The Petri Dish of Stable Relationships

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We want resilient connections with others. We’re designed to enjoy and need them. But what does it really take for us to move from a friendly acquaintance to a stable bond?

Remember Petri dishes from biology class—those low, plastic dishes with a mysterious “substrate” in the bottom? If you exposed one to, say, mold by way of a Q-tip, and then kept it at the right temperature for a long enough time, voila, the tiny life form would eventually become visible to the naked eye.

I believe certain factors may be the Petri dish and substrate in which relationships have the conditions to grow into something resilient. Over the coming weeks, I’ll present those factors the women I interviewed believe are necessary for a relationship to become enduring and loyal. I’d like to hear from you the extent to which these factors have been true in your experience.

When I think of the stable bonds I now have, I remember that we had an external reason to be in contact on a regular basis, almost daily. I’m thinking of a high school friend, a college friend, and a friend from my first job out of college. I didn’t have to make arrangements to be in their presence. Nor could I, if I had wanted to, avoid their presence. 

Of course there were also factors that drew us to each other more than to others. But seeing them almost daily for several years gave the space and time for something resilient to form.

So the first possible factor in developing stable bonds is regular, unpremeditated contact at some point in the relationship. By unpremeditated I mean that you don’t have to plan to see each other because you’re both a part of something where you’ll automatically be in the same space. School friendships tend to develop more easily for this reason. Once a resilient bond is formed, you may then see each other less often, but the bond remains.

For New Englanders, there may need to be such unforced time (or forced time, depending on how you look at it) in order to break down the “New England crust”. No pressure. No risk of “failure to launch”. Just opportunity. Lots of opportunity.

If this idea of unpremeditated time together affirms something you’ve suspected, you may find it welcome or unwelcome news. For many women in suburbia, it may cause frustration because we no longer naturally bump into friends—or in some cases, anyone—without planning to. But it may also come as a relief to know that a major factor in feeling less connected than you used to is not because there is inherently something wrong with you.

What do you think? Of the stable bonds that have taken hold at various stages in your life, to what extent was unplanned time together a factor? For people you currently see, how often do you think is “often enough” for your relationship to really be able to grow?

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. — Hebrews 10:25






About Jess Mason

Jess Mason, M.A., M.Div. is a licensed minister, spiritual director, and director of the DeeperHope Institute for Women's Spiritual Life. She currently pastors the Wednesday Women's Community at Free Christian Church in Andover, MA. She lives in Haverhill, MA with her husband, Elliott.


  1. I think that it is more difficult to be a part of something every week even in our society. Something I do everyday is work but I cannot develop relationships with the people I see everyday as I am a supervisor and need to keep work not personal. Because I work so much, I don’t often have time to socialize. It is hard to develop relationships. I had more when I was involved in a ministry in the church. I also wonder how much relationships in the church are emotionally healthy ones and how many are relationships based on false self.

    • These are helpful insights. Both the logistical problem of time, as well as the internal problem of pretense. I look forward to exploring both in more detail.

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