I read this article in The Cut this week, and it got me thinking about friendships.
The topic of friendships is on my mind a lot lately. We've been in our new house (and state) for seven months now, and I'm just beginning to form some very tentative friendships. As I venture into the process, I feel optimistic but also cautious. Very cautious.
That caution is based on years of experience moving around the world and country and, as a result, making (and losing) a lot of friends.
Here are 10 Lessons Learned on Making (and Keeping) Friends:
1. Go Slowly
I've met and made friends in days. In hours. In minutes. I meet someone and boom...the friendship is on. It's like the instant chemistry you feel when you first start dating, and you want to see that person all the time and tell that person your deepest secrets and you feel as if the Universe has finally put in your path the platonic soul mate you've been dreaming of since you were 13.
Readers: these people rarely turn out to be long-term friends (this has happened to me once).
I've learned, time and again, that the people who will tell you all their secrets and offer an endless stream of delicious cocktails and dinner invitations a week after first-meet are a fast-burn. That flame burns out quickly and usually with a lot of drama.
The lasting friendships I've made, the ones that endure for years, the people who end up being stable, good, honest friends...those take time. They're rarely the immediate connection, high-chemistry flashes of light. They're a flicker, then another flicker, then a slow burn.
Now, I go slowly. I know life-long friendships are rarely cemented after one dinner party. I know that friendships, like any other relationship, take time and patience to work out, and many of them (like a lot of the people we'll date or work with or cross paths with in life) won't be a great match. That doesn't mean I'm not a good person. It doesn't mean any of us is bad or boring or too much. It just means that good fits are hard to find, take time to develop and need a little bit of caution to unearth. My motto now is: Go slowly and be rewarded in time.
2. Be Open
I have an idea of the type of friend I want to make. This idea is based on some past friendships or, honestly, on the type of person I like to think I am (usually in better clothes and with better hair and definitely with wittier comments).
Basically, what I look for in friendships is a reflection of what I'm looking for in myself, and this is a pretty dodgy and limiting way to seek out high quality relationships. I don't think, however, that I'm alone in doing this. There's probably a psychological basis for this phenomenon, but once we get past the 'ideal' image of the two of us at a swank restaurant having cocktails or an independent bookstore discussing Hemingway or the gym pumping serious iron, we can get down to the business of discovering other people for themselves.....rather than making them an extension of some half-lived mental fantasy of our own.
I've developed incredible friendships with other moms and with women who've chosen not to become moms at all (ever), with professional women and stay-at-home-moms, with women who have entire arm sleeves of tattoos and women who would never get a tattoo, with women who drink and women who don't drink, with Mormons/Catholics/Atheists/Baptists/Buddhists and women whose religion is simply kindness. I have friends who can cook and some who eat only take-out. I have friends who wear trucker hats and others who still wear pantyhose.
In short, I've been shocked at the wide variety of people who fall far outside my social norms and comfort zones who have been the kindest, truest, most soul-saving friends to me throughout my life.
Being open has given me some of the best conversations, the sweetest moments of empathy and the gentlest expressions of love than I could have ever hoped for when I was young and still thought friends needed to look like me, think like me and act like me.
3. Don't Involve Your Kids
I won't go into depths on this one, but let me just say: when your friendships depend on your kids' friendships, things can get wonky real quick.
Children are fickle creatures, often dismissing friends for no reason other than a new friend moved in who has better Legos. I've lost friends because our kids couldn't get a long. I've made friends because our kids could get along. Either way, it's never a great foundation for a long-term relationship.
Now, I steer-clear. I get to know my kids' friends and their families, but I don't base my own friendships on those relationships. That's just a house of cards.
4. Look For Depth
I used to keep my friend radius fairly small. I'd make friends based on some fairly shallow qualifications: did our kids go to the same school? Were you a stay-at-home-mom? Was your husband in the military? Did you workout at the same gym?
This yielded some pretty shallow friendships. I learned, over time, the great wisdom in Anais Nin's famous quote:
I am lonely, yet not everyone will do. I don't know why, some people fill the gaps and other emphasize my loneliness.
Now, I look for friendships with depth. For me this means discussing ideas/books/culture for hours on end, going to movies and then dinners and then coffee, taking trips, bemoaning life, celebrating life....the list goes on. It's different for all of us, but the reality is that we all know when there is depth and when we're engaging in friendships of convenience.
Like any other relationship, convenience is a shaky foundation and typically doesn't hold up well. It also wastes a lot of time and energy that could otherwise be applied to finding and cultivating those deeper, stronger friendships that last, many times, a lifetime.
5. Let Friendships Go
Like everything else, friendships have seasons. It's rare to find a friendship that will endue for a lifetime. When we try to cling to relationships, it often dilutes them and distorts the memory of the time and place in which that friendship flourished.
