Friends and Acquaintances

It is no secret that we need both close friends and casual interactions to thrive. Lack of access to them has been one of the hard parts of this Covid season for many of us. Friendships add richness and profoundly shape our lives. But friends can also be mean. That’s one reason why it is important to teach our girls about friendship – rather than assume they will naturally figure it out.

At BRAVE we define friendship as:
A friend is someone who loves you enough to walk beside you and tell you the kind of truth that sets you free.

This comes from combining the Old English freond, which means “to love” and its root word freo, which means “free,” with the Arabic meanings “the one who accompanies” and “the one who tells the truth.” Most of us fall on one side or the other of this equation – truth tellers, telling it “like it is” regardless of the outcome, and those focused on kindness (genuine or other) unwilling to enter into difficult subjects. The BRAVE Way suggests a third way that embraces both truth telling and kindness as we journey together.

A few years ago Gallup, poring over 8-million interviews and numerous other research projects, discovered that people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their job and that people with 3-4 “vital friends” at work produce more, are happier, and even healthier! [1]

Friendships are important. They serve at least two very important roles.
1. Friendships challenge us: in one insightful study of college women [2] Ana Martinez Aleman found that female friendships can help women develop their intellectual capacities and become better scholars. [3] Friendships were particularly important for women of colour as a way to “build and protect self-esteem within a racist and an ethnocentric institutional culture.” [4]
2. Friendships mirror for us: Friends help us to see who we really are and to see others in new fresh ways. Female developmental frameworks present a view of women’s self-authorship as a function of empathetic relationships, not through ideals of self-sufficiency and isolated reflection. [5] This need for friendships as a place for intellectual stimulation, wisdom, confidence building and self-authorship increases as women navigate the changes associated with moving into careers and significant relationships.[6]

And casual interactions are important too. In 1973 a sociology professor at Stanford University [7] wrote about the Strength of Weak Ties. His paper became one of the most influential sociological papers of all time. In it he demonstrated that the groups we belong to and the casual everyday interactions we have with people are strongly linked to gathering new information and ideas, as well as contacts for anything from a new hairdresser to a new job. Building on this work Gillian Sandstrom, while living in Toronto, Canada as a graduate student, began to think about the influence casual interactions have on our wellbeing. Now a senior lecturer at the University of Essex her research suggests that people with larger networks of acquaintances tend to be happier and experience a greater sense of belonging. It turns out chit chat matters. Thanking the barista, exchanging pleasantries with members of a team or exercise group while warming up, waving to a neighbour over the fence. These simple acts remind us that we are embed us in a community and they make us feel better.

So what’s to be done until lock down is lifted? Set up short chat dates for yourself and your daughters with neighbours and acquaintances, people you don’t normally go deep with. Ask what’s new. Smile. Tell a joke. Then once it is safe and wise to do so, get back out there and build your network. You will be healthier, happier and more informed and that’s what BRAVE Women and Girls do.



[1] See Tom Rath Vital Friends, Gallup.
[2] College women’s female friendships: A Longitudinal View, Boston College University Libraries, published in The Journal of Higher Education, vol. 81. Nu. 5, pp. 553-582, October 2010.
[3] Ana Martinez Aleman (1997, 2000) p. 132.
[4] Ana Martinez Aleman 2000, p. 147.
[5] Welch-Ross, College Women, The Journal of Higher Education P. 573
[6] College Women, The Journal of Higher Education P. 565-567.
[7] Mark Granovetter