When it comes to hormonal attraction, our bodies know how to identify such people. We read it in their posture, their word choice, their facial expressions, their choice of clothing and in their subtle behaviors. Our subconscious is very good at selecting people who can meet our deepest needs. (This subject is worthy of its own essay by itself.)
Consciously, we tend to suck at selecting people who can meet our needs.
Options versus Essentials
Meeting needs is the basis for a relationship that is functional. That is, a relationship that functions. You know you have a relationship that meets a need of yours when the person goes away and you deeply miss them. People who make your life “a little more fun” or “a little more interesting” are rarely missed when they’re gone.
Playing Raederle’s game, Heir to the Phoenix Crown at Queen City Conquest Convention, 2015
Relationships formed around commonalities create options. Options are great. But options are optional. Optional relationships don’t last because they are not essential; you have no incentive to make them last. They create a false sense of belonging for a while, but deep down, you know it is a thin veneer.
“Relationships formed around commonalities creates options. . . . And options are optional.”
Is that actually a bad thing? Is it important to make relationships last? Why do we think it is?
We preach so much about avoiding co-dependency and yet we simultaneously put “until death do us part” on a pedestal. Which is really superior? A relationship that lasts forever or a relationship that serves a purpose for a time and then fades away when it no longer serves a function?
I don’t rationally believe that a life-long relationship is better than a short, sweet, useful-at-the-time relationship, but my heart believes so. Why is that? Is it just cultural programming, or is there really something desirable about this life-long attachment?
When we look at children and how vital the parent-child attachment is for the survival of the child, it makes sense that we’re wired to seek a permanent connection with our parents. Likewise, when it comes to raising children, it makes sense to form bonds with people who you can rely on to be there for you and your child as a parent-partnership or as a community. Considering how many of us are still trying to compensate for the turmoil we felt as infants who were left to cry in cribs, it isn’t surprising that this driving need for a permanent companion is among our most fervent desires.
In the parent-child relationship we can clearly see how essential the parents are for the survival of the infant. Yet this deep need remains in our adult relationships! Afterall, loneliness and a sense of emotional isolation is what causes suicide. We self-destruct either through poor health or more extreme measures when we don’t get the connection we need. To understand how clearly our social satisfaction is scientifically proven to be correlated with our health, I recommend the book, Mind Over Medicine.
Thinking back to our tribal roots, the norm in our history is permanent relationships – even if they were just about convenience in many cases. If you married into a tribe of thirty to forty people, you were likely to have lifelong relationships will all of the members of the tribe. A few might move to adjoining tribes, but nevertheless, you’ll have a baseline ranging from twenty to forty people who are permanently part of your life.
Our tribal history is radically different from the modern city where you don’t know your neighbors and many of them are changing residence at any given time. As your parents move from one city to another for a job, you lose childhood connections. As you transition from grammar school to high school, you lose connections. Then you go to a college in a different city and you lose more connections. Then you take a job in yet another city, losing your connections yet again. Perhaps you even take a job that causes you to travel or become a digital nomad, and once again, you have no steady, always-present clan. You have associates scattered over a broad area who you call friends, but how many of them are actually your bosom-best-buddies?
So why are permanent friends so illusive?
The people I see regularly in my life are not people I can label my bosom friends, but rather, people who have titles of necessity: husband, parent, neighbor, in-law, and client. I can’t change my neighbors without moving. My clients came to me because they have needs. My in-laws are my in-laws unless I un-do the commitment with either of my husbands, and whether or not I spend time with my parents, they’re still my parents. My husbands are the closest on this list to friends, and I do often refer to Lytenian as my best friend – but what about friends in the typical sense of friendship?
Raederle, Lytenian, Raederle’s parents
We throw around the word “friend” a lot – just think of facebook – but rarely are these “friends” close to our hearts. Are these people whose opinion we would let sway our day-to-day habits? Probably not. But we may go through large changes in our daily lives – even uncomfortable ones – for a spouse (or a parent).
Because we’re with our spouses because they meet needs.
I’ve met people at potlucks, yoga, dances, and festivals. Sometimes I see these people again in my own home for a retreat or workshop I’m hosting. Yet these people rarely remain potent figures in my life day-to-day, week-to-week, or even month-to-month. On lucky occasion it has turned into a several-month affair of exchanging knowledge, belongings, and favors – but these too fade away in time.
What is a friend?
