Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Practical Living: How to Cultivate Adult Friendships

Friends are relatively easy to come by when you're a child, a teenager strapped side by side to the plow of a school routine. There is designated time for spending together--recess, lunch, on the bus, before and after school. There are commonalities of shared experiences that hold hearts tight in tandem.

Place two people together with the added variables of copious time + commonalities, and the equation should yield fast friendships, the kind that survive time, distance, differences, age.

Although I couldn't have known it when I was younger, friendship is so much easier for the young.

Then the widening gyre starts circling, your life spreading outward in a lopsided amoeba-like path so you just might fall apart from the exposed, asymmetrical span. In that moment when the center of where you have always been threatens to snap, catapult you into an entirely different place, those friendships can get lost mid flight.

With the equation of time and commonalities ruptured, it's easier to just let go than to grip tight with both bloodied hands to something you can't really hold onto anyway.

Once you resign, just let go, there's no going back, no recapturing. Not even if you try. And I have.

The only thing to do is try again to cultivate new friendships. But what does an adult friendship look like? And how does it work, when children, a job, a spouse, aging parents, and relationship with God and church already hold clear title to the time that would once have been devoted to friends?

How do grown men and women make friends?

This is something I've struggled with since I married my husband. Loneliness.

A friend used to be someone I would call and talk nothingness with at the end of each day; someone I could count on to accompany me to a late night movie showing, even when I only gave a half hour's notice; someone whom I could make a Sonic run with share an order of fried cheese sticks.

That was friendship.

But now? Now that most people in my inner circle are raising young children? working full time jobs? Or both? Impulsive doesn't work well. Daily contact isn't always feasible either.

There are things, though, that I'm learning we can do to encourage those relationships, things that we often dismiss.

1. Welcome Friends into our Homes. This is huge, something I've shied away from my entire adult life. It's ok to invite friends over even when there's more cat fur under the furniture than is still on the cat. Even when I could write my name in the dust on the television screen, when the kitchen sink is overflowing and the counter tops are invisible, when the to-be-folded laundry baskets look like a snapshot of the Alps. And along with that, I'm having to learn it's ok to say "Sure, come over" even if I don't have on makeup, even if haven't brushed my hair today, even if my blue jeans are holey (and not in the fashionable sense).

2. Pick Up the Phone. With caller ID, it's easy to just reject that phone call, pretend we're not available. But if a friend calls to talk, it's important to talk if we really can. If not, we call back later. There is no substitute for our time. No matter how many household chores are waiting, no matter if we would prefer to decompress with a favorite television show, no matter if we'll end up staying up an extra half hour--we must offer up what little we can of ourselves, even if it's just an ear a hundred miles away.

3. Write It Down. This past January, a relatively new friend sent me a birthday card. Honestly, I didn't know our friendship had progressed to the "I need to remember your birthday" phase. It was unexpected and in that, my heart was warmed. Email is good. A text that just says "I'm praying for you" is amazing. But in an uber-electronic era of instant thought, the simplicity, the slowness of picking out a paper card and putting ball-point pen to paper is all that more special.

4. Keep our Mouths Shut. We're the Jerry Springer, the Oprah, the reality TV generation where everything is for pubic consumption...only it's not. I'll repeat: it's not. Unless we have permission to tell a confidence, unless we're honestly concerned for someone's safety (and not in the gossipy "Did you hear about so and so? We need to pray for her" way), we keep our mouths shut. No blogging. No tweeting. No FaceBook updates. Just. Shut. Up.

Research shows that people with friends live longer. It makes sense. We were created for relationships--with God and with others.

It's high time we stop selling our relationships short.

7 comments:

  1. This post struck a chord. I've contemplated writing the blog post on the day I realized I didn't have to answer the phone. That day truly was an amazing, liberating day.

    However, the pendulum has swung far to the other side and in a day where instant communication is so easy and life's demands so challenging it's become all too easy to neglect relationships.

    This is right where I am. That delicate balance of when to let it all go and shift time and focus to a relationship outside our four walls has been so very challenging.

    I pray He gives wisdom on prioritizing. For me, currently, this is so very necessary. Life can be so overwhelming that I want to crawl back under the covers and hide.

    Let's believe together for His help in this area. We need each other.

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  2. Isn't it funny how we've gotten to the point where we don't want anyone calling us because it interrupts what we're doing. We want people to text us so we don't even have to waste time on the pleasantries of a relationship. I have learned to schedule time with my husband. I'm thinking the same thing is required for friendships. Spontaneous will end up meaning "doesn't happen."

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  3. Jennifer, it's true. Scheduling needs to happen. Diana and I generally don't go past six to eight weeks without getting together for dinner and a movie and it's been way too long. Something will always come up. We just have to do it.

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  5. So very, very true. But I'm just not sure how to fix this in my life. I feel so out of lockstep with the rest of the world with no obvious way to bond with other women and cultivate friendships. I'm a stepmother with part-time kids that are older than my neighbors' kids, and go to different schools. No connection there. My husband and I both work in very small offices - limited to no opportunities there. We either have no time for anything social (when we have the kids), or all the time in the world (when we don't have the kids). I've always had a tough time maintaining friendships with women and it just seems like I'm doing something to repel people. Am always the one to make the effort, and when I don't the friendships fall by the wayside. Just not sure what to do now.

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  6. Hi,
    Great article, I loved it. I have often wondered why no one has addressed the need for us to make and maintain friendships better. Like you say, it's important for health and happiness, and we just need to find the time, schedule it in, force ourselves to have friend time.
    I actually made a website to help address this need, it's called FriendMatch, it's like online matchmaking for friendships. I just thought that for people who move, or change, we needed something better! Check it out if you get the chance! Katie

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