Episode 55

Published on:

2nd May 2023

7 Mistakes That Can Wreck New Friendships

Okay, maybe "wreck" is too strong a word. But with friendship more important than ever to our physical and emotional health, it's time we tackle the common missteps that often lead to heartache.

What I often hear from people is that meeting people isn't the hard part of making friends-- it's turning the meeting into something that resembles a relationship: making that jump from acquaintance to friendship. It can be tricky, for sure, but it's made infinitely easier by avoiding some common blunders.

Curious what those blunders are? Take a listen to today's episode.

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Here's more on Dr. Andrea Bonior and her book Detox Your Thoughts.

Here's more on this podcast, which somehow you already found (thank you!)

Credits: Beautiful cover art by Danielle Merity, exquisitely lounge-y original music by Jordan Cooper


Dr. Andrea Bonior: Do you have a new friendship you're trying to get off the ground? And instead it seems to be skidding and floundering and heading towards what seems to be a certain death. Today we're talking about seven common friendship mistakes that can keep a friendship from actually becoming a friendship. With friendship meaning so much to our mental and emotional health. It's key that we can have the skills to build new friendships when we need them, especially with so many people feeling lonely. If you've ever wondered how to have a better chance of turning that acquaintance into a friend, you'll want to listen to today's Baggage Check. Welcome. I am so glad that you are here. I'm Dr. Andrea Bonior and this is Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice, with new episodes every Tuesday and Friday. Baggage Check is not a show about luggage or travel. Incidentally, it is also not a show about why there wasn't a scene at the Philadelphia Museum of Art stairs in Rocky Four. Okay, on to the show. As a lot of you listeners know, friendships are one of my areas of passion. That sounds strange. I mean, I really love friendship academically, research wise, clinically. I've written a book about it. A book with a hot pink cover that really is obnoxious. And I can say that now because we're a decade out. And I work with a lot of people in therapy about building better friendships. I do a lot of speaking and writing about friendships, and often what I hear is that the problem isn't meeting people or even keeping friendships. It's that gap between meeting people and turning them into a friendship. How do you go from acquaintance to friend? We're talking about building friendships, not just meeting people for friendships, because oftentimes, though, the meeting part can certainly be tough, and I don't want to take anything away from that. It can be even tougher to turn those occasional or chance meetings into something that's a deeper relationship. How do you build a friendship with that coworker or the person that you chat with at the gym without seeming like a stalker? And why do some friendships never get off the ground despite your best efforts? Well, I've been working with people about this for a very long time, and certain roadblocks pop up over and over and over again. There are particular common behaviors that we tend to do without thinking, but these are mistakes that can often keep friendships from really becoming friendships. So here are seven common missteps that can easily derail things. And you don't need to feel bad if you do these things. A lot of these things are natural. They're very common human reactions. But hopefully if we illuminate them today, then you can change them up if you're looking to actually be able to make the friendships that you'd like to have. So, number one, not asking questions or following up, this is going to lead you to be caught in some sort of small talk purgatory. I promise you, if you see somebody all the time, but you never actually nudge towards deeper questions, then you're just going to be caught always talking about the weather and let me guess, the weather has been crazy, right? But ask yourself, are you actually showing an interest in the other person's life by asking questions? Not too intrusive, of course, but questions paying attention to the answers, following up. Are you giving the other person the opportunity to express themselves? If you're not, you're kind of just giving a soliloquy without the stage makeup. So you've got to ask questions, show genuine interest in the responses, follow up the next time you meet. That's often what builds a foundation? I work with people all the time who say, yeah, I see this person in carpool pickup all the time. We talk about the same things each week. We're stalled, but I'd love for her to become more of a friend. Well, follow up ask something a little bit more personal. Again, not intrusive, but something that you can then follow up the next week. Oh, how was that visit with your parents? Oh, did your air conditioning end up getting fixed? Etc, etc. Number two, letting one mistake paralyze you. Let's say that you made a joke that you shouldn't have and now you're ruminating about it and you're thinking about it. Or you forgot to have your phone on when she was going to call to meet up. Sometimes when a friendship or an acquaintanceship is in the early stages, one false move paralyzes people, it feels like a death sentence. But of course, like many things in life, it's how you handle the mistake that has the lasting impact, not the mistake itself. If you can actually not ghost the person after the mistake, that is key, right? A lot of people start to hide in their holes after the mistake and then guess what? They've pretty much ghosted the person. And that's a bigger offense than the original mistake, most likely. So when you have a specific and gracious and quick apology and a true effort to not let it happen again, whatever you did, that gets things back on track a lot more often than just hiding would. Being so embarrassed that you pull a disappearing act that's going to kill a friendship. It does every time, I promise. And I see people on both sides of this all the time. The people who can't bring themselves to reach out after they slipped up and also the people wondering why that person slipped up and then now disappeared. Number three, being pushy or overly indecisive about plans. So we got the two extremes here and I feel like they're both very common. Let’s say you're finally planning to go get coffee with that person that you're trying to take from an acquaintance to a friend. You're finally going to go grab a smoothie with that person from spin class, or drink after work with a colleague, or you've been invited to a barbecue with that other family from your kids swim class. Maybe you're going to now be too pushy insisting that you've got really narrow parameters about what might work. It's got to be at this spot that this exact time, or else you can't linger a moment longer. Or on the other hand, the plans themselves don't get off the ground because you're too wishy washy about it and you're too indecisive and you won't put forth any effort to choosing anything. Friendships flourish when both parties make plan making as easy as possible and as natural as possible. Setting up