Our language doesn’t have a way to differentiate between the friends that are actively a part of our lives and people we’ve met who we still respect, care about, and think of occasionally. The later sort of person is something I have buckets of. There are lots of incredible people who were actively part of my lives for a short time who I still have contact with on occasion. I call those people my friends, and according to the rules of our common vernacular, I’m entirely correct to do so.
The simple definition of a friend is thus: “A person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.” How broad! That could include virtually everyone you’ve ever hugged in your life – depending on what sort of person you are. For some social butterflies, that would entail thousands of friends.
But this essay isn’t talking about those kinds of friends. I’m talking about the sort of friend who is actively in your thoughts, your considerations, your activities – and most especially – your heart. We sometimes call these people “best friends” or “bosom friends” or “close friends.” The sort of friend I cherish most is someone I call a “soulfriend.”
Why do friendships fade away?
It is because you’re not meeting their real needs and they’re not meeting yours. Not in a sustainable, meaningful way. Part of the issue here is lack of open communication about needs. How often do you talk to your friends about your unmet needs? It isn’t exactly casual conversation: “Oh, yeah, by the way, I feel this gnawing emptiness inside because I feel misunderstood by everyone. I have this vision for how I want my life, and my world, but I’m too afraid to share it with anyone, so I never pursue it because I don’t believe I can do it alone. I just thought I’d mention it. What are your unmet needs, by the way?”
Raederle, age 29, 2018
The people you can discuss your unmet needs with – and who will strive to meet them – are the most essential people in your life. If you don’t have any such people, the lack of them is profoundly felt – if not consciously, then subconsciously. When you lose someone so essential in your life, it feels like a death or a limb amputation – these people are what support your sense of satisfaction, direction, and even your identity itself.
Every action we take – from brushing our teeth, to eating, to going out and singing karaoke – is an action specifically designed to meet a need. We don’t have to consciously be aware of the motive for it to exist. In fact, most conscious motives are rationalizations that have little to do with the real, unconscious motive.
For example, it is common for someone to be terribly overweight and believe their motive is, “I like food.” In reality, the motives at the subconscious level are commonly one or more of the following:
- Feeling protected and insulated (by a layer of fat and by the distance that eating can create at a social event)
- Feeling unappealing and thereby safe from unwanted sexual attention
- Feeling safe through feeling large enough to be an unappealing target for violence
- Being perceived as non-threatening (as competition) to folks of the same gender, and thereby friendlier or “safer”
- Preventing feelings from coming up when you don’t want them to by stuffing them down along with food
Another example is smoking. The subconscious positive intention behind smoking is often a social motive – smokers are automatically in a clan with other smokers; smokers take breaks together and bond either silently through mutual communion, or through conversation, or both. Smokers often use smoking as a way to force themselves to have regular breaks from work, as they are often people who would otherwise overwork themselves. Smoking can also have the motive of being a food-habit replacement in order to stay thin and thereby more appealing to the opposite sex (for anyone not offended by their smoking habit, of course).
You see, being fat isn’t about food. It is about feeling safe, and comforted. Smoking isn’t about nicotine. It is about companionship, and feeling at ease. Yes, food and nicotine have addictive components, but these components are easily overcome when the real need is addressed through another means. Studies show that the incentive for drugs such as marijuana and heroine disappear when offered opportunities that the addict actually wants. Once their unmet needs are resolved, the addiction goes away.
To learn more about real, subconscious motives behind our behaviors, read: Human Behavior Polarities Stem From The Same Core Beliefs.
What are needs?
If needs are the key to lasting relationships, what are needs? And what makes them needs?
A need is something that makes or breaks your experience of life – with the need met, you feel you’re living life the way you’re meant to live it, and without the need being met, you feel emotionally destitute in that area of your life.
Our foundational needs are universal – feeling appreciated, feeling safe, being nourished, etc. Once they’re understood, you can create a deep relationship with most any other willing person because you and they have the same needs. It is simply the strategies for meeting those needs that vary so much. Read: Universal Human Needs.
It is said that the best way to have friends is to be a friend, and perhaps what is meant by that is thus: The best way to have friends is to meet the needs of other people. It is certainly the best way to make money: meet the needs of others in a way that they can pay you for it. Whether it is a service or a product, people pay money when they foresee the exchange somehow meeting one of their needs.
I’ve spent my life unsure how to start being someone’s friend. I think to myself, it would be so easy to be their friend if they decided they wanted to be mine. But why should they take the risk of investing their time and energy into being my friend when I have yet to prove to them that I would actually make a good friend?
