Six and half years ago I moved from Virginia to Utah. It was winter and I was 8 months pregnant with baby #3. I had my baby and fell into postpartum depression. I felt alone. I didn’t have a support system or any friends. After struggling for several months my husband urged me to go see a counselor. I started seeing a woman named Joan Landes and she was absolutely wonderful. She validated me, listened to me, and gave me the necessary tools to fight my depression. One of the things I remember the most was her advice about making new friends. Real, genuine friends.
She advised me to try, what I termed, a friend test. She recommended I share something small and vulnerable about myself and see how my new friend responds. Does she move on and talk about herself? Does she change the subject? Or, does she listen and respond to my vulnerability with her own?
I am aware there are no perfect friends and even great friends may respond poorly sometimes. However, this test is a great indicator of whether or not you have a friend that you can be real, raw and open with.
Here is an example.
I am at Beth’s house for an arranged playdate. Our kids are playing outside and the opportunity to share something small and vulnerable comes up during our conversation. I mention the fact that when I moved to a new state, I did not have a support system after having a baby and I felt very alone. That’s it, I don’t go into details about my depression or how it wreaked havoc on my life. I keep it simple, short and just vulnerable enough to open the door.
Possible reaction #1:
Beth’s body language tenses up a little bit. She mentions how messy her kids are and picks up a few toys before changing the subject. I opened the vulnerability door and she didn’t walk in. I don’t give up on her as a friend, I just know that she might not be the friend that I can really open up with. She might be the friend I take shopping or workout with and she might be the friend who makes me laugh the hardest. The point is, she could become a great friend. However, if every time I try to share something vulnerable with her she closes off and changes the subject, that is my que. It obviously makes her uncomfortable and I won’t continue going there with her. Not only to protect myself, but also out of respect for her.
Possible reaction #2:
On the flip side, if Beth responds to my small and vulnerable info with a listening ear and follow up questions, then I know it doesn’t make her uncomfortable. The chances are high that she will open up and share her story with me as well. I’ve found a friend I don’t need to hide the real me from. I can be real, open and vulnerable. I opened the door and she walked in.
Try the friend test. Share something small and vulnerable with a friend and pay attention to how they respond.
I also encourage you to examine yourself and see what type of friend you are. How do you respond to a friend when they are vulnerable with you? Does it make you uncomfortable? Do you change the subject or do you listen intently and see the opportunity to connect in a deeper way? Are you a friend that someone can be open and vulnerable with?
I personally don’t stop being friends with someone if they fail the vulnerability test. I just know that they are not the person I’m going to call when I’m struggling and need a listening ear. It’s that simple. I try really hard to be the friend that people can call and open up to. When someone needs a shoulder to cry on, an ear to rant to, or a friend to validate them, I hope they call me or knock on my door. I hope they know I’m here for them because I’ve shown up in the past when they issued their own friend test.