Emotional Intimacy Roots

Close and supportive friendships have a strong system of roots holding them together. It’s not enough to create the roots, we need to act on them. Let’s talk about how to use your emotional intimacy roots to build and strengthen friendships.

Emotional intimacy roots are based in the past.

When you spend time with friends (shared experience/interest roots), you have the opportunity to learn new things about each other, create memories, find commonalities, and share in small + big intimacies.

You collect emotional intimacy roots over time – all the roots that build supportive friendships.

  • Details you’ve noticed
  • Memories you’ve made
  • Shared/overlapping history
  • Big + small intimacies

"Collected"

I use the word collected intentionally. 

Moments are fleeting. Memories last.

You are in the moment with friends –
talking, laughing, telling a story, learning, dancing, singing, debating, relaxing  
– and then the moment passes.

The details get tucked away. 
The memories are stored.
The intimacies shared are appreciated.
And just like that, you are onto the next moment, left with the information you’ve filed away.

Collecting something requires attention.

There will be many details, moments, and memories that never become roots – you didn’t give them your attention, comprehend the information, or deem them important.

Let's say someone is a stamp collector.

Collections are built over time. They require dedication, energy, attention, and resources.

The collector has researched and sought each stamp they’ve added to their collection. The collection might have monetary value, but its real value to the collector is emotional. If the collector gifted the collection it wouldn’t hold the same emotional value:

The details about why each specific stamp was chosen.
The colorful stories about wild auction bidding wars.
The enthusiasm the collector felt when they stumbled upon a rare stamp at a bargain price.

The journey is likely just as important to the collector as the physical collection.

Supportive friendships are built on the little details we collect and use to affirm our friendships.

the Types of emotional intimacy roots

SMALL DETAILS COLLECTED ABOUT A FRIEND

Their preferences, boundaries, experiences, perspectives.

  • Knowing a friend loves donuts and surprising them with their favorite kind.
  • Acknowledging a friend’s boundaries when you send an invite: “Hey! J is coming to dinner on Sunday. I know you normally take Sunday nights to yourself, but I just wanted to send you an invite in case you wanted to join.”

THE MEMORIES YOU’VE MADE TOGETHER.

You can have memories with old and new friends.

  • A photo triggering a visceral memory for you + a friend – both of you are transported back to summer days ridding in that car you bought for $1,000 with all the windows down, music blaring.
  • Reliving your high school football glory days with one of your oldest pals.
  • Talking to a friend you met a few months ago – “Remember the day we met? I didn’t mean to snap. It had nothing to do with you. I was just having a bad day.” 

SHARED HISTORY

You’ll discover shared history with new friends and might even uncover new facts with lasting friendships.

  • Texting a friend – “My high school soccer team made the state finals!” You both played in high school, but didn’t play together at the same time.
  • “Wait! You know S too?!” You share a mutual friend, but one knows her from work, the other from High School.

SMALL INTIMACIES

Subtle ways we let someone in – Sharing a win, acting carefree, letting someone help us with something small, telling a friend you enjoyed your time together, and many more.

  • Sharing the news about your promotion!
  • Even though you don’t have many dancing skills, laughing with total disregard and letting loose on the dancefloor.

BIG INTIMACIES

Trusting someone with our more vulnerable conversations, requests, and support needs. Sharing a secret, asking for help, calling in an emergency, telling a friend we’ve gone back to therapy, talking about a big problem, sharing that we’ve been struggling with our mental health, and many more.

  • Checking in on a friend on the anniversary of a traumatic event with a text that says, “Hey! I know you might want to be alone today, but I am thinking of you” to make sure he knows their is a supportive friend available if he needs one.
  • A friend asks, “Will you be my child’s emergency contact with school? That would mean if they get ahold of me, you might need to go pick the up in an emergency. Knowing there is a backup would save me a lot of stress.” 

BTW – Everyone’s definition of a small vs. big intimacy will be different. We’ll dive deeper into finding your big vs. small intimacies another time.

GROWING INITIAL EMOTIONAL INTIMACY ROOTS

Let’s use a close friend from HS as our example. 

[Another example in my Roots 101 Post] 

Your close friend from High School – Back in the day, you spent all sorts of time together. There was a big variety in ways you spent time together, a broad range of topics you talked about, and a closeness that comes from being friends during the time in life when you are learning, making mistakes, and trying new things.   

Very few, if any, fellow classmates have the plethora of memories and connection points this friend has. 

The variety of emotional intimacy roots supporting this friendship: 

  • Their favorite color is blue.
  • Their first car was a jeep.
  • Their favorite dessert is a chocolate cupcake. 

– Details you noticed and tucked away about your friend. 

  • You have vivid memories of cheering together at football games.
  • You can picture the outfits you planned out for weeks for spirit week.
  • You remember the terrible haircut they got senior year – was that after winter break? 
    Nowadays, you laugh about all the times you got in trouble with your parents for breaking a curfew. It wasn’t so funny back then. 

– All memories you share. 

  • You took Spanish, and your friend took French. Even though you didn’t take the same class, you’d recognize their French professor if you saw them out and about.
  • Your parents both volunteered at the local food bank. Even though you never volunteered, you still have some basic familiarity with their stories and the ways this gave back to the community.

– All shared/overlapping history. 

  • Your friend leaned on you in High School when things weren’t going well with their parents.
  • You remember comforting your friend after her grandmother passed away. 

–  You shared in some big intimacies. 

  • You both spent endless hours doing…. Nothing. Laying around in your PJs.
  • You went with each other to big family reunions.
  • You acted silly – all the time – parking lot dance parties, showing up at school in ridiculous outfits, singing randomly in the halls, rolling down the windows, and singing at the top of your lungs in the car.