Can friends actually meet your needs?
At the age of twenty-eight (in 2017), I began to wonder if there was any reason for me to bother trying to create lasting friendships. If our entire life is about meeting our needs – first our most basic ones, and then our higher needs – then our relationships are about meeting those needs too.
What needs can a friendship meet for me?
What can a friendship provide for you?
For me, I have yet to encounter people in situations where they consistently meet my needs as friends. In fact, people often hinder my ability to meet my needs. For example, I often have found that hiking with other people makes it impossible for me to connect with my body and with nature. Instead of getting the connection I want, I often feel frustrated with the people hiking with me. Connecting with nature is something I usually do best when I’m on my own.
Raederle’s Garden, June 2017
For further illustration, here is a short list of my strongest needs – the ones I feel most often go unmet and thereby drive me to seek out further satisfaction:
- I have a strong need for significance which I meet through teaching, writing, giving lectures, organizing retreats, creating board games, and creating art. I don’t need friends for this need to be met. I only need fans, followers, clients, or apprentices. The relationships I have with these people are much more satisfying than the people who chit-chat with me and don’t take what I have to offer seriously. That said, in 2022 I finally found a group of local friends to host gatherings for who do give me a sense of significance.
- I have a penetrating, ever-present need for being understood – to be seen deeply, to be felt deeply, to be heard truly, and to grok another person in the fullest way. This is a natural part of a consciously loving, committed, sexual relationship for me. This does not seem to be a natural part of platonic friendships in the pervasive culture I’m enveloped by. I have repeatedly tried to bring a relationship to the “consciously loving” level without commitment and without sex and have yet to succeed. In my surveying of others, it seems that only a small fraction of people actually do succeed at this.
- I have a driving need to express myself which is highly tied in with the above two needs. It helps create intimacy through feeling seen, and it helps create significance and recognition through giving other people something to appreciate. Expressing myself in art and writing is best done alone (for me, personally). Expressing myself in dance or in spoken word is best done with an audience – but once again, they need not be my friends. On the contrary, strangers seem to appreciate my work much more profoundly than the people who take my existence for granted.
- I have a need to be touched – to be caressed, to be massaged, to be stroked, to be cradled. This intimate need is not something I want fulfilled outside of a consciously loving relationship. Sure, I enjoy a massage from a stranger, but to have this need met in its entirety, I need full nudity, complete comfortability with the other person’s body, complete trust in their intentions, and an atmosphere of feeling grokked by the person who is caressing me. This is definitely not something I’ve found in platonic friendship, or even in friends-with-benefits situations.
In 2019 I wrote, “All of the above said, at the age of thirty I still feel this hole in my life where deep friendships belong. Even with two husbands, there is so much empty space in my heart that is meant to be filled with people. I’ve only been driven to introversion my entire life due to being so much of an outlier that I had to hide myself. It was either hide or face rejection. Again, if you’re interested in that subject, read: “Just Be Yourself!” and Why that Doesn’t Work for Introverts.”
In 2021, I have found this hole is mostly closed now, but I’ll get to that a bit later on.
Friendship-Making Tactics: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
At thirty I had a revelation about seeking friendship which gave me hope. Let me start with a small bit of history about my friendship-making tactics.
Around the age of twenty-one I began the process of changing my strategy for finding connection at social gatherings. Previously, I told stories about myself and my experience and looked to see if anyone didn’t run away. With each acceptance I would go a little further and look for rejection. If I didn’t see rejection, I just kept going. When I ran into situations where I was met with acceptance, this allowed me to feel seen, accepted, and valuable. (Good.)
However, most of the time, I was rejected. (Bad.)
As part of trying to build a professional image I dropped this tactic. I didn’t consciously recognize this as a “tactic” or call it one until I began studying hypnosis, psychology, and consciousness at the age of twenty-five. Like everyone else, my motives and tactics were primarily being chosen subconsciously.
Raederle, age 25, 2014.
Pretty much all my peeps at the time, Thanksgiving raw food potluck.
Photo taken with my camera using interval shooting.
So, at twenty-one I began focusing more on making people like me . . . and less on meeting my own emotional needs. (Ugly.) I thought about how to display my knowledge, and my reliability; I also worked on making myself helpful to people with the specific information that they needed (usually by helping them find recipes that they would enjoy that would have a noticeably positive impact on their specific health concerns). Because I was good at this, I gained respect from many awesome people. This felt good, so I kept it up. Instead of rejection, I found myself the center of attention more often. After gaining so much rapport, I found that I could then throw in a crazy story about myself and still be accepted.
