It’s a concept — part creepy, part oddly relatable — that was first brought to us by the drama mamas on the show The Real Housewives of Atlanta, when Cynthia Bailey presented NeNe with a friendship contract. Bailey later explained the document, which, in a cute turn of clause was to be signed and notarized by President Obama, was a joke, after, of course being labelled a “Single Black Female,” by Nene. Which, if you recall, led Cynthia to burn the paper to ashes.
Funny concept, and hysterics, at first, but turns out that people are actually now requesting such legal documentation of the expectations and limitations of their closest friendships.
Attorney and legal expert Ann Margaret Carrozza has had such requests. What do such on-paper agreements include? Anything from stating that both parties agree to talk about any issue that upsets either of them before it snowballs into a big problem to agreeing not to date a party’s former flame and agreeing to a certain amount of time to spend together and what type of time (one on one, with husbands and/or kids), explains Carrozza. Perhaps the one thing we can all most relate to is what may be called a confidentiality clause and each party agree to not share secrets, no matter what happens to the friendship.
Where does the need for such documentation come from? “Friendship as a concept is in trouble. And many people would rather be respected than liked,” says research psychologist Ganz Ferrance, PhD. It’s shorter, written (namely digital) communications that have largely replaced face-time conversations and this type of bonding and intimacy is not as clear and clean as friendship bonding of the past, says Dr. Ferrance.
“Tweets and texts gone wrong have led to countless miscommunications and fallouts.” This leads to what Dr. Ferrance calls “projective tests,” whereby the recipient of written communication can project what is going on in his or her head instead of considering what may be going on with the person who sent the note, Tweet or text.”Basically, many of us are looking for ways to cut through the distance and help us identify what is going on and where we stand in our relationships, especially friendships.
Remember, though, that we’re living in a fast-paced, ever-changing world with a massive time shortage and that “healthy and open communication is something people work at,” says Rachel Needle, PsyD, who is a professor of psychology at Nova Southeastern University.”Something such as a friend contract, whether formal or informal, can help make both friends be clear and explicit about what they need from one another in the relationship and what sort of treatment is expected from both people and what will be the standard,” says Dr. Ferrance.
If this all sounds too legalese for you, reserve it as a last-ditch effort to salvage a failing friendship and get around the separation or disconnect by making time to connect more deeply with your comrades, says Dr. Ferrance. “While it may seem like we are connecting on Instagram and Twitter, and picking up friends, in reality we are not fulfilling the human need for deep connection and relationships we all have.”A solid way to start the conversation is something along the lines of, “You know, I don’t know if you have been feeling this way, but this is how I’m feeling,” says Dr. Ferrance. Then, get input from your friend and write down some agreed upon guidelines for moving forward and, “stick to them!”
And, keep in mind, says Dr. Needle, that “all relationships come with risk, and to make it work, you have to be willing to be vulnerable in order to increase connection and emotional intimacy.”
Just as a refresher for all of us digital citizens, the general tenets of good friendship are caring, no competition, consideration, empathy and a respectful attitude, according to Dr. Ferrance. To that Dr. Needle urges all friends to remember to be forgiving, consistent and reliable, express when you’re feeling hurt and let your pal know how much you value their presence and support in your life.