“Can I tell you a secret?”
According to some experts, these six words will turn an acquaintanceship into a friendship. Self-disclosure, they say, is the defining trait of BFFs.
When a new friend trusts you with private information, it’s flattering. Clearly she thinks you are good stock. Reliable. Loyal. She sees a future in your relationship.
Sometimes I think I should spew out secrets to everyone I meet. It could speed up our bonding process. Except for one small problem: I don’t really have any secrets.
I’ve noticed, however, that when there’s a promising connection with a new friend, I’m more willing to mention my father’s death. I don’t go out of my way to bring it up, but I don’t avoid the topic either. When a girl-date is going just ok, I fear that kind of info might halt the already forced conversation.
Though the fact that my father died is clearly not a secret, it’s a personal memory that I only share when I’m comfortable with someone. That single piece of info doesn’t catapult us to capital F Friendship, but I think it makes clear to my friend-suitor that I feel like I can talk to her.
But there’s another side to this coin: When someone reveals the most intimate details of her life upon first meeting, there’s part of me that wonders, “Why are you telling me this? I hardly even know you.” Is there a too soon for self-disclosure?
I recently came across an old New York Times essay by Ann Patchett (whose friendship memoir Truth & Beauty is on my to-read list) about Sex and the City, and whether the ladies’ close friendships are realistic. She writes, “That’s my idea of real intimacy: It’s not the person who calls to say, ‘I’m having an affair'; it’s the friend who calls to say, ‘Why do I have four jars of pickles in my refrigerator?’” This sentence sums up what I am looking for in a local BFF better than anything I’ve ever written. I don’t need someone with whom to discuss the deep stuff—it’s the minutiae I’m interested in.
Sometimes it takes talking about everything to get to the place where we can talk about nothing.
What do you think? Is self-disclosure the fastest route to friendship? Or should we hold off from revealing too much until we’ve reached a certain level of intimacy – a three-date rule, perhaps? Also, do you agree with Ann Patchett’s definition of friendship intimacy?