But neither strategy gained me the lasting, deep friendships I craved.
Around the age of twenty-four I began employing another tactic: Asking people deep, probing questions that would get them to reveal themselves. This brought people closer to me because they got to feel accepted by me, seen by me, and valuable to me. They felt that I really cared about them, heard them, and didn’t need them to change because no matter how dark what they revealed was, I smiled and was glad they shared with me. The only problem was that I hoped people would turn around and ask me the same questions or similar ones.
Most people didn’t.
Unfortunately, many people are happy to answer questions and explore themselves without asking questions of their own. More embarrassingly, I’m one of those people. I’ve learned to ask people probing questions because it helps foster a deeper connection, a better relationship, and much more interesting conversations. It’s basically a defense tactic. But what’s frustrating is that the things I’m actually curious about are always too taboo to ask.
You know what I really want to ask people? I want to ask them,
- “How’s your sex life going with your spouse? Are you getting laid enough?”
- “What’s your salary? How well is that meeting your needs?”
Often I think that I just am “not curious” about people, but that isn’t true. In truth, it’s just that my curiosity is all taboo:
- “What fantasies do you have that nobody has ever fulfilled?”
- “Have you ever broken any laws?”
- “What do you feel you always have to hide from people?”
- “If you’re really honest with yourself, what do you covertly manipulate people for and how do you do it?”
My curiosity is like that of a sheltered child: I just want to see people naked. Except, the nudity I’m seeking isn’t physical: it’s emotional, and it’s mental. Because of my taboo curiosity, I released two expansion decks for my game Conscience which are filled with taboo questions: Kink Conscience and Taboo Conscience.
This mental and emotional nudity seems absolutely key to deep friendships. So how come it so rarely “shows up” in the absence of physical nudity? In other words, why does an emotionally intimate relationship seem hard to form outside of a physically intimate relationship?
A New Revelation: Good Friends are Like Soulmates
I’ve realized that my newer strategies (ask good questions, be likable, be useful) and my older strategies (be shocking and notice who still accepts me afterward) are both potentially workable. However, I’ve had a fatal flaw in all of my strategies for connecting with potential friends: I get highly depressed when a couple hours with a few people doesn’t lead to any strong sense of connection. I feel like I’ve failed somehow. Yet . . . That’s absurd! Making a good friend isn’t actually any easier than finding a soulmate; it requires a high level of compatibility for meeting one another’s needs.
“Making a good friend isn’t actually any easier than finding a soulmate.”
Therefore, I shouldn’t feel bad because I didn’t have an incredible connection with someone in a gathering of a few random people. Just like seeking a partner, it takes exchanges with a lot of people before you meet someone special. Compatibility isn’t just a factor in romance, it’s a critical factor in friendship too!
Furthermore, even once you’ve met someone compatible, it takes a really long heart-to-heart before you actually start to fall in love. (Unless you believe in love at first sight, which I do and I don’t, but that’s a different “essay” for a different day.)
Raederle (age 29), husbands and visitor from Japan, 2018.
Along those lines however, just going ahead and being obnoxiously self-absorbed by telling stories about myself and watching for reactions is probably more likely to help me find a soulfriend than anything else. Why? Because someone who feels fueled by that – someone who gets their needs met by that – will be someone who is genuinely compatible with me.
My Best Friend
All of the above said, I did have a friendship – a deep, meaningful, connecting, need-meeting friendship – with a woman forty years my senior. I called her my best friend for three years. Our connection dimmed dramatically due to her moving thousands of miles away to be with her grandchildren. So what made her my best friend for three years?
I met her at a raw food potluck. She and I were outliers – actual full-time raw foodists. It was a lifestyle for us, and it was our lifestyle for the same reasons.
Raw Vegan Potluck at Raederle’s place, 2014
We had the same health problems and we’d both turned to raw foods as our solution. We shared an immense amount of physical commonalities than neither of us had shared with anyone else. She was the only person who could prepare me a gourmet meal I could eat. Nobody had made me food in years, and here she was delighted to do so!
I came over to her place for brunches that she would prepare. I met her needs to feel important, needed, appreciated and nurturing. She met my needs to feel loved, nurtured, and understood. She couldn’t understand all of me, which is something I crave from my husbands, but she could understand an aspect of me that nobody else could – my struggle with my body and my journey with my diet. She and I shared a communion of food and words that we could not share with the rest of society. We knew intimately what it was like to be isolated from meals, holidays, family events, and the mainstream at large.