Sometimes, though, the best thing we can do for a friendship is let it go. Some of them simply aren't meant to go the distance, and that doesn't mean they weren't wonderful in their time and for their moment.
I found out recently that a friend of mine, someone I went through a huge life-event with, had a baby. I found that out on Facebook. A baby. A whole new live human being, a birth. On Facebook.
I felt incredibly sad and disconnected when I saw the announcement. I realized that the friendship was what it was, when it was, and that it now isn't as much a friendship as a good memory. Sometimes the best thing we can do to honor a friendship is to know its limits. For me, this doesn't mean the friendship wasn't good or true or deep. It just means that relationships have their seasons.
6. Quality Over Quantity
I met a friend recently for a few hours spent talking and then having lunch.
When she prepared to leave (she lives an hour away), I said, "I feel like seeing you once every few weeks is richer and better than seeing other people every day."
There are some friendships that are so quality, that give us so much comfort and connection, that they give us more with less. Some friendships are nourishing and enriching and, if you can possibly bare with me here, soul-filling.
I look for those friendships and, when one takes hold, I try my very best to honor it. I know not every single friendship will go to these depths, and there is certainly value in a quick, easy chat and some friendly hellos. I mean that, too. There are all sorts of friendships, and not every single one has to fill my soul. But after many years, I truly value the ones that do, and I wait patiently for those to find me rather than trying to fill the space with a lot of lesser connection.
7. Understand Limitations
Sometimes, the best connection in the world has limitations. Husbands don't get along. Schedules don't coincide. Kids don't get along. Money situations don't mesh.
There are a multitude of ways relationships can be limited by outside forces, and we've got two options when this happens.
1. Realize that while the person may be wonderful, the limitations are too constraining for a friendship to form.
2. Realize the limitations and work around them in a way that honors the friendship without taxing it with unrealistic expectations.
Either way, don't just ignore that your religious views (and possibly life values) are in direct opposition of each other. Don't ignore that your husbands can't stand to go to dinner together. If you can't go to dinner without your husband (I've met many women like this), then you're probably going to have to move on from that friendship. But trying to pretend that certain limitations don't exist is a recipe for disaster. The best friendships are the most honest ones.
8. Mix Carefully
I don't mix friendships. I've been burned on this one many times. I used to think I could be part of some sort of group of friends, like Sex and the City or Friends, but time and again that has yielded a lot of drama. I don't like friendship drama, so I keep it clean. I have a few close friendships that are independent of each other. These are the people I tell my fears and secrets to. These are the people I call at midnight when I can't sleep or ask to come take care of me when I have the flu.
When I do have social groups of friends (school moms, neighborhood groups, military wives) I try to keep it lighter and drama-free.
9. Don't Get Sucked In
People with drama love to drag other people into their drama.
I steer clear of bad marriages, dishonesty, overwhelming alcohol consumption and other assorted lifestyle choices that don't mesh with my own values.
I've learned that I'm affected by the people I choose to spend time with. It's like that famous quote that we're all an average of the five people we spend the most time with.
I think that's pretty much true. In light of that, I try to make those five people pretty quality, and I try to find people who are generally trying to better their lives, who have a positive outlook and who are working toward goals rather than waiting for life to hand them a proverbial lottery ticket.
I've been on both sides of that coin, by the way. I've been the down-and-out, whining, complaining downer. I've also been the positive, make-it-happen, the world is my oyster enthusiast. I think we've all got a little of both in us. But when someone is consistently down, consistently complaining, consistently making poor choices - I try to move on.
This isn't lack of loyalty or unwillingness to help or selfish. This is good self-preservation and boundaries. There's a difference.
10. Be The Friend
It's easy, when looking for friends, to focus on our needs. After a move, I get lonely and isolated. I am looking for someone with whom to connect and to help soothe those feelings, but that can't be the basis for a friendship - or any relationship.
In order to have good friends, we have to be good friends. We have to listen with empathy. We have to give of our time and energy and resources. We have to think about the other person's perspective and point-of-view, and we have to show up, give back and invest in the other person. My best friendships are an equal balance of give and take, and finding that balance takes thoughtfulness and intention.
Finding and building friendships in adult life isn't easy. With kids, husbands, homes and jobs, time is short. Our schedules are hectic, and our lives sometimes seem like they're on a strict diet of work, chores and scheduling.
Making time for and investing in friendships, though, is one of the best things we can do for our overall health: mental, physical and spiritual. As I venture again into the social scene, looking for people with whom I might connect (I've already found a few), I remember these lessons and carry them with me, cautiously hopeful that in six months, I'll be having cocktails while discussing Hemingway and possibly planning a workout with a lovely new soul.
I hope everyone is sitting tonight and chatting with a friend, cooking someone dinner, pouring a glass of wine or handing someone a book and saying, "No, really, you've got to read this."
And to all of my friends across the world, I miss and love you all. Thank God, truly, we've got each other.