– All small intimacies (at least in my book). 

This friendship’s “we’ve been friends since high school” root is STRONG, and this is only a fraction of the roots.

Emotional intimacy roots transport both of us back to past versions of ourselves.

Emotional intimacy roots give us connection points with friends. If you called each other to catch up, but it’s been a long time there are still lots of emotional intimacy roots you can depend on to guide your conversation.

    • “Are you still driving the jeep?”
    • “You’ll never guess who I ran into – the french teacher you had in high school. What was her name again?”
    • “How are your parents? Is your grandpa still living in the bay area?”
    • “Oh my gosh – Do you remember when we went wild for crazy hair day? I had glitter in my hair for months.” 

You can mix emotional intimacy roots from decades ago with new emotional intimacy roots in your conversations and actions.

    • “I am so excited you got that promotion! Can you imagine telling your 16-year-old self that you now work in engineering?! You hated math class.”
    • “I know you don’t eat many sweets anymore, but would you be interested in a chocolate cupcake?
    • “You’re getting a new car! How will it beat the jeep? I know the jeep broke down all the time, but nothing will beat blasting music and driving around town in that car.” 

Emotional intimacy roots often where we look to make our friendships comfortable and in act in ways that show this is a supportive friendship. However, we change and therefore roots die or wither - which can be uncomfortable. 

EMOTIONAL INTIMACY ROOTS Grow + Change

Grow Stronger

Frequency, range, and closeness

Frequency increases the number of details, memories, shared history, and intimacies you can collect.

Range means that will have more variety. You’ll do the same activities but in different contexts prompting different conversations and new information.

Closeness, as in, feeling like we are “on the inside.” We have details, memories, and intimacies very few people know. 

Grow Offshoots

Offshoots are particular memories that stand out within a generic memory. 

Quite often roots have themes –
“Sharing about work struggles.”
“Taking family trips together.”
“Watching your kids grow up together.”

A decade-long work friendship will have a strong root surrounding all your memories of working together. Yet, some specific memories stand out –  the company meeting where your friend got an award or the event you successfully pulled off together with 24 hours’ notice.

Wither

When roots wither, things have changed and change can cause discomfort while we update our information.

Details – Information is outdated. A friend used to love cupcakes, but now can’t eat them – so showing up with them isn’t going to elicit the same reaction it once did. 

Memories  + Overlapping history – A friend wants to move on and doesn’t want to bring up a memory you normally talk about. To maintain this supportive friendship, you realize you need to not discuss that memory any more.

Big + Small Intimacies – People have changed, and they have new boundaries around previous intimacies you shared.

 Die 

Similar to withering emotional intimacy roots, emotional intimacy roots die.

Your closest friend from High school – her father passes away. She calls you immediately and asks if you would be willing to fly in for the funeral. 

The day of the wake, you are fumbling around for serving dishes, and their neighbor breezes in and asks, “What can I help you find?” Your best friend just moved into this house, and you haven’t spent much time here. Back in the day her house was basically your second home and you knew where everything was in her kitchen.

You tell the neighbor, “I’ve got it,” but soon she knows this kitchen way better than you do.

You might be frustrated this new friend feels more comfortable in your best friend’s house than you do. There’s nothing wrong with this – you’ve just had a root die and losing a root here and there is bound to happen. Your friend needs a variety of supportive friendships during this time — you provide memories no one else has of her father and her neighbor can show up in small ways to care for her. They are all valid ways to show your friend she is surrounded by supportive friendships.

Anytime you are connecting with friends you have the opportunity to grow emotional intimacy roots by filing away new details, updating old roots, making memories, and sharing.  

You can also regrow emotional intimacy roots by allowing outdated roots to die and collecting new information. 

Emotional Intimacy Roots create supportive friendships.

We collect all this information and tuck it away. 

It’s not enough to just store the information – you have to use the information to affirm having supportive friendships.

My next post about Story roots will dive deeper into using your emotional intimacy roots to strengthen friendships and build up our social support.  

Emotional Intimacy Roots keep us connected 

Roots hold our friendships together. 

Emotional intimacy roots hold our friendships together by prompting us to initiate contact and giving us connection points to keep our time together comfortable.

  • “Remember when we both broke our legs at that swim meet? I tried to retell the story – must be one of those stories where you had to be there.”
  • “Thinking of you! Losing your job is so hard. Here if you need to talk.” 
  • “I just ate the best chocolate cupcake! Made me think of you.” 

I hear this all the time:

  • “I want close friendships.”
  • “Where do I find friends I can talk to about anything?”
  • “How do I find friends I can do anything with?”
  • “I want a tight-knit social circle.”  

Those close and supportive friendships exist because of the web of roots you have built. We can’t show up for our friends in meaningful ways if we haven’t paid attention to what is meaningful to them.

There’s a lot of focus on the end goal – finding close friends.
But our oldest, closest friends – we are fondest of them because of our journey together

When it comes to new friends – don’t cheat yourself out of the journey – the messy, funny, hilarious moments are the best memories and the details that bring us close. You can build that with new friends at any age. 

Keep the conversation going.

Hi! I'm Alex.

I am just a person who has spent an extraordinary amount of time trying to understand some of the relationships that I hold most dear. I invite you to join in on the conversation below in the comments section below.

Ask questions, leave comments, share critiques or give advice. All are welcome.

Hi. I'm Alex.

I'm a speaker, thought leader, and soon-to-be author focusing on community and friendship.

TL;DR The friendship paradigm is broken. I'm breaking it down, so we can build a better version.

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