This post is dedicated to my very first friends, my two sisters Christine and Grace.
As a kid, I spent a lot of time dreaming about what my adult life would be like. I would no doubt get increasingly fashionable with age (a fantasy for which I fully blame Carrie Bradshaw), fall in love, inhabit a subtly swank living space (think high ceilings, a fireplace in every room) and spend a lot of time with friends who would certainly live across the hall from me and come over every morning for coffee.
Being sucked into the misleading world of television, I spent a lot of time observing relationships that didn’t really look like work. They resembled quirky yet deep companionship, and while I did have some close friends throughout this phase of incessant daydreaming towards the future, I kept myself waiting for more, expecting something deeper, more fulfilling and completely effortless.
Instead, real life happened. And shit got lonely. Time and space let me grow apart from some former friends (colleges in different cities, bad breakups, forgetting to return calls in lieu of late-night studying) and while I forged some new friendships here or there, mostly I found myself spending a lot of time alone, wondering when I was going to find my circle, the group of people to which I would belong and instantly know it.
Once, I remember one of my then-only friends wondering out loud about my lack of other people, openly observing how my life was obviously barren in that particular department. Well, yeah, I wanted to say. It’s not like I’m not trying (I was, just not in the ways that actually would’ve worked). And it’s not as if I don’t have other friends elsewhere, I thought defensively (I did, they just lived in other areas or countries or states of mind). I felt judged, exposed, like some sort of freak-loser who couldn’t maintain a relationship of what I supposed was the easiest caliber. Boyfriends could be tough, sure, getting along with your parents when you’re a brooding twenty-year-old, even tougher. But friends? Shouldn’t that just be simple?
As it turns out, my lack of friendships wasn’t that I wasn’t making a sincere effort. It’s just that my efforts were misguided by my incorrect belief that making and keeping friends would be less complicated. Sure, you are thrown together with a grouping of peers in various different spans of life: high school, college, work. I have a handful of people who have hung on, stuck with me and are strung throughout the years of my life, the ones I can see after a length of time and resume our closeness as if nothing has changed. But mostly, I find that rare circumstance based on a combination of pure luck and forgiveness. Meeting up with someone you haven’t seen in a year and having it be comfortable or even fun is saying, It’s okay that you haven’t checked in on me. It’s okay that you don’t know where I’ve been or how I’ve felt or what’s worrying me. It’s really alright that you haven’t written or called or Skyped or texted. I get it. We’re all busy. Things happen. We’re here now.
And sure, there is a certain amount of work built into the foundation of those particular on-again-off-again relationships. Growing up together or having a shared experience (a really rough middle school hair phase, perhaps) or a fight that brought you closer than before. But as I entered my adult years, based on pure chance and the rare scenario depicted in the aptly titled sitcom Friends, I made the mistake of believing this to be common, that everyone was just wandering around in a group six-deep to call their own.
And while I have since adjusted my expectations and my approach from I-deserve-good-friends to I-will-earn-good-friends, I have compiled a list of learnings that, while less than revolutionary, are 100% packed with truth:
Call first. Then call again. Everyone seems to hate the phone these days. For everything these micro-magical-machines can do, their most primitive capability is also their least utilized: you can (oh my stars!) make phone calls?! YES. YOU CAN. And while dashing off a Tweet now and then is completely okay, setting aside some real time for intentional contact is key. You don’t have to talk for an hour. If you do, or you want to, great. But you can start small. You can wait for someone else to do it first, you can breathe a sigh of relief when you reach another voicemail recording (“Ball’s in their court now”) but if you crave the connection, you must be the one to chase it.
"If you crave the connection, you must be the one to chase it," via @HOLSTEE's #friendship issue of #mindfulmatter.Tweet It!
Letter writing is in again. Personally, I never found it to be out. This classic form of communication is so deeply intimate and so undervalued in an era of instantaneous connectivity. I’ve had several friends with whom I’ve exchanged letters and notes over the years. There is something so extremely wonderful about going to check the mail and seeing a handwritten address among a stack of bills and catalogs. Writing someone a letter is an investment. And sitting down in the middle of a rainy afternoon to catch up on someone’s life from a distance, not through a Facebook post that they’ve shared with everyone but through a direct lifeline from them to you, is a beautiful thing.
Expect less but give more. This one is pretty self-explanatory: if you want good friends, be a good friend first.
Look inward. I get it: if you’re out of school or you’re halfway settled into a work-life routine, meeting new people can feel challenging. And while you shouldn’t shut out the possibility of checking out a new yoga class or hosting a dinner, there’s something to be said for taking stock of the relationships you already have that might just be a little malnourished. Find a reason to reconnect, even if that reason is, “Hey, we haven’t talked in awhile!” and go from there.
"If you want good friends, be a good friend first," via @HOLSTEE's #friendship issue of #mindfulmatter.Tweet It!
Having people to share your life with makes the experiences you have that much more meaningful. Learning to be alone is valuable, as is learning to extend beyond yourself, getting a little uncomfortable and letting someone else in. If you can start from the ground up or uncover relationships you once deemed lost, if you can stop comparing the real world to the Real World, if you're really willing to work for it, if you can open your mind, arms and heart, you'll find the people that belong in your life.
- Why Is It Hard To Make Friends Over 30? via The NY Times
- A fun way to stay connected via A Cup Of Jo
- Why Anne Lamott thinks we're all here via Explorer
Love to write?
Every month we select at few writers to help us explore what it means to live a life of reflection and intention. Reach out to Helen, our editor at Helen.W@holstee.com to learn more