One of the many topics of conversation that came up during my trip to Montana with my Aunts was friendship. I found it surprising how many people get to adulthood and feel friendless.
So I decided to write a post about friendship. But first, a couple caveats.
A. I am very aware that being single and childless can be a huge advantage when it comes to maintaining friendships. Of course I also see disadvantages to my stage of life, but I’m not writing this post to start some sort of “do married people or single people have it harder” debate. I’m just trying to make some points which I believe can be universally applicable. If they’re not, I won’t be offended if you disregard them and move on.
B. Some of these are my own ideas, and some are wisdom from my aunts. And some are a combo. Just giving credit where credit is due.
You ready? Okay, let’s get started.
1.Think of friendships as a health issue, not a hobby.
As someone who’s struggled with a lot of health issues, I keep careful track of what drains me and what gives me energy. So I make time to sleep. I have personal devotions every day. It may take time, but I think of it as negative time, because without it I wouldn’t have the energy to get anything done.
Friendship is a funny thing, because hanging out with friends or going to a social event can be very draining. However, there is nothing more draining than loneliness.
From everything I’ve read, particularly this article about young people and smartphones, and this article about addiction, loneliness seems to be an epidemic. I think it’s time we stop treating friendship as a hobby we indulge in when we have some extra time, and start treating friendship like it’s part of our health routine.
2. Focus on what is, not what isn’t.
This advice came from my aunts, and it really resonated with me.
I have friends, it’s true, but what I don’t have is a close-knit friend group, or a place I just belong. Instead, I get to be otter in a lot of groups. Joining in, but never being a tried-and-true member.
I don’t have a gang, and I could spend my energy searching and searching for it. Or, I could focus on the friendships that I do have, and work to maintain them. Call up the girl I was close to, but haven’t seen in a while. “Does any day this week work to go out for tea?” Send a video message to my cousin in Ohio. Go to the Sunday evening service. Talk to the girl who just joined the youth group.
3. Remember that not every friendship needs to fill every void.
You might find the deep conversations in one friendship, while another friend might go on adventures with you. A third friend might be the one who gets your offbeat sense of humor, while a fourth might share your taste in books.
4. Make deliberate trips to see the people who “get” you.
My aunt told a story about a friend of hers who is raising a severely handicapped daughter. One year they went to a retreat for the handicapped, and it was incredibly healing to be around other caretakers who understood what her life was like. My Aunt saw a huge change in her friend, and after that, even though it was a lot of work to take their daughter clear across the country for this retreat, they went every year.
For me, it’s mostly extended family members that I don’t see very often. But I did feel very “filled” the year I went to the Faith Builders college student retreat, and I’m thinking I should make more deliberate trips to events that incorporate Mennonites and academia.
Find the people that “get” you, and go see them every once in a while. Maybe every year or two.
5. Stop making assumptions about people before you know them.
We make so many assumptions about people. We assume that the uncool people aren’t interesting. We assume the cool people are shallow. And we also assume that they don’t want to be friends with someone like us. We assume that the talkative girl is flirtatious. We assume that the pastor’s wife won’t laugh at our jokes.
I’ve been noticing this recently with really pretty, extroverted girls. How many people that don’t even know them make weird, petty assumptions about them. Assuming that the’re flirty, or shallow, or rule-breakers, or snobby. It’s a strange phenomenon. Has anyone else noticed them?
Anyway. Be kind and learn to know them before assuming that you won’t “click” as friends.
6. As long as you are kind and don’t talk to much, people won’t mind if you hang out with them.
If people around you are planning something fun, there is no need to shyly wait for them to ask you to join them, and then feel bitter disappointment when they don’t.
If you want to go along, just ask. They’re discussing it in a public place. If they wanted something exclusive, they could have texted each other. And if you’re kind and don’t talk too much, they won’t mind having you around.
7. I had a 7’th point, but it didn’t make much sense, so I deleted it.
In the spirit of being a listener and not talking too much, I’ll open it up to you. What “7’th point” would you add to the list?
