As kids, potential friendships are all around us, from the creative girl across the street to the friendly kids in our second grade class.
But as we get older, finding close friends isn’t so easy, is it? Between running the kids to lessons and activities, and finding time to get everything done, we can sometimes overlook the opportunity to make a real connection when a fellow mom reaches out or when a neighbor offers to lend a helping hand.
For me, each time I moved across the country, I truly struggled to make friends. Sometimes I didn’t quite know how to connect or find common ground. Sometimes it was really hard for me to simply meet new people. Friendship can feel so much more complicated as a grownup.
…but, is it really?
As adults, don’t we, at heart, seek the same qualities we did when we were kids? We’re looking for someone with common interests, who is kind and compassionate, who we like spending time with. Someone who listens and gives us an unbiased and honest opinion. Someone we look up to and enjoy being around.
Whether you’re looking to expand your social circle, wondering which relationships might be worth more of your time, or trying to find a true connection amidst a flurry of Facebook friends, it can help to think about it this way: What really makes a true friend? …and how can we take that next step toward true friendship?
1. They “Get” You
A true friend “gets” you. They understand your humor and they click with you. They can pick up on your moods and intuitively understand if something’s bothering you or if you’re going through a rough time.
Friends really don’t need to be your same age or have your same lifestyle to “get you.” You might not share a career or a church. You might both be moms, but maybe not. The “click” is something beyond quantification or measurement. It’s about someone who can make you laugh and holds your interest.
When you see an old friend after years of living apart, are you ever amazed at the way you can pick right up where you left off? A true friend can pick up on inside jokes and stories right away.
Cultivate your connection by telling your friend when you’re thinking about them. Send a quick picture and a text when you see something in the store that reminds you of your shared connection. Make your friend a card and tuck in a photo of something the two of you shared. Forward an article you think they’ll like as much as you did. Keep your connection strong by revisiting jokes and your “friend language,” and reminisce with them whenever you have the chance.
2. They Listen
Good friends are great at listening. They can get you through a challenging time—the worst of times, in fact—by simply being there for you. When you hit a dark point, they’re the voice you can hear to help guide you through the darkness or to simply remind you that you aren’t alone.
When things are sunny or when you don’t need someone to “vent” to, your listening friends can feel a little neglected. On the other hand, some of us have a friend we use as our constant sounding board and emotional support, which is great for us but can get draining and difficult for them.
If you want to strengthen your friendship with that friend who listens to you all the time, return the favor. Learn how to be a better listener. Check yourself in conversation—do you interrupt or do you listen to their story with the same rapt attention they give you? Do you offer unsolicited advice or do you simply acknowledge their feelings and wait until they ask for your guidance?
Good listeners know how to relate without bossing someone around or telling them, “Well, I would do this,” or “You should do that.” They simply hear you out and give you a chance to say what you need to say.
If you have a friend who won’t let you get a word in edgewise, try leading by example. Be a better listener and give them your full attention. When the tables are turned, start the conversation by saying, “I just need to vent this out,” or “I’m not looking for advice, but I just need to talk through what’s going on.” Hopefully, you’ll find they lend you an ear.
3. You Have Commonalities
Common interests and lifestyles are important for friends. Not all friends will have everything in common, but it’s so important to have friends who know what you’re going through and who can relate. It’s also great to have friends who love to do the things you enjoy as well. If you love theater or baseball or Indie rock, having a friend to enjoy it with can be the icing on the cake.
Strengthen your common bonds by doing things together you both enjoy. If you’re both moms of similar-aged kids, playdates can be wonderful and give you a chance for some adult conversation while the kids romp around. If your spouses get along too, it can be great to have a couple to double-date with on occasion.
Make an effort to revisit the things the two of you like doing together and enjoy them regularly. While maybe it’s not practical to fly to New York for every Broadway musical, you can forward your friend a YouTube clip from Hamilton or send them an article on the latest buzz. Go see a local play together to feed your mutual theater bug.
4. You Have Differences
On paper, I’m actually quite different from many of my closest friends. We might be years apart in age or have different relationship statuses. Not all my friends have kids or even want children. Many of us have different tastes in entertainment, music, sports and recreation.
