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?