a bunch of rigid parameters is going to make the other person wonder if you're worth the effort, even if you are. And if you're on that opposite end of the spectrum where you just refuse to pick a restaurant despite them asking three times, or you say whatever works for you 17 times when they are actually looking for some guidance and some help on logistics, that's going to feel like too much effort for them as well. Number four trying too hard to impress. It's an understandable impulse. You want to show your best self friendship is a lot like dating, so you're going to have those temptations to extol your virtues or to name drop. But nothing says insecure like your fourth mention of once having dated Matt Damon's second cousin, right? Bear in mind that the research shows that people tend to like people who can be self deprecating. People who can expose some vulnerabilities so constantly inflating yourself could move you into competition mode. And that's more conducive to that horrible word frenemy than it is to friendships. Of course, don't rag on yourself either, or keep selling yourself short. Of course it's a balance. But what I see being most damaging, most commonly, is that need to inflate yourself. Leave the self inflation to those sleeping pads that are really cool when you're camping and they just automatically give you a couple extra inches of air. Number five breaking confidences. You might feel so honored to have been told something juicy by your new friend that you can't help but be proud of it and tip your hand to another friend about it. Or maybe you didn't really think that the news was as sensitive as it was and it didn't really occur to you that you shouldn't share it and you just didn't use good judgment. You just didn't pause. Either way, that's already going to put some cracks in the building blocks of trust and intimacy that are needed to form a genuine relationship. So even if the person doesn't find out about your loose lips immediately, they might eventually. Breaking trust right away and making yourself more of a sieve for secrets rather than a vault. That's a very common way of keeping a good friendship from beginning. And number six gossiping too much. This is very related. Now, I'm not going to sit here and lecture about gossiping. I am not somebody that thinks that any talk about other people is automatically a bad thing. As somebody who ponders human behavior for a living and who has spent more time reading celebrity news than I would care to admit, I do find it unrealistic to say that we're not going to talk about other people. I do think that's part of being human. I do think that there are some evolutionary reasons, even for it, how we talk about others and we compare ourselves. And sometimes it's even helpful to build community to really have a sense of talking about other people if it's not in a cruel way. Of course, it doesn't always have to be malevolent. But some gossip, let's face it, it's truly toxic. It is unkind, it is mean spirited, it is a betrayal. And when you talk about others to make them look bad, directly or indirectly, it's only going to make your new friend wonder what you're saying about them when they're not around and whether or not you're worthy of trust and if maybe they should just protect themselves by backing away now and then finally missing cues. The very best friends are empathetic. They're responsive. They're sensitive to their friends needs. So when you don't show those qualities, you're not going to be as attractive as a potential friend. When you can't take the hint that the person really doesn't want to text while they're at work, when you don't really get that this is not really a good week to meet or that a certain topic is uncomfortable. To talk about. Or that maybe they're not really wanting to answer a certain question. Or they don't share your rather unique views on the US tax code. That's going to turn you into something of a chafing presence or even sort of a bulldozing nightmare. Listen and observe and make eye contact. Notice body language and try to respond accordingly. And of course, many of us have problems with social cues. Many people who are neurodivergent might especially struggle with this. And that's all okay. The question is, do you have an awareness of the fact that you want to try to be responsive and sensitive to the other person? Maybe you make self deprecating jokes about the fact that you don't always get cues and that's okay. You can get ahead of it. But a lot of times we're so caught up in what we want to say and what we want to do that we don't even just pause and think, I should be taking the other person into account here. I should be listening and asking them if I'm unclear of whether or not this is right and if I can't take their hints, I can ask directly. So just think about that level of sensitivity. It will go a long way. So hopefully if you recognize yourself in these seven tips, you know where to begin. Of course, there are lots of ways you can probably still make friendships, even if you have some of these characteristics or you commit some of these quote unquote errors. But they should be starting places for you to see, maybe how to troubleshoot some things that might be going wrong. Because again, I see these play out a lot. If there are specific obstacles that you see getting in the way of some of your early friendship building, let me know. Thanks for joining me today. Once again, I'm Dr. Andrea Bonior, and this has been Baggage Check. With new episodes every Tuesday and Friday. Join us on Instagram @baggaecheckpodcast. Give us your take and opinions on topics, guests and you know you've got that friend who listens to like 17 podcasts? We’d love it if you told them where to find us. Our original music is by Jordan Cooper, cover art by Daniel Merity and my studio security, it's Buster the Dog. Until next time, take good care.

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About the Podcast

Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice
with Dr. Andrea Bonior
We've all got baggage. But what do we choose to do with it?
Every other Friday, licensed clinical psychologist, best-selling author and popular psychology professor Dr. Andrea Bonior takes your mental health questions, and makes you part of the conversation. Join her and other voices as they translate research into real life, and talk about relationships, emotions, health, psychological disorders, stress, finding meaning, work, and occasionally-- just occasionally-- the most obscure dance crazes of 1997.
All are welcome, and nothing is off limits. With science, compassion, and humor, she's here to help.

About your host

Profile picture for Andrea Bonior

Andrea Bonior

Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, speaker, and the best-selling author of “Detox Your Thoughts." She was the longtime mental health advice columnist for The Washington Post, and appears regularly in national media, including CNN and NPR, with several popular courses on the LinkedIn Learning platform. Dr. Bonior’s blog for Psychology Today has been read more than 25 million times. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University, where she recently won the national Excellence in Teaching award, given by the American Psychological Association.