“Truly great friends are hard to find, difficult to leave, and impossible to forget.” — G. Randolf
What a lonely ride this would be if we had to go it alone. We are community-minded people, we couldn’t live without the support of those around us, our social structure is what keeps the water in the taps, the roof over our head, and our children in classrooms. Except in extreme situations, we truly rely on everyone around us without even knowing their names. But it is those we hold dear who matter most. Friendships are the foundation upon which we allow ourselves to thrive. Always knowing someone is in our corner can help us be our best self. Across all cultures, friendships are important relationships that carry us through our life span.
Having a social support network of friends helps us cope with stress. Studies show that hospitalized people have better outcomes when they have a friend network. Friendship allows us to outsource some of the emotional burdens of daily life. People who can take us to appointments, or pick up medication/groceries for us are essential in our lives. Who your friends are has a bigger impact on your health than romantic partners. Just having a close friend in the room can lower your anxiety and heart rate. Who do you call at 5:30pm when you’re stuck in traffic and going to be late to pick up the kid from daycare? A friend, that’s who!
It is important to curate your immediate social network, not the people you encounter on social media, but the people you can see in person or have a private phone call with. Knowing someone online has become more and more common in our lives, making friends from halfway across the world, using Zoom to stay connected. There is nothing wrong with this. Yet those we can be with in person tend to have a bigger impact on what we do and how we feel.
The suggestion is to focus on three to five real-world friends. Some qualities I look for are trust, communication, honesty, humour, and mutual respect. What do you look for when you’re making new friends? Mutual interests are wonderful for meeting someone — taking up a hobby or a sport where you can connect with peers is always fun. But sometimes it is the people we are the most different from who we are drawn to, the differences being a point of intrigue or pure curiosity.
And… it isn’t all about finding those who can be our friend, sometimes it is about being a good friend yourself!
The other night my son woke me up just around midnight. He’s 18 and was just crashing over at my place. He wondered if I could drive him to a friend’s house, someone who was having a really rough time and didn’t want to be alone. I couldn’t, but I sent him in an Uber. I am so very proud that he is the sort of friend who would drop everything and be there for the people he cares about. It warms my heart to know he is that type of friend!
Learning how to be a good friend can be a whole other journey in itself. Here are 10 good tips to take to mind.
Give them time: It can take time to make a friend, for certain. AND you need to be able to make time in your schedule to maintain a relationship. It’s one thing to be a casual acquaintance, but a true friend is someone you clear things in your calendar for when they ask. When it is truly friendship, you’ll find yourself being the one trying to slot them in!
Reciprocity: Following on the previous point, you’ll want someone who also wants you in their life. If you find yourself making time for someone and they’re just too busy for you, it might not be the friendship you think it is. For certain, we all get busy and overrun sometimes, but if this is a frequent occurrence, it might be time to have a conversation about your needs.
Be a good listener: Remembering that communication goes both ways. It can’t always be all about you. This is a give and take situation. That doesn’t mean, if you’re the one with a sticky issue, coming to your friend for advice or even just to vent, that you always have to be there for them the very next moment. It just means that, over time, you’ll both even out the playing field on who needs who when.
Be trustworthy: Your word is your bond. Nothing says this more than friendship. It’s what takes loyalty to the next step. If you say you’ll keep a confidence, no matter how juicy the information, you’ll need to keep that to yourself. And if you say you’ll be somewhere, unless there are serious unforeseen circumstances, then you ought to be there for them.
Celebrate the differences: Sometimes we have friends who are just like us and we’ll laugh together at the same jokes, finish each other’s sentences, and gravitate to the same restaurants. But often this won’t be the case. We all bring something different to the table and being able to not only acknowledge this, but actually celebrating it can be a lovely experience. Maybe they’ll teach you a new board game, or introduce you to new food, or even change your mind on a social concept. The possibilities are endless — step outside of your echo chamber and mix it up a bit, meet someone from a different culture or background. You never know where it could lead!
Support one another: Times are not always good. There are places and phases in our lives where we need more support than others. This one right here is why I use the term “scaffolding” for the work that I do. I am here to walk beside you while you make a change in your life. A true friend will be there to support you physically, emotionally, spiritually, while you go through your trials and tribulations.
Maintain boundaries: Know your limits. You’re human. We can’t always be all things to all people at all times. Sometimes a friend will say “I don’t have the energy to support you in this right now.” and that’s okay, because sometimes you will be the one who needs to say this. We have a limited supply of energy in any given day. When you need a break or the other person does, this doesn’t mean the friendship is faltering — it means you respect each other enough to be honest about your needs in the moment.
Creating community: There’s little better in this world than finding your crew; a group of people who you truly connect with and feel like you can be your authentic self with. Sometimes it starts small and grows, and sometimes you’re the one to step into a group already made. Know that you are worth it and they will accept you for who you are!
Quality over quantity: Large groups can be nice, especially if you’re looking to form a softball team, but knowing that it takes a lot of effort to have a good, deep, long-lasting friendship and that we are all limited by 24 hours in the day — choosing the people we connect with the best to put our energy into means that it is the quality of the few relationships rather than the quantity that we ought to be focusing on.
Know when to let go: You’ve heard it before, some people come into our lives for a season, some for a reason, and some forever. Knowing when a friendship has run its course is a tricky scenario. We all grow and change, and sometimes we grow in different directions from those we love. When a relationship stops serving you, and hanging on is just taxing your reserves, it might be time to have a conversation and see if you are both on the same page. Goodbyes are hard, but feeling stuck can be worse.
Making and maintaining friendships takes work. It is not something to go into lightly. The ones who really matter to us will be the ones who keep us up at night with worry when they’re not doing well, and also those who fill us with joy when they are! One of the number one things I find in my practice is that people, on the whole, are lonely. We lead busy lives and interact with many acquaintances through the week, but when it comes to planning activities and doing things with friends, I hear words like “burden” and “nuisance”. People don’t want to burden their friends by asking for help; or they don’t want to be a nuisance by always asking the same people to hang out. The truth of the matter is — that person you’re going to ask for help or an activity may be just as lonely as you are. Reach out and at least give them the opportunity to say no on their own behalf. You might just be surprised how often they say yes!