Raederle’s best friend, Raederle & Lytenian, 2014
We were genuinely useful to one another because we provided each other with implementable, practical tips. We thrived on each other’s insights and observations. We lent each other eye-opening books. It was she who lent me The Continuum Concept, the book she credited with turning her “into a thinking person.”
Since she moved away in 2014 I have definitely felt her absence in my life.
Needs Met By Friend Groups
Most friend-groups I’ve been a part of have lasted less than six months. The fragile tethers that hold little groups of four or seven people together are easily broken by a single person moving or changing their priorities. All it takes is a disillusioned organizer or one inspired entrepreneur going in a new direction to break up the habitual friend gatherings.
I’ve experienced one exception – a writer’s group where the core members attended for a solid three years every two weeks. What kept nine people together for seventy-two regular gatherings?
Raederle (age 20), 2009, dressed up for a Writer’s Group Halloween party
Our commonality was writing, but I believe that writing is a need-meeting strategy that indicated we all had a profound underlying need to feel heard through our written words, and perhaps many of us also shared the strong need to be significant through our writing.
The writers varied in their styles – poetry, fantasy, science-fiction, non-fiction, essays – but we all enjoyed listening, sharing, receiving and giving feedback. It was during these three years that I built my reputation as an insightful editor. I was in good company that was always demonstrating to me how best to edit – as well as giving me a number of examples of how not to.
We bonded so much that we had additional excursions together – Halloween parties, picnics, plays, hiking, and gaming gatherings. We were a group of writers who’d turned into a group of friends. I was the youngest, being in my early twenties, and we spanned across all the ages in between going up to a couple of members in their late sixties. We had a pretty even balance of men and women. We lived in very different parts of the city and led entirely different lifestyles. And yet none of those differences mattered – we’d formed friendship out of meeting needs.
So why did it end? Why didn’t we continue on forever?
Two members moved away. One stopped writing, absorbed in a career unrelated to it. One of the published authors in the group became too busy with their events, travels and other priorities. One member adopted children from another country and became very busy with other obligations. All of these happened over the course of what would have been our fourth year, but attendance was down and we eventually officially closed the group.
I was sad that it ended, but looking back on it, our three years together was a wild success. I find that I’m making peace with the reality that all friend-groups are temporary parts of life.
Raederle with friends & husbands playing her best-selling game, Conscience, 2017
I no longer believe in the fiction that only permanent things are worthwhile investments. As all chefs know, your masterpiece creation is destined for digestion!
Cravings for Commitment
I’m a commitment junkie when it comes to relationships, which is why I found a merely “open relationship” unsatisfying and unhelpful, but found polyamory – multiple, committed, loving relationships – to be a profound solution. Read: How We Became Polyamorous.
My husbands and I don’t have to worry about the longevity our relationships. We’re firmly planted in nourishing need-meeting soil. We give of ourselves willingly and happily to one another. We’ve committed to meet each other’s needs – for life.
Could friends have that kind of commitment too? I want it to be possible. I want to build my own family out of people that would never drift away, never drift apart.
Raederle & Husbands
For my husbands and I, our core vow is to fall back in love every time we fall out of it. But friends don’t make that vow. Friends have a tacit agreement to respect each other, but not to belong to one another. And maybe that actually makes sense. After all, individuals would have a hard time finding new, expanding experiences if they only stuck with the same people indefinitely!
When reading The Celestine Prophesy I noticed there was a message beneath the messages: keep exploring, keep meeting new people. The book contained the overt message: “You have a message for each person you encounter, and they have a message for you.” But there was a backdrop message in the format of the book – the way the main character flowed through relationships with people like a droplet of water flowing through other droplets of water in a river. When we flow through encounters with people, we open up to all the possibilities in the universe – we blow open our own potential.
So perhaps all this seeking of solid companionship is actually masking a fear I have about flowing freely into everything I could be. In other words, I’m deeply attached to my sense of identity; I’m afraid of being adrift without anything solid to hold on to. People often refer to their best friend as their “rock” afterall.
Filling the Empty Space Where Friendship Belongs
In 2017 I met Ronska – someone who, at first blush, seemed arrogant and annoying. I figured I’d never see him again. But our paths crossed again several times, since we both identified as polyamorous and had a mutual interest in exploring psychology, among other things. He came over to play my board games with me and friends.
