How To Create And Sustain Strong Friendships
Friendship is an essential part of life. While a few unconventional, solitary individuals may claim to have no need for friendship, most of us desire friendship to one degree or another. More introverted individuals may be content to have a few close friends, whereas more outgoing persons may favor having more friends even if he or she doesn’t get to know them as intimately. Most of us have acquaintances and casual friends who we interact with under various circumstances. It’s possible to share fun, memorable times with acquaintances and casual friends; however, one main difference between these groups and close friends is how much you invest in the relationship.
Friendships don’t typically happen by accident. Yes, it is possible to bump into someone waiting in line at a concert and become friends with this person based on your shared musical tastes. Under most circumstances, however, a person needs to be more intentional when making and sustaining friendships.
It’s first wise to spend time alone to determine three things: What do you want from a friendship? What do you need from a friendship? What do you have to offer in a friendship? These questions are important because it is hard to become close friends with someone if you don’t have an idea of what you are looking for aside from the companionship of another person. The answers to these questions can differ considerably. One individual may want to make friends in order to have friends to attend events with, whereas someone else might desire friendship in order to have someone to converse with on a regular basis about the events in his or her life. Yet another person may desire friendship because he or she may have a small or dysfunctional family, and therefore relationships outside the family unit are sought to compensate for this. Similarly, what individuals have to offer in a friendship isn’t identical. Certain individuals are great listeners, and this skill is one they can offer another person. It’s also possibly to be an outgoing, enthusiastic, and positive person, and these assets can be provided in a friendship. Other individuals are extremely loyal once they find a new friend, and this faithfulness is one gift they can offer. Most individuals have more than one asset to offer in friendships. In addition, most people want more than one thing out of friendships.
When considering what you want and need in a friendship, as well as what you have to offer, it is advisable to be realistic. Everyone has a limited amount of time, energy, patience, love, and affection to give away. This means that there is only so much of you (and everyone else) to go around. The best response to realizing your finite resources is recognizing you will only be able to nurture a relatively small number of—less than twenty, and often less than ten—close friendships. Your number of casual friends, as well as acquaintances, may be much, much larger because these relationships require less effort and involvement.
One way to make new friends is to join a club or organization. Churches can be wonderful places to make new friends, as can knitting or outdoor clubs. It’s also helpful to pay attention to the people already in your life—whether coworkers, classmates, and casual friends—to see if there is anyone you want to grow closer to.
Once you have decided who you would like to get to know, start the process by asking this person if they would like to spend time together. Lunch dates, walks in a park, or a game night are possible ways to get to know someone new. You can also attend a play or bake cookies or meet for a cup of coffee. Learning how to ask questions will help you make friends. It is important, however, not to ask so many questions at first that you overwhelm your new friend.
During this initial process of getting to know a new friend, it is essential to disclose personal information slowly and cautiously. Most people do not respond favorably if they are inundated with new information about another person, especially if this is personal and unexpected information such as you are a recovering alcoholic or have stage four cancer. It’s best to start with more conversational information such as where you are from or what your favorite breed of dog is before diving into the weightier topics.
In a friendship it’s important to be positive and encouraging. This doesn’t mean you compliment your friend every five minutes, but it does mean mentioning the things you appreciate about this person in an appropriate way. Over-the-top gestures of approval may make your friend uncomfortable, and, moreover, it is often the smaller gestures of appreciation that mean the most.
Despite the need to be positive and encouraging, it isn’t necessarily wise to overlook all faults or troubling behavior. This is a sensitive matter, however, and one best aided by caution. The delicate nature of discussing possible problems, however, isn’t reason enough to avoid doing so. You may even need to ask others how to approach your friends, especially your closest friends, when you think they may be in a toxic romantic relationship or having trouble in school. Your words of caution may or may not inspire them to change, yet you express care by being concerned.
Friendships can also be nurtured by laughing together. Laughter is an invisible glue that bonds people together, and any strong friendship requires lighthearted moments. Laughter should never be forced, of course, and you should refrain from trying to lighten the mood when a serious mood is required. Strong friendships will likely encompass a wide range of emotions and experiences, and learning to appreciate the current season of the friendship helps the friendship endure through the tough times.
A tough time may include a period of silence. Silence is as necessary as communication in established friendships, and, indeed, it isn’t unheard of for a good friend not to be in touch simply because he or she has been busy. Add in an unexpected illness or a larger than normal work load and even the closest of friends may experience periods where there is limited communication. During such interludes it can be helpful to reach out to other friends, develop personal interests, or enjoy your unexpected solitude.
There are several ways to stay connected even if one of your close friends lives far away. One way to stay connected is by talking on the phone, or, if circumstances allow, talking on Skype. Text messages, emails, care packages, and visits in persons are other ways to stay in touch. Care packages can be extra special when they are sent “just because” instead of at Christmas or for the friend’s birthday. Visits in person may be infrequent due to life circumstances, yet there are plenty of ways to stay connected in this modern age.
The maintenance of friendships is no easy task, yet the rewards are many. Friends enrich our lives with their insights, encouragement, laughter, and faithfulness. Finding and sustaining a close friendship is perhaps comparable to training for a marathon: you start off slowly and gradually add more and more commitment before you reach the goal of having a close, healthy friendship. A close friend can help you through a personal crises—such as the death of a parent, divorce, getting fired, etc.—as well as be with you in person or spirit during moments of joy. With a close friend, especially an old friend, you have the freedom to be yourself, and this is a wonderful privilege indeed.