The second requirement, the letter C, is CONSISTENCY. Because we’ve all met people we enjoy and are positive and have fun being around, but if we never saw them again, that wasn’t a friendship.
Consistency is the hours logged. It’s the history we build. It’s the time we spend together. This is where we make rituals and we create patterns. We increase our interactions. This is where we get to know each other.
This is actually — as we put consistent time in together, this is actually how we build consistent — we start knowing what consistent behavior looks like. This is where trust happens, this one.
When we say, “I want to trust somebody,” we don’t ever want to feel we’re walking on eggshells, meaning we don’t know how to predict how you’re going to respond. We feel safe when we can predict, and we can predict by we have created a pattern, and we spend more time with each other.
This is actually the one that made friendship feel automatic when we were kids because school was consistent. And this is the one we still end up building relationships at work, at school, at church and associations because our consistency is automatic.
You wouldn’t pick those people to be your friends if you had a lineup of 20 other options. You’re friends with them because you have consistency with them, and you end up building these other two components in.
A lot of us have relationships that we enjoy — the positivity — and that we do things on a regular basis, but without the third requirement, it’s not a healthy friendship.
And the third requirement is VULNERABILITY. Vulnerability is where we share, where we reveal, where we let people in and let more of us be seen.
I teach five different types of vulnerability in my book, but suffice it to say, it’s not just sharing the skeletons in your closet, the insecurities and the shame. It’s also talking about what’s going well and your successes and risk bragging to your friends.
It’s also sharing our history, our dreams. It’s being able to articulate what we’re feeling and ask for what we need from somebody else. That is tremendous vulnerability.
Because at the end of the day, for us, we want to feel loved, and we only feel loved if we feel known, and we can only feel known if we actually share ourselves.
Do these three make sense? These are the basis of every single relationship. You’ve never built a healthy relationship without these three things.
And I could unpack this triangle for days, literally, but we’re on a deadline. So the part that’s germane to our conversation today is how we can know so many people and yet still feel so lonely, and that is because every relationship starts on the bottom, on our foundation of positivity.
No matter how much you think you like somebody or how much you want to be best friends with them, they all start on the bottom of the triangle. And then our relationships develop as we incrementally increase our consistency and our vulnerability.
In other words, the more time we spend, the more we get to know somebody. And so, therefore, some of our relationships will move all the way to the top of the triangle, but they go up bit by bit, so you can see how the vast majority of our relationships will be all up and down this triangle.
For the ones at the top, that is the one that I have found that when we describe being lonely, it is for lack of having built this top of our triangle.
When we are lonely, it is not because we need to add more people to the triangle. While some of us may be in that situation, the most of us, when we’re lonely, it is not for needing to add more people, it’s for actually needing to move some people up.
Because, remember, friendship is not something we discover, so I can’t say, “Oh, I have an opening at the top of my triangle. Let me put on a little job-hiring sign and audition you, and, ‘Oh, you have two kids, I only have three … ‘” And we play all these games like “Oh, do a little tap dance,”
“Oh, she was funny. I like her. Yeah, we’re going to be best friends.”
We don’t get to like put people in there based on whether we like them. This triangle is not about how much we like somebody; this triangle is about how much we practice the three requirements of friendship with somebody. And the only way we get somebody to the top of this triangle is by developing those relationships by practicing these three things.
So by the time somebody is at the top of the triangle, we have been vulnerable, we have shown ourselves, we have shared our feelings and shared our stories. We have done consistency, we have built history, and hopefully, we’ve even survived some life changes together so that we continue to find new ways of being together.
And we have increased our positivity so that we know how to love each other in meaningful ways for each other. That’s the top of the triangle, and that’s our goal.
Because when we can do that, when we have high vulnerability, then we feel seen. When we have high consistency, we feel safe, and when we have high positivity, it feels satisfying. And that’s what we all want, and this is what we’re craving, and this is what our bodies are literally dying without.
Our physical and mental health is so dependent on our connections. Dr. Ornish says, “I am not aware of any other factor in medicine than intimacy and love, not diet” — doesn’t matter if you had a green smoothie this morning — “not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery — that has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness and premature death,” from how many causes? All.
In fact, if we feel lonely, it is as damaging to our bodies as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, it is the equivalent of being a lifelong alcoholic and more harmful than not exercising and twice as harmful as obesity. Let that just sink in for a moment.
How we answer the question “How loved and supported do you feel?” will tell us more about your health 10, 15, 20 years down the road than any other factor.