Independent Friends

I use the term “independent friends” a lot.

Like, “Oh, you know Isabelle from book club? Are you independent friends?”

What I’m referring to are friends who see each other one-on-one and are pals on their own, not because of someone else or some common activity.

My friend Chloe and I, for example, met through our mutual BFF, Sara. We were also in a book club together. For a while, we called each other friends, but we would only see each other at book club, or with Sara. I still, five years later, remember the phone call one quiet Saturday when we decided to have dinner, just the two of us, that night. From there, we started hanging out just us sometimes, and our friendship was a relationship all on its own. Not because we read the same books, or knew the same people. Just because we liked each other.

Over the weekend someone asked how Chloe and I knew each other so well. “Through Sara?” she asked. I responded with some (perhaps mildly defensive) statement like, “Well, we met through Sara, and them Chloe joined our book club, but we are independent friends!”

When you meet a potential BFF in the context of another person, or a shared club, it can be really tough to extract the friendship out of those circumstances. But once you do, it’s a source of pride. You did the impossible—you made a real friend! All on your own.

I’m in the process of “independent friending” another potential BFF, the one I wrote about a couple months back. She and I talked about getting together when we met at mutual friends’ parties. Now we’re en route to plain old friendship. It feels like a real feat.

Anyway, this term has been on my mind a lot lately because I’m always asking people about their independent friendships. I can use this blog/book as an excuse, but the truth is I’ve been fascinated by other people’s friendships—and how they came to be—for as long as I can remember.

Before my whole stint in extreme friending, I often got jealous when I heard about girls I wanted to befriend becoming independent friends themselves. Jealous, but also intrigued: how did they do it? What exactly happened to elevate the friendship? Now I have a better handle on the process, but I’m still totally intrigued by it.

So, anyway, if we meet and you tell me about this girl in your running group, now you won’t be confused when I say “So are you independent friends?” You’ll get me.

Is this a term that other people use? Or did I coin it? Do you have any relationships that you are proud to say went from just friends to Independent Friends?

Friends in Los Angeles! I’ll be reading on Monday, Jan. 16, at Small World Books at 6 PM. Would love to see you there. And Chicago! Don’t be scared of the snow, this is what we are built for. I’m reading tonight at 7 pm at The Book Cellar. I’d love to see you!


Filed under The Search

10 responses to “Independent Friends

  1. I really like this concept, and can already think of at least the women with whom I’d like to become independent friends! I’ll have to get on that. 🙂

  2. San

    I love the term “independent friends”, although I’ve never heard it before. I do struggle with the fact that I don’t know how to become independent friends with some people. I am constantly wondering if they just don’t want to become (independent) friends with me or if my signals are not clear enough…. I have extended invitations to get coffee, which were met with enthusiasm, but then nothing happened and I didn’t feel like “nagging” about it. What do I do wrong?

  3. Rose

    I love it this topic! Very relevant. I had a guy friend since grade 7, and it was only after high school that we became true “independent friends”, hanging out without our mutual buffer friends.

    I would love to hear any tips/advice you have for reaching out to these dependent friends. Like, I have some friends of friends who I’ve known for years, but we only get together with the original friend plans something with both of us. Like it seems bad to say “hey lets NOT invite our friend!” haha

  4. Emily

    I’ve never heard the term ‘independant friends’ so as far as I’m concerned you coined the phrase! After thinking about this term I realize that I have ONE independant friend in my new location, every other friend I have is the partner of my husband’s friends. I need to work on this!

  5. I was thinking about this concept while reading your book, in the section about your (oh what’s his name… the social psychologist who says you can only have 150 “friends”). There are a lot of people I call friends but we’re really acquaintances. What makes someone an actual bona fide friend? What struck me while reading that part of your book was this idea: Is there a “we.” Do that person and I have a connection such that there is a relationship to maintain, just the two of us, even if we don’t see each other super often. I think it’s an interesting test of friendship, to ask what would happen if the two of you were plopped down at lunch or at a coffee shop together… would you have a connection and conversation to sustain that time, or is all of your connection via other people / events / sources. I guess in a way, I’d argue that the only real friendships are when you’re independent friends — when there’s a “we”, an “us” — otherwise you’re chums, buddies, pals, acquaintances. And you might really like those chums and enjoy them when you’re around them! I think these conversations about nomenclature and connection are fascinating, too… your book really shines a light on the imprecision we have in what we call our meaningful platonic relationships (let alone the fact that we under-value the role that those relationships can play in our lives!) Thanks! Janet (aka @frickinator)

  6. Lauren (aka Taylor)

    Can’t wait for tonight! You’re gonna do GREAT! 🙂 xx

  7. Trina

    I have been lucky enough to find an “independent friend” recently. We actually went to high school together, although we didn’t know or hang out with each other during that time. We attended our high school’s movie night and added each other on Facebook. We really didn’t connect during these movie get togethers, nor do we have any close friends in common, so I think it’s safe to say we’re independent friends. Anyway, it took almost a year, but on a whim I invited her to go see a zombie musical with me and she accepted. We found we had a lot in common in terms of our love of cycling and mountain biking. She asked me to go on a mountain biking trip to the Grand Canyon this summer and I am very excited about the trip. I cannot express how happy I am to have a normal, healthy new friend. I’ve been searching for about six years…

  8. Betty

    I’ve never heard the term “independent friend” used before. I’d have to say that the friends I have generally fall into this category. I’m more of a introspective/private person, and prefer to socialize one on one. The dynamics of a group friendship is a total mystery to me. 🙂

  9. Lynn

    I’ve always used the term ‘separate’ friends to describe what you’re referring to. I have great friends I made through a volunteer organization and when I introduce them to people I say, we met through YPFP but we’re separate friends now. Separate from the commonality that brought us together that is.

    The only problem I run in to is when I have many separate friends from something, who I’ve developed friendships with but who aren’t friends with each other. I often end up with lot of ‘one offs’ and developing a solid ‘crew’ is a real challenge.

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