What does it take for friends to stay close for the long haul?
How do we develop strong, significant bonds that transcend the inevitable life phases and geographical shifts and emotional changes that we all undergo?
Well, like anything else that matters in life, it’s a process. One that requires commitment and patience and real work.
Because friendship as an institution that is as important as any other.
I wrote a book on this a few years ago:
Less Alone Than We Think: 366 Daily Meditations on Creating Connection, Setting Boundaries, Nurturing Relationships, Building Community and Cultivating Belonging.
Since then, I’ve continued to write about the topic.
Here is a collection of my latest ideas, insights, strategies and tactics to help you stay close to the friends that matter most.
First, it’s true that friendships involve their own versions of economic systems that people make investments in. But keeping a tally is petty, exhausting and shows a lack of trust. Burn your scoreboards. Give people lifetime passes. Spend less time taking other people’s inventories and more time being a good friend yourself.
Second, don’t feel bad bucketing people into historic friends, common interest friends and stage of life friends. Each of them serves a different but meaningful purpose in your network of connections. Even your high frequency but low intensity friendships are valuable. Seeing the same person at the gym or dog park each day lends a soulful texture to everyday life that’s invaluable. There is no amount of friendship that is insignificant.
Third, accept your friends in all of their complexity. The changing tides of your relationships will cause frustration, sadness, insecurity, jealousy and even resentment. And all of those feelings are normal, healthy and valid. But don’t let any of those emotions overpower the one feeling that matters most in this life, which is the fundamental human longing for connection. It’s hard to accept that both of your lives are different from the way they used to be. But if you’re more upset at the ones who ghost you than you are grateful for the ones still in around you, you’re the problem.
Fourth, keep making new memories with old friends. Every adventure ties a knot in your relationship that nothing can ever loosen.
Fifth, you’re never done making new friends, so you may as well get good at it. And you have to make a conscious effort to change friends as you grow. Not all friends are meant to be part of your life until the end of time. One way to maximize your opportunities to meet kindred spirits is by filtering your activities by commonality of constitution. Pursuing interests that give you a high probability of creating connections with those who have overlapping interests. You might find friends in places you never thought to look. And you’ll notice that when you repeatedly connect with individuals who choose to make meaning in similar ways as you, most of the heavy lifting is already done for you.
Sixth, one of my mantras is, you’re never alone in this world unless you want to. If finding new friends is not a priority in your life, you are going to feel very lonely.
Seven, don’t make it hard to be your friend. Return people’s calls, emails and texts with a reasonable degree of speed.
Eight, social media tells you everyone has more friends than you do. But the reality is, as we get older, there are fewer opportunities to be with friends, and the ties with close ones tighten. We start to realize that we don’t need as many friends as we once thought. Nor would we want as many. To quote the greatest mobster of all time, better to have four quarters than a hundred pennies.
Nine, when you’re feeling blue, you don’t need more you. Before isolating yourself in your pain or despair, let social connectedness fortify you. Think about how what you’re doing could involve other people. Is there someone you could call to join you? Who would love to accompany you on this next adventure? And is there somewhere you could go where the ambient humanity would help you process and heal your pain?
Ten, not everyone is willing to accept the burdens and risks of friendship. But isolating yourself is just as risky. May as well choose the option where you can laugh with another person.
Eleven, set healthy boundaries. If you’re a friend to everyone but yourself, then that’s worse than being alone.
Twelve, never forge friendships grounded in neediness. If a person is getting all their needs met at little expense to themselves, but at a high cost to the other, that’s manipulative and kind of a dick move. Focus on giving. Nobody wants to be friends with a taker.
Finally, when it comes to forging new friendships, be more patient than you have to be. Give the feelings of intimacy and closeness with people a chance to take root and eventually blossom. True connection can’t be faked, forced or rushed. Although it’s completely possible that modern advances in artificial intelligence will eventually prove us wrong. We can talk more about that during the robot apocalypse.
That’s what it takes for friends to stay close for the long haul.
May you develop strong, significant bonds that transcend the inevitable tides of life.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
How could what you’re about to do involve other people?