Experts. We all use them whether it’s to help with our taxes, diagnose our illnesses, prescribe our medications, landscape our lawns, remodel our homes or fix our teeth. We got to thinking whether we could use this logic when forming our friendships--a team of experts each of whom offers special skills, knowledge and emotional support.
We both know how important our friends were after we each lost a spouse. Friends circled the wagons, didn’t gossip about our losses, took us out, brought us food, wine, books and candy, and most of all held our hands and tended to our broken hearts. They were there for us when we were lonely, lost, needed to talk, cry, grieve, strategize and start to move on. Some even helped us figure out where to go and helped pack and unpack our belongings after we each decided to move.
We slowly realized that one bestie, boyfriend, sister, brother, cousin or partner could never handle all the heavy lifting to help us manage our undulating moods. We knew then how much we needed to diversify and rely on many friendships to fill in the gaps of our needs. Nobody can do all for another.
We have always told each other that we have different friends for different reasons. “Why are you friends with her?” we’ve been asked and even sometimes asked each other. Answers are varied. Here’s what we typically say: “Because she’s sweet and kind or smart and well read or she cares and is there when I’m sick, showing up with chicken soup and soothing advice.” Or, we’ve explained, “She always remembers my birthday and cares about my entire family.”
In a Jan. 22, 2018 column for the “Wall Street Journal” newspaper, “Why Our Mental Health Takes a Village,” Elizabeth Bernstein wrote, “Research into ‘emotionships’—the relationships we have with others that help us manage our moods—shows that having a village or portfolio of people with various emotional skills helps us function best mentally.”
Bernstein alludes to two studies by researchers at Northwestern University and the University of California, Santa Barbara, published together in December 2014 in the journal “Social Psychological and Personality Science” which states: “People with different friends who help them moderate specific moods report better well-being and greater satisfaction in life.”
Finding these “emotional specialists” we feel deserves the same consideration as finding any other specialist. There are several factors to consider in forming your team:
- Determine the subject-matter experts you need. Good listeners? Someone to advocate for you? A person who will put you in your place gently when your head is in the clouds? Or someone to help you strategize a new life if yours is suddenly turned topsy turvy.
- Take stock of whom you already have on your team and fill in the gaps where you’re missing this or that person.
- Perform your due diligence on individual candidates to make sure they can be available, commit to time, will fit comfortably with your style of processing information, be an asset and complement others on your team. Try them out. And when a team member doesn’t fit in any longer or becomes uncomfortable to be around, don’t hesitate to ease out that member gently.
- Know how to find the best members. Join clubs or classes with help for a particular issue such as a support group of widows or widowers. Margaret reached out to a grief support group after she lost her husband. You might need a life coach, yoga instructor, or teacher, someone to get you on track to return to an activity you’ve enjoyed in the past such as painting, which Barbara did. It gave her time on her own and away from family, existing friends and work. She consulted a close friend who also paints.
- Strangers, too, can help moderate your moods and become a member of your team with some time. Sometimes, you just may meet the right person in a meeting, on a plane, train or even on a walk as Margaret recently did. Don’t bring them on board too fast or confide in them right away. Give yourself time to see if the chemistry is right.
Here’s a sampling of the kinds of emotional experts of both sexes we came up with; some are on our team and some slots still need to be filled.
The Mother/Father Tiger or Pit Bull. This friend has your back unconditionally. Someone makes a snarky comment to her about you. This person might say: “That’s not okay. She’s going through a tough time.”
The Negotiator. You’re going out for dinner with several women and no one is on the same page about where and when. This is the person who will take charge and negotiate in everyone’s best interest and does so kindly.
The Listener. You give the friend a call: “Hey, do you have a second. I need to bitch.” This friend allows you to vent without judgment or comment. And the person knows how to keep a secret.
The Comic. No matter how down you might be, this is the quick-witted friend who makes you laugh—can see the humor in every situation. The mantra is not to take life so seriously. This tact can lift your mood, enable you to shift gears and get outside yourself.
The Marketer. You want to meet someone new to date or you’re looking to shift careers, this is the person who will design a strategy with you to make sure you and your brand come across as alluring. And if the person has social media savvy so much the better. You can also have members of the opposite sex on this team. And she or he gets into the trenches with you—maybe, even takes charge and helps you revise your dating profile for online sharing and nudges you to try various sites again after you’ve had some awful dates.
The Builder. When you’re faced with a problem, this friend will bolster your confidence; make you feel like you matter and walk you thorough various options to gain control of your self-worth. “Are you kidding? You did a terrific job on that writing assignment!” No trashers sought here, ever.
The Coach. You’re not sure what to do with the rest of your life after your husband walks out the door. This friend works with you to craft a new life plan and is by your side along the way. She even tells you to close your eyes and imagine where you might move by envisioning your return address on an envelope. Aaah, thanks very much as you pack up your belongings; her guidance worked.
The Intellect. When you need to discuss and analyze anything such as politics, books, plays, or you name it, this is the go-to person. This friend will take you out of your emotional space to a more rational place. And she sees all sides.
The Social Butterfly. You’ve been spending too much time alone. You’re lonely, even sad and down, so you need this pro who knows how to get you out and about since she is always up for a movie, grabbing coffee or a drink or even hosting a party for you!
All Around the Clocker. You know you can’t call your pal in California at 7 a.m. when you’re an East Coast gal but you just must talk. Same goes if you live on the West Coast and have a problem at 11 p.m.; your East or Midwest friend is off limits. So be sure you have at least one person in another time zone who can be on duty for talk about yesterday’s news, what troubled you the other day or even what you plan to do today that you must share.
Unlike hiring an expert who will do work for you, there is no contract, just an unspoken agreement between friends of trust and confidence. But don’t take your “emotionships” for granted, either. Treat your team well. Friendships are based on an exchange--they help you and you reciprocate to make sure that everything in your life and theirs is handled with care and compassion from the inside out.
And if blips or problems arise between you and your expert, heed this lesson well. She or he may be going through a rough patch and need your counsel, very possibly.