In 2019 Ronska started up a non-fiction book club with the express purpose of expanding our horizons and making us better people. I attended nearly every meeting for the two years this group persisted. Like my Writer’s Group, this group was a wild success. It met my needs for a sense of belonging, contribution, growth, and camaraderie. I came to know and respect Ronska deeply over these years.
In January 2021, Ronska and I started up a romantic relationship. Suddenly I no longer had time for friendships. Between my clients, two husbands, and a new partner, my life was finally full. Not only was my calendar full, but so was my heart.
In my teens I began imagining that I needed a community – a whole tribal village – to complete me. I imagined this because my sense of incompleteness was so vast that I couldn’t imagine a handful of people satisfying me. I craved fame – the adoration of thousands – so that I could finally feel like I belonged. My sense of being unseen was so deep that I imagined that I needed hundreds of people to understand me to fill the void.
One might naively believe that being seen by one person would have remedied all that, but realistically, no one person will see all of you. You get as close as you can in a lifetime partner, but no one person will ever align with every facet of your being. When I married Greg in 2016 and now had two husbands, I imagined that perhaps all of me would finally be seen, respected, understood, and validated. It was true that I did experience more of my needs being met – a lot more – but it still wasn’t everything.
The fascinating thing about my sense of completeness through Ronska is that it isn’t created just by him doing something actively to understand me or fulfill me. It’s that I feel understood and validated just by him being him. His similarities to me and my respect for him results in an automatic increase in my own self-respect and self-love. This phenomena is why so many people (myself included) can improve their sense of belonging through books or online videos – simply reading about a character that we relate to can help validate our own existence. But, of course, that will never be a full substitute for an interactive relationship, which is why my watching my favorite youtubers has not had the same impact as my relationship with Ronska.
Social Connection from Work
Beyond Ronska, I’ve had more satisfying relationships with my clients in 2021 than I have had in any previous year. There is a deep satisfaction in having an ongoing relationship that is entirely about meeting needs without any pretenses.
With a client there is no guessing game about whose turn it is to provide moral support and whose turn it is to shell out money. Unlike eating out with a friend where you awkwardly both offer to cover the meal, everything is very straight-forward with a client. Furthermore, it’s rewarding. A meal with a friend might be disappointing – they may feel stressed but try to repress it for the sake of keeping the peace and yet you can tell they’re unhappy the whole time as they talk about meaningless subjects. In contrast, my clients come to me specifically to divulge all the most difficult thoughts and emotions they are experiencing. My clients satisfy my taboo curiosity for the deeper, more interesting parts of a human’s life.
Society often idealizes the notions of relationships without contracts, without barter, without money being involved. We tend to look down on these as being “shallow.” We think our most meaningful relationships are those that are unconditional, but the reality is that all our relationships are conditional. The notion of a mother’s unconditional love for her children is a fantasy which does not actually exist, and pretending that it is true is actually gas-lighting the experience of every child. We’re taught exactly what is expected of us and we are explicitly treated in non-loving ways to domesticate us into “good people.” The socialization process is precisely defined by what conditions are upon the love we receive from our care-takers.
With the reality of conditional love in mind, contractual relationships suddenly become refreshing: they’re honest. I’m not hiding some secret motive for helping my clients. I’m exchanging my expertise and focused presence over a span of time for monetary gain. Granted, I wouldn’t do it at all if it were only for money. This is where people become confused. We think that adding a monetary component to a relationship suddenly means that the relationship is “about money.” To the contrary, few people have ever married someone just for their money – or just for their appearance, for that matter. While these are often large components in someone’s thinking, we always match up with people in myriad ways. Human relationships are very complex, and the more intimate they are, the more we have to be “on board” for more reasons than one.
A relationship with a client who comes to me for consciousness alchemy is an emotionally intimate relationship, and I couldn’t possibly hold enough space for my clients if it were just about the money. It’s also about my curiosity about psychology, and about my need to feel significant and needed. Even for my clients it isn’t just about meeting any one need. They come to me for knowledge, of course, but also for presence, validation, and understanding.
Any career choice that is genuinely money-centric will ultimately lead to extreme emotional dissatisfaction, because the truth is that you can never pay someone enough to do something they don’t authentically want to do. When this sort of arrangement is ventured, it either soon dissolves or evolves. In healthy scenarios, you pay someone enough money to make them feel justly appreciated and compensated for their time, skill, and effort – and they don’t accept the money because what they did was harrowing or made them miserable; they accept it because it is part of what made the activity worth doing.
