Anyone who knows me knows that I’m always ready to dive into conversations about the nuances of adult friendships. In fact, just recently I attended an event celebrating International Friendship day that focused on this very subject. Hosted by Pepper Your Talk founder Dior Bediako, conversations at the event ranged across everything from ditching your friends for a date (is there ever an exception?) to having multiple best friends. One particular topic that stayed on my mind long after the event was the idea of high and low maintenance friendships.
For those who aren’t familiar, the terms high and low maintenance are used in the context of friendships to describe the different levels of effort required by individuals to keep relationships going. For example, you might consider someone to be more of a high maintenance friend if they like to communicate regularly (read: daily), tend to keep you up to date on the minute details of their life and know everything from your weekend plans to your latest work drama.
As for friends who fall into the low maintenance category, you might notice that keeping up with them happens on a more sporadic basis, communication is maybe centred around a specific occurrence or plan and during your bouts of communication you catch each other up on major life changes while potentially skipping over the day-to-day things.
For a long time, I held the perception that low maintenance was just a fancy way of saying ‘lazy’ when it came to making an effort. It seemed contradictory to me that I could speak to someone every few weeks or sometimes months and still maintain a level of genuine closeness – I mean, they wouldn’t even be up to date on the latest details of the will-they-won’t-they-saga I was in with my latest crush. However, I soon realised that due to a variety of things, such as distance, or work, or life just generally life-ing, our capacity to manage high maintenance relationships isn’t exactly what it used to be. And where I might’ve immediately assumed this would result in a loss of closeness, I now see that it doesn’t always have to.
During the International Friendship Day event, I was intrigued to hear how many people disagreed with the idea that constant communication was an automatic sign of intimacy. Not ignoring the truth that regular communication is essential when building healthy relationships, they believed that there is something to be said about the quality and depth of the communication and the part that this plays in maintaining intimacy.
Even as I began to consider my own circle of friends, where relationships require varying degrees of effort, I found that there was very little difference when it came to the calibre and depth of closeness I felt in these friendships.
The thing is, we all require different things when it comes to communicating and expressing intimacy within a friendship. Taking into account personal boundaries and situational circumstances, the way in which we show up for someone may be expressed differently across friendships, and because of this, the way we measure closeness with our friends can’t be based on something that varies from person to person.
I don’t consider my high maintenance friends to be any better or closer to me than my lower maintenance friends. I may be more inclined to text them to rant about a TV show or FaceTime them for quick outfit advice, but I know that if I’m ever in a bind or going through something tough, I can count on any of my close friends to show up for me, regardless of if we had just spoken on the phone that same day or haven’t messaged in a few weeks.
Making these friendships work comes down to knowing how my friends want me to show up for them and being aware of my own capacity to do that. By using this knowledge to establish a method of communication that works on both sides, we’re able to maintain a level of closeness and intimacy that isn’t based solely on how often we talk but also on the depth and value of our interactions.
Written by Natasha Chisabingo