I find this a fascinating topic…mostly because I’m looking BACK at it from a lot of years hence. I remember those friendships in high school, where I fit in and thinking they would last forever and being sorely shocked when we all went our separate ways and lost contact with EVERYONE. it made me wonder if it was all an illusion–if I really deeply loved people who didn’t really care about me.
But then i went to college and made a looser-knit set of friends, and the same thing happened. I made an effort to hold onto a few, and have managed to keep them, not as really close friends, but as forever friends. The kind you meet up with and it’s like not much time has passed, though it’s been many, many years. And in the course of living my “after college” life and trying on new hats, like single person, working person, mother, young married…I made new friends. Some stay, some don’t. You try to hold onto the ones you value (loosely) and see what lasts.
But in the end, as you mature, you find that though “belonging” is nice, and having a e girl as a single mother., littlplace to hang out where you feel you fit in is nice, this world is not our home, and in the end the ONE who doesn’t disappoint you is Jesus and the only real tribe you belong to is Jesus’ followers. And amazingly, eventually you can meet someone and have bonds that, though they aren’t deep decade-wise, they are deep spirit-wise; and you learn that often strangers are just friends we haven’t met yet, and the world of possibilities opens up, because to be “included” someone no longer has to look a certain way or like a certain group or speak a certain jargon….
My mom just became a widow, at 84, after spending all her life living with someone else. Now she lives alone with her dog. My husband’s aunt just became a widow at almost 90, after a lifetime of being a wife. I suppose there is still opportunity for me to learn a different kind of loneliness–the kind that my mom and aunt are learning. But I think, so far, my loneliest years were my years after college, when my second “tribe” had gone their separate ways and I was home raising a little girl as a single mother. I think I understand that loneliness has more to do with where you are spiritually and emotionally, and less to do with the quantity or kind of friends you have.
But, having said that, everything is easier when you have someone to talk things through with…when you have someone who “gets” you, and when you can get a good bear hug, no strings attached.
And….being able to connect to people, to talk to strangers, to find a common thread…that is a friend-building skill that is well worth honing and practicing.
And I love your idea that being a friend, maintaining (and making) friendships should be part of our health regime….
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Emily, I am a 58-year-old married woman with kids who still struggles with loneliness. I just want to thank you for the insights and wisdom in your post. It gave me a lot to think about and hope to try new things. Blessings.
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Emily, I am 83 years old and love ALL Smucker blogs! I awakened at 1:15 this morning (a “can’t sleep” malady I am convinced is due to old age) and immediately became fascinated with your findings. I clicked on all of your links to other articles so I read until 2:45!! It took me back to the many friendships I have had over the years. Some of them are still current friends but most are now just memories of a different time in life. Very well done, Emily!!
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As a girl who is fortunate enough to have many masses of people around that I could be friends with, I think the 7th point I’d add is, “You don’t have to be friends with everyone.”
It takes the pressure off of having to go to every last social event, and gives me time to focus on a manageable number of friendships and deepen them. I still love hanging out with the people on the outskirts of my circles, but refuse to let myself take a guilt trip when I can’t put time into every relationship.
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Treat friendships like pure gold! Don’t take them for granted. Do your part, by doing more listening than talking. Oh boy, that was more than one point!?! Your points are “spot on!”
My #7 would be: don’t beat yourself up if friendships come and go. Some people come into my life and we’re great friends…. for a season. Then, due to circumstances, we both move on. Not that we wouldn’t still be friends if the opportunity presented itself. I have childhood friends that i rarely see or keep in touch with. We moved away when I was 13 and we’ve grown in different directions. We enjoy catching up now and again, but we’re not besties like we were back in the day. I have had friends like that as an adult as well. On the other hand, my dearest friend I met in my freshman year of high school. We have remained close through her time in Canada on the mission field, and her families’ years pastoring in California. We were apart for decades, and I constantly am thankful that for the last 20 Years she has been back here where she belongs. 😁 okay, this is turning into a novel. I’m super thankful God thought up friendship.
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