Why We Click With Our Best Friends Right From the Start

The phenomenon of "clicking" with new friends deserves attention and research.

Posted Sep 27, 2014

We know, from a large body of research, that we need friends, but there is still much to learn about how we form social connections.

There are several theories about how we move from stranger to acquaintance to friend to best friend. (Sometimes, we even make a stop at “quasi-friends,” those friends with whom we hang out in situations in which we might not have any closer friend at hand, such as at our regular bus stop or our children’s soccer practice.)

We start making friends early in life and continue to do so in virtually every setting in which we function. But the gift of a new and genuine friend can happen in a million different ways. You may gain a friend when moving into a new apartment building; while striking up a conversation with someone who shares your regular jogging path; or simply from smiling and engaging a friendly face at the supermarket or post office.

The Phenomenon of Clicking

We also sometimes experience the near-magical phenomenon of moving from strangers to best friends in almost no time at all. I call it the “click phenomenon.” Through years of qualitative study of friendship routines, I have found that, when asked to describe current best friends and the evolution of those relationships, many people respond that that they just “knew” they would be best friends with the person, almost from the moment they first met. It turns out that there may really be a form of  instant recognition at work in these cases.

Just as researchers are beginning to understand that the phenomenon we generally refer to as “love at first sight” probably reflects a deep, biologically-based reaction between two people, “instant friendship” is also likely to reflect a physiological predilection for certain people. There are even more extreme examples of biology directing our bonding behaviors: In a crisis or other stressful situation, for example, friendships and social bonds are especially quick to form, whether because we've opened up to other passengers in a stalled elevator or surveyed the damage of a devastating storm together. People instinctively let down their guard and seek out support when facing unexpected and life-threatening challenges.

There is likely something similar at work in experiences when we quickly click with a new friend, and it may be no accident that we colloquially refer to such connections as being "a brother/sister from another mother," a “best friend from another lifetime,” or just a “best friend forever." The feeling is so strong that we can't resist such language.

And although they may have only recently met, such best friends often describe the “click phenomenon” as generating a sense of having known each other for years. They instantly “get” one another and feel a deep connection neither can easily explain. But that's okay with them.

While most often friendships can be traced through the gradual development of shared experiences and self-disclosure, friendships that spontaneously ignite appear at least equally likely to bond people together.

So keep your eyes open and a smile ready. Be open to speaking to others as you go through your daily routine and you might just discover the best friend for life you never knew you had.

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