Communications expert Ralf During: Finding and keeping friends – what really matters these days

The coronavirus pandemic has put many friendships to the test, loneliness is a big issue in our society.

Communications expert Ralf During: Finding and keeping friends – what really matters these days

The coronavirus pandemic has put many friendships to the test, loneliness is a big issue in our society. You wrote a book about how we create real connections with other people. Why?

Ralf During: A longtime friend kept asking me: "Why doesn't a pig call me?" I appreciate her very much because she has a very good character and actually has everything you could wish for in a friend. Nevertheless, she does not manage to build up a solid circle of friends. So I was wondering what could be causing this. That was the point at which the idea for my book came about.

And what's the problem with your girlfriend when it comes to friendship?

The biggest hurdle to getting in touch with other people and making deep friendships is the relationship with myself. If something is wrong in my self-image, I also have trouble finding people who accept me for who I am , to appreciate.

So the much propagated “Love yourself first so that others can love you” also applies to friendship?

Self-love alone is not enough. It is also about recognizing old patterns and beliefs. Anything that creates resistance within myself affects the outside world. That which has not yet been processed in me also has an effect on my social behavior.

Let's get a little more specific here: how exactly does my inner life affect my interpersonal relationships?

Basically it's about the question of how I perceive my world. The fact is: no one perceives the world in the same way as you do. We all have different filters. It starts with our senses, which only depict a small part of reality. And then we interpret that part based on our experiences, values, and memories. And if I don't find this self-created reality pleasant and valuable, then of course that also has an impact on my behavior and the people around me.

Let's say I'm at peace with myself - but I still don't have the circle of friends I want. Then where can I start?

Friendship doesn't just fall out of the sky, it usually grows out of an acquaintance. This in turn results from regular contact, i.e. the recurring opportunity to meet each other - even if only by chance. These can be colleagues or club mates. If I then discover similarities or exciting differences with these acquaintances and deal with them openly and appreciatively, a closer connection can develop after a while. The more good energy we give each other, the more lasting the relationship can develop.

And how do I differentiate between people who are good for me and so-called "energy vampires"?

Our feelings are a very good guide. We have two basic feelings that make themselves felt again and again: the feeling of joy and the feeling of pain. So we tend to move away from things that aren't good for us and are attracted to things that are good for us. When I learn to pay attention to these feelings, I quickly recognize which people are good for me and which are not.

Can basically anyone become a friend or are there certain requirements?

Everyone has the same basic needs, which only differ in intensity and characteristics. When we meet someone who has similar needs to ours, we get along well with them right away. If, on the other hand, the needs contradict each other, we react quickly with rejection. That doesn't automatically mean that this person can't still become our friend - we're walking the same road, figuratively speaking, just from opposite directions. What stands in the way of a connection here is our individual evaluation of the other person from the perspective of our individual needs.

So we have to throw our prejudices and stereotypes overboard to make friends?

Exactly. When I begin to recognize something lovable in every person I meet and accordingly behave more lovingly towards these people, then I also have much more intensive relationships with each person.

In reality, however, friendship often takes place in filter bubbles, for example between people of the same culture or a similar income class...

Basically, I would say money and status are irrelevant to the formation of a friendship. Because when people get along, they usually don't care how much money the other person has in their account. Anyone who has a similar world view, the same interests or a different kind of connection to one another is less swayed by external influences. But: It is not uncommon for friendship to be linked to certain expectations or conditions. And if these are not fulfilled, for example due to different financial possibilities, then the friendship can break up as a result.

Speaking of breaking up: How do I respectfully end a friendship that has become more of a burden than a gain?

The question is: Is it still a friendship at all if I'm already thinking about ending it? As soon as I realize that this person is actually not a friend, saying goodbye becomes easier. And that's not bad at all. Life is like a bus ride: people get on and people get off. If I accept that, then I can walk out of the relationship with respect and gratitude.

When a friendship ends, many people struggle with feelings similar to those of lovesickness...

I think friendships are often even deeper than love relationships. In fact, friendships often last longer and reach a level of intimacy and openness that one desires in a romantic relationship—but rarely experiences due to the vulnerability that intimacy brings. In love, the fear of loss is also much more pronounced than in friendships. Precisely because the bond of friendship is usually felt to be stronger. You can also say: partners come and go, good friends stay.

If friendship is so important to us, can I even live a happy life without good friends?

I believe that we badly need social interaction. But if you live in a good social environment, you may be alone, but rarely lonely. That means we don't need close friends to be happy. However, I think the happier a person becomes in their life, the more likely they are to meet people who become true friends. In other words, inner happiness will sooner or later lead to friendships.

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