Embrace these differences and use them as a great way to learn new things and relate in different ways. I love learning from my friends’ different talents. One of my friends is quite the foodie, so she gives me tips on ways to punch up my “down home” cooking style. I have another friend who’s a talented seamstress. She gives me plenty of ideas on how to alter clothing and find new uses for items.
Differences are what make our friends interesting and fascinating to us. I mean, how boring would it be if we were all the same?! If you have a friend who knows something you don’t or has a specific talent, see if you can learn something new from them! Support your friend in their endeavors and embrace your differences and multifaceted strengths.
5. You Keep in Regular Contact
When we were kids, we were friends with the other kids in our neighborhood and school classes. Why? Because those were the people we saw regularly. As adults, we’re far more mobile, but the same concept still applies. If we want close friends, we have to make an effort to reach out…which can be super hard when we feel crazy-busy all the time.
Instead of rearranging your entire schedule (because who can do that anyway?), think of ways to spend time together that already fit right into your schedule. You don’t have to spend money on outings, just do your everyday activities. Go to Costco together and talk while you shop. Take an exercise class together or join the same gym. Volunteer on the same committee at church or at school. It’s not about always sitting around together, or going to dinner or a movie. You can learn to incorporate your to-do list into your friend activities—it’s win-win.
If your friend lives out of state so your schedule truly won’t allow for “hanging out,” it can still really help to try to make regular contact. This might mean emails, phone calls, a note in her mailbox, or a “thinking of you” text. Do little things to make one-on-one contact to let your friend know they’re on your mind even if they’re far away.
6. You Inspire Each Other
A true friend is someone you look up to. It doesn’t mean your bestie is perfect or runs a non-profit foundation or anything like that. (Although, that’s great!) It simply means they inspire you. Maybe you’re wowed by their business prowess or drive. Maybe you learn from their creativity or their patient approach to motherhood. Maybe their spirituality and philosophy inspires you to want to do better in your daily life.
Look for friends with qualities you admire and hope to emulate. When we surround ourselves with good people, we become better as well. Our friends can inspire us to roll up our sleeves and pitch in, to run a race, or to speak with more kindness to our kids.
When you notice something your friend does that truly speaks to you and touches your heart, let her know! Practice an attitude of gratitude and tell your friend how much their approach to their hobby inspires you or how much you look up to them. I know it can feel a little awkward sometimes, but I promise they’ll appreciate it!
7. You Challenge Each Other
Just like our friends can inspire us, they can also challenge us and push us beyond our boundaries. A true friend helps you learn and grow. They don’t just show us by example—they also encourage us to strive harder and work for what we want.
Talk to your friends about what you want to do. Tell them your goals and what sort of challenges you’ve laid out for yourself. Then ask them if they’ll help you. If they’re up for the idea, ask them if they want to tackle the goal along with you.
Maybe you’re hoping to get your finances under control. Maybe you want to lose 10 pounds this season or maybe you want to finish a project you’re working on at your job. Whatever your goals are, tell your friend. Ask them if they’d be willing to be your accountability buddy. If they express interest in doing something similar, ask them if they’d be up for the challenge and you’ll return the favor.
8. You’re Loyal ‘til the End
Friends are loyal. Friends don’t gossip about each other or betray a trust. Friends have each other’s backs. When a friend needs help, they should know they can count on you and vice versa. If someone messes up, they should know they can be forgiven—and vice versa when you’re quick to apologize and make amends.
Friendship is almost like a contract. You’re saying, “I’m agreeing to be emotional and open with you, if you’ll be emotional and open with me. I will trust you if you trust me.” Part of the contract of friendship is learning to say you’re sorry and being aware of your friend’s feelings. A true friend never says something behind another’s back that they wouldn’t say to them up front and directly.
It can be hard to hold your tongue and be really loyal, especially if you’re friends with a larger group or have several relationships that are intertwined. Remember, it comes down to respect—and respecting and loving your friends means being honest and kind. If a friend has let you down, let them know. If you put your foot in your mouth (I know I have!), express your regret and commit to it not happening again. Keep your friendship contract honest and honored.
Friends are so important to our lives. They enrich us and push us to be better human beings. They keep us involved and give us time to feel happy, a shoulder to cry on, and an ear when we need someone to listen. A true friend is indispensable—because although our relationships may change and fluctuate throughout life, we’re often blessed with a few relationships that transcend life’s ups and downs. When you treat your friends like gold, they’ll return the favor!
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