While most people do not have work relationships that are as intimate as my relationships with my clients, I believe that ongoing professional relationships are a large part of where people meet their social need for connection. Coworkers, customers, and clients provide opportunities to meet needs, and in the context of a company, a relationship with a coworker can last decades. While these relationships do tend to terminate after a change of career, this is a natural example of the need-meeting function of friendships. While you’re in a company together, your connection meets many needs, and when you’re no longer in the same company, the connection no longer meets enough needs to be worth the effort to sustain.
Many work environments don’t allow for close connections because of the need to remain “professional” – which may as well translate to aloof and emotionally distant. I believe people are only happy in these kinds of work environments when their needs for deeper emotional connection are already adequately met in other areas of their life. Yet in a case like mine, where my work connections are so meaningful, it makes perfect sense that these relationships can act as something similar to a best-bosom friend sort of connection.
The Friendship Energy Exchange
Everything we do is an exchange of energy. We put energy into things we expect to get a good return on. If making your cup of coffee in the morning was more exhausting than the benefit you received from the coffee, you’d stop making coffee. People are only willing to invest in something if the amount they put in is smaller than the amount they get out. This is the whole principle of “investment.” If you didn’t get more out than you put in then you would call it a loss or a failure.
Friendships, like everything else, are an exchange of energy. You have to get more out of the friendship than you put into it – and both parties have to have this experience of it. This is the definition of compatibility. What makes you compatible with someone is your mutual ability to get more out of the relationship than you put into it. If you don’t both feel like the relationship is a good deal, then one or both of you will give up on it.
“What makes you compatible with someone is your mutual ability to get more out of the relationship than you put into it.”
Daffodil by Raederle
Daffodils are a good example of an excellent deal. They’re inexpensive, deer-resistant, drought-resistant, flood-resistant, long-lasting, and they multiply each year. You get pleasure from looking at them (if you appreciate their beauty as I do), and yet your joy in them doesn’t take anything from them at all. This is how a good human relationship works: you gain something from them without diminishing them. Your relationships with people will be more complex than your relationship with daffodils, but the important thing is that when both of you balance your metaphorical “energy checkbook” you’re both profiting.
The difficulty in finding people you’re actually compatible with such that you both have this enriching experience of one another is exactly why it is so difficult to make friends – particularly lasting friends. Many people find that the energy exchange is mutually beneficial for a time, but at some point one party starts to feel drained instead of enriched. In order for the friendship to endure at that point, the party who is feeling drained has to be brave enough to speak up. Why is bravery required? Because society frowns upon honest exploration of dissatisfaction in friendship. If you tell someone the honest reason why you feel drained by them you are likely to be met with harsh rebuttal. In fact, almost every time I’ve been honest with someone about the real reason I felt drained by their association, they’ve turned very hostile on me. In the few cases where they responded with a positive, problem-solving attitude, we’ve become far closer friends as a result.
“The difficulty in finding people you’re actually compatible with such that you both have an enriching experience of one another is exactly why it is so difficult to make friends.”
Explaining why a relationship is no longer fueling you must be a two-way street. Not only must I have the bravery to speak up with a relationship is draining for me and be heard, validated, and accommodated – the other person must be able to speak with me about how I may be draining them and I must be receptive, validating, and accommodating. Most people don’t feel that the potential gain in such an exchange is worth the potential loss. It’s a very vulnerable thing to share with someone what’s going wrong for you in the relationship and to be rejected as a result of this vulnerability is heart-breaking.
This need to be upfront about why a relationship is not fueling you anymore is why someone like me can form lasting intimate relationships and struggle with platonic relationships. Something about the physical component (even if the sex itself is rare) being in a relationship helps foster a commitment to working through the shifts in needs over the months and years. Of course, many marriages don’t last, and this is specifically because one or both parties was unable to give, receive, hear, validate, and/or accommodate feedback on how the relationship was failing to produce more than it consumed.
Relationships are meant to be abundant. Think of the abundance of plants: a single lettuce plant going to seed produces enough seed to plant an entire garden with lettuce. By sacrificing the possibility of harvesting a single lettuce plant, you get a whole garden’s worth of seed in return. Relationships are meant to be the same way. By making tiny sacrifices as small as leaving a lettuce plant to go to seed, you’re meant to reap great rewards. When this is mutually possible, the relationship is compatible and it does last.
