It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“Here’s what the capacity for friendship looks like in action: asking about others, making someone feel welcome, making suggestions for joint activities, sharing (but not dumping) information about oneself. … Perhaps the strongest signal of problems in the friendship realm is the existence of cutoffs. A string of ex-friendships is a sign of rigidity, indicator of an inability to tolerate conflict or stress in relationships or work out their complexities.” (“Clues to Charater,” Psychology Today, June 2011)
The cover story of this month’s Psychology Today is this article about how you can tell who a person will become. Certain traits, like a capacity for friendship, are apparently pretty stable over time. Someone who is good at making friends as a mini-person (that’s my word for, you know, the 3-year-olds) will probably have a good batch of pals as an adult.
There are also specific clues that can tell you upon meeting a person if she has a good capacity for friendship. None of the characteristics above—asking someone how they’re doing, making a person feel included—are all that unexpected. They seem like pretty obvious indicators. And yet, oftentimes when we meet someone and notice these behaviors, we make excuses for them. We figure she must be having a bad day or going through a hard time.
I get it. It’s nice to give someone the benefit of the doubt. But now I’m telling you—or, actually, psychologists are telling you—that this is not a trait that will change. If someone doesn’t have the capacity for friendship on the day you meet her, she probably won’t have it ever. I’m sure there are exceptions, but let’s just accept this as a rule of thumb, okay?
Similarly, if a potential BFF has a string of broken friendships, trust this red flag. If she starts telling you why all her other friendships went wrong and explains that she’s always in the right but everyone around her ‘just doesn’t get it’… run for the hills. This is the first stop on the way to crazytown. You might very well end up uttering the words, “it’s not me, it’s you.”
I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. Psychology Today isn’t telling you anything you don’t know. If someone acts like a friend, they’ll probably make a good one. If someone reveals they have a string of ex-friends, you might fall into that category one day, too.
Why do you think we give potential friends a chance when they don’t show the “capacity for friendship” that Psychology Today describes? Are we wired to give people second chances? Or is that just called having an open mind?