On deep-shallow companions

by Rachel

Image: Eckhard Hoehmann / Unsplash

Image: Eckhard Hoehmann / Unsplash

As I’ve been working on The Art of Showing Up, I’ve done quite a bit of research on the “ideal” number of friends a person should have, and, in the process, have come up with my own theory on this topic: Regardless of how many friends researchers say you need, or how many friends you currently have, I think everyone needs one (1) individual to fill the role of deep-shallow companion.

Your deep-shallow person is the one who happily listens to the most humdrum shit about your day, pretty much every day (and then shares theirs in turn). They let you go on and on about the traffic you sat in, the errands you ran, the minutiae of your to-do list, and everything Sweetgreen did right or wrong with regard to your salad order. (My experiences with the Sweetgreen app — which used to be very bad and are now, somehow, better? — are the epitome of deep-shallow talk.) Deep-shallow stories are both too boring and too complicated for most audiences. There’s no real drama, but there’s also definitely a five-act Shakespearean play, and it somehow all took place in the self-checkout line at Target.

Deep-shallow companionship is the height of intimacy, demonstrated through extremely not-intimate topics. It’s a bond and love that is rooted so deep, it can withstand this particular type of shallow conversation. 

Of course, most relationships include some deep-shallow talk, and occasionally, the first coworker pal you see when you walk into the office is gonna hear your terrible commute story whether they like it or not. It’s fine! But your deep-shallow person is the one who willingly listens to this stuff daily, and also shares their own with you. It’s often a role filled by a parent, sibling, or romantic partner because it requires so much love.

My suspicion is that a lot of loneliness stems from not having a deep-shallow companion. Which really sucks! Because if you try — consciously or not — to make someone your deep-shallow person and they don’t want to be (because they already have a deep–shallow companion, because it’s too early in the relationship, whatever), you probably won’t get the attention or enthusiasm you’re looking for, which just feels bad. It doesn’t mean the person doesn’t want to be friends with you or that they don’t like you (truly!)...but it still stings. Deep-shallow conversations are often when we’re our most relaxed and uncensored and real selves; not having a deep-shallow person can lead to feeling very unseen and incredibly alone.

I share this theory not to call attention to something you feel sad about and can’t really fix, but because I know how how it feels to not have the words to explain this particular kind of intimacy, or describe what it looks and feels like. I think it’s really helpful to be able to name this kind of companionship, and to be able to articulate exactly what you’ve lost if your deep-shallow person is no longer in your life. ✨


Showing Up, Friendship, Living