Jonalyn's Watercolor Blog

Sorting Friends

We all know about sorting laundry. I like to make a pile of all the socks, then find their matches. Friends are the pair to our lone sock. We match each other. And once we know how we pair off with our friend, we can connect in the places that are natural and enjoyable. Because even the closest friends do not connect over everything.

When I go out for dinner with J, we enjoy talking about books. But, J and I do not have a deep connection. We mostly enjoy skimming the surface about what we are reading. Knowing J and knowing myself means I can have more realistic expectations. Dinner with J means she’ll ask me about Oliver Twist, but I don’t expect her to ask why I’m reading Oliver Twist. For J our friendship may feel deep and personal, but for me, I realize I have a deeper layer.

E and I have a deep connection. This isn’t because E is a voracious reader like me; she’s not. It’s because we match over our core values: emotional honesty and growth. Some people never really have close friends because they don’t know their core. I get that, but it’s a problem only you with God can solve. And once you know the sock in your hand you can find its match. 

Now, this sorting isn’t permanent. Friends can always change, which keeps things interesting. If J were to grow to tolerate emotional vulnerability, we would be closer. But if E were to start reading books, we would not be closer. This is because emotional honesty is even more central to us than books. E may not be reading scores of books, but her emotional attentiveness remains core. So, at our cores, we match.

Meeting with E is an oasis, a fountain where I can let my hair down. But it wasn’t always like this. E started as “just” a Bible study friend, then as we had our kids together a “mom friend”.  It took 10 years for us to find we had grown closer and more compatible. Now I see how I sorted E from the outer ring of my friends, or maybe she sorted me, closer and closer until now she’s one of my best friends. The sorting is always clearer in retrospect, when you look back and realize. When I asked E to attend my emergency C-section, I knew. I had sorted her inside my inner ring. This process of growing closer, realizing our cores match, could also happen with J, but I’m not anticipating it.

All friendships require this sorting, a differentiation from others, a choosing them from the crowd. Sorting must happen, but sometimes we don’t even realize we are doing it. I’m hoping after this post, you’ll see how we all experience sorting. Sorting can be done in many ways. Some friends feel chosen for us. Some friends we choose. Some friends choose each other. I believe God is behind all good connections, and he has many tricks up his sleeve: things we call luck, syncreticity, happenstance, serendipity, coincidence (for more see James 1:17). But when you find a friend, you’ve found such a good thing I think it’s worth noticing the sorting work God (or others) did for you. That’s where thankfulness and treasuring that friend come into play. It’s hard to value what you don’t even realize you have.

The trouble can start if you think all friendships just happen naturally. This can lead to losing good friends from neglect or obliviousness. Or worse, pouring energy into some friendships where you’re not a match. Some people sort their easily, intuitively (blessed are they). I did not. For years, I got discouraged when J wouldn’t share emotionally with me. I double-down and tried harder. Now, after sorting, I realize J is unable to share this with me for her own reasons. This doesn’t end our friendship. It does mean I should sort her further away from my core.  We don’t match as well as E and I. So I meet with J more occasionally than with E. And when I do, I don’t feel disappointed afterwards. Sorting has led to more contentment about where we both are. 

Some of us give our best energy and highest expectations to friends who should be sorted further from our core. Others of us give our bedraggled, disengaged selves to the friends who deserve our best and highest expectations. Sorting will help you reverse these patterns. And sorting which friends connect with you, bring out your best dreams, and care for you most tenderly will transform who you choose to enjoy. These are the friends we want to accompany us during quiet walks in the shade of the day. These are the friends we want to enjoy!

What do you think of this practice of sorting friends? Any connections or stories you’d like to share, I’d be glad to hear in the comments or through email <<>>

The Friendship Posts


Expecting Better Friendships: Friendship Fountain, Sorting Friendships, Downsizing Friendships
What is a Friend: Balloon Friends, Companions, It is Good You Exist
The Pace of Friendship: Walk with Me, Return the Volley, Trains and Rollercoasters
Growing Friendships: Friends and Flowers, Growing a Friendship, Weeding a Friendship
Healing a Friendship: Forgiveness, The Work of Healing, The Crucial Question 


2 Responses

  1. Really interesting concept to “sort” and how that helps the heart weigh expectations. Maybe because I’m in the thick of reading out loud Harry Potter to my 10yr old, I kept picturing a sorting hat. ☺️ Going with that picture, the sorting hat reveals your deepest character and desires…which I think is interesting to explore those parts of my heart among friendships.
    I think one of my personal challenges is not necessarily finding and cultivating meaningful, deep friendships but rather having our proximity change which naturally shifts the amount of time spent together, affecting our connection. I find having my vulnerability ebb and flow like an accordion is tiresome.

    1. Hi Shannon!
      Oh, yes, the sorting hat from Harry Potter makes all kinds of sense to me. I’m also reading this to my youngest. Great minds! 😄

      I identify with what you shared. It takes me a lot of work to do this sorting and it’s particularly taxing when you spend more time moving a friend from a big to a small to a medium to a big box. That over and over, accordion-bending is taxing. Too taxing, actually.

      My experience has been that friends who cannot sustain my level of vulnerability over time don’t get that level of vulnerability next time. It takes me awhile to find their new “box”, to figure out what the sorting hat is saying about them. And I’m with you, I don’t have trouble finding friendships I want to be deep with. I have to work extra hard to withhold myself from friendships that cannot sustain and return my vulnerability over time. Those are the friends that get into my big boxes. And those places are very carefully reserved, even left empty, if needed, until I know this person can handle that much space in my life. 💗

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