The Gift Economy
In an abstract discussion, I completely believe in a gift economy: everyone simply gives what they love to do for free, and everyone partakes by receiving what they need from those who are giving. When this concept is new to you, it is natural to ask: But what if more people need something than there are people willing to give it? This is only a problem in our imagination; simply knowing that others have a need creates the desire to fulfill that need – if we care about that person.
A gift economy is what we witness in any healthy marriage. Two people both do their best to meet the needs of the other person, even as those needs change over the years, even as their own abilities and desires change – they do their best for one another, and slack has to be taken up by resources outside the marriage. But both parties have a vested interest in ensuring that slack is indeed taken up.
A healthy marriage is different from our relationship with the world at large. We love our spouse, which means that we take our spouse’s needs as part of our own needs. In order for a gift economy to work at a grand scale, we have to take many more people’s needs as our own. In practice, I rarely see people loving more than a small handful of people closest to them. Loving someone means advocating for that person’s needs to be met even if it would be misaligned for you to personally try to meet those needs. When it is your dear spouse who needs something and you can’t fulfill it, you do your best to ensure someone else meets that need. This is what makes a marriage last.
Could we take everyone’s needs as part of our own? I think we could, but we have a long way to go. We have to create a society where it isn’t shameful to express needs in the first place. We have to be willing to be honest with ourselves and others about our needs. We have to be willing to recognize and communicate the truth about what our love is conditional upon. We have to be more comfortable with the present-day reality of transactionality in relationships. We will not be able to plot a route from where we are now to where we want to be so long as we stick our heads in the sand and pretend to unconditionally love our neighbors.
This is why my own work is centered around bringing people toward their authentic truth through uncovering their subconscious motives. Whether the surface motive is overcoming addiction or creating lasting relationships, I designed my process, Perspective Alchemy, to get people to see their hidden truths so that they could build a life of integrity. When what you want, who you are, and what you do are in alignment, deep human connections are a natural outgrowth.
Understanding Your Unmet Relationship Needs – An Activity
Ready for an activity? Take out a sheet of paper and draw shapes in different colors, each shape representing a need of yours that you have in relationships. You could have a red star for “affection” and a blue square for “appreciation” and a green triangle for “a sense of communion.” You choose the colors, shapes and need-titles based on whatever impulses or inclinations you have.
Raederle, June 2017
Then, after you have four to seven needs represented on your sheet of paper, select one need and focus on the shape you’ve outlined. Focus on its empty space and imagine it filling up. Take the color you outlined that shape in and begin to slowly color the shape in. The entire time you’re coloring, focus intently on that need. What does it feel like? What does it look like? Who meets that need for you? When do they meet it? Are you getting enough?
Notice how the shape is filling up with color and stop coloring when the shape is as full as you are. You can try to calculate this with your analytical mind: “Oh, I think I get this need met about 30% of the time, and I think this is now about 30% colored,” and that has value. But I believe you’ll find more value in letting yourself color the shapes intuitively. Stop coloring when it feels like it matches the level of “fullness” to the corresponding shape within you.
Go forward with all of the shapes on your paper until each one feels like a reflection of your internal condition. Date the paper in the corner with one of your pencils so that you can later reflect on how things have changed over time. This snapshot of where you are now will inform you where you want to go from here.
What need is most neglected, i.e. has the most white space inside it? What need was represented by the shape you colored the most fully? Overall, how does the portrait look to you? How are you feeling about your level of needs-being-met?
This is a great exercise to do with an intimate partner or with your family. Imagine if your entire household deeply understood what needs were going unfulfilled for everyone else in the household. This is one of the key beginnings to fostering conscious love.
If you enjoy this sort of activity, pick up a copy of my book The Alchemy Workbook, where you’ll find an original activity like this on every page. For more about the book, and also about the power of introspection, watch my video: My Beautiful Secret.
Raederle (age 29), February 2018
I trust that you’ve found this article illuminating. If you want more on these subjects, please visit the other links you’ll find all over this page, and subscribe below. Also, if you’d like to meet many of my needs simultaneously, I’ll tell you how you can do so – to your own benefit – right now. You can help me meet my needs for significance, being seen, for helping others (you!), and sustenance by becoming my patron. In return, you’ll meet some of your needs for being helpful, feeling connected, seeing yourself, and fostering your own inner growth. And I’ll tell you a secret: most of my exclusive content (which is hundreds and hundreds of personal revelations, artworks, charts, etc), is available to patrons who contribute just a dollar a month. So, what are you waiting for? Check it out right now.
— Raederle, The Consciousness Alchemist