7 Helpful Tips for Making and Keeping Friends
- Kelly Givens Editor, iBelieve.com
- 2015 8 Sep
A common thread connecting most women is our longing for community. Ironically, almost all of us struggle with loneliness, but none of us seem to be sure how to make connections that are deep and lasting.
Making and keeping friends has been an exercise of prayer, patience and surrender for the past several years of my life. As I’ve worked through the growing pains, God has graciously brought many people into my life who have shared great insight on forming community. Here are just a few of the principles I’ve held onto as I learn to make friendships that last.
1. Give it time.
When we were younger, life moved quickly. After college, life slows wayyy down. You get into a weekly groove of work and weekends, and a year can go by without life looking much different than the year before. In a way, there’s a sweet grace to that – I think we often long for lives full of adventure, but God often demands faith in the midst of the mundane.
Regardless, the amount of time available to you to spend on friendship changes as you age. You used to see friends everyday, perhaps even lived with them, but now you may only see those friends once every few weeks. If you're married, have children or travel for work a lot, that free time lessens even more. Understanding this is critical to developing patience as you do the hard work of forming connections. It might take longer than it used to, but creating community can happen.
2. Be intentional.
There’s never going to be an article about making friends that doesn’t mention intentionality. And the reason you have to be intentional is because of point #1 – if you’re not intentional, you’re just never going to get together with people. There are just too many other things vying for our attention.
And even if you don’t have a lot going on, it’s a heck of a lot easier to come home after work, make a quick dinner and veg out with Netflix until bedtime. And some days, that’s totally okay. But if you’re struggling to make friends, you might want to consider making some plans with people you’d like to get to know better. Which brings me to my next point…
3. Don't expect other people to notice you're lonely.
This one was a tough lesson for me to learn. Shortly after getting married, my husband and I moved to a tiny town where there weren’t many people our age. I struggled with making connections in our church and often thought, Why aren’t more people trying to get to know us?! Don’t they see we’re new here and could use some friends!
Waiting for other people to notice you is a great way to never make friends. Yes, it would be great if we were all a little (or a lot) better about reaching out to people in our neighborhoods, churches, offices, etc. But if your goal is to make friends, waiting around for someone to see all of your great qualities isn’t the best tactic.
After my husband and I relocated, I decided to change my approach. For a year, I got out of my introvert shell and did everything I could to meet people. I sat awkwardly by myself at church dinners, I went alone to Bible studies without knowing a single person, signed up for any weeknight young women’s events, attended random parties thrown by coworkers not even in my department—you name it, I did it.
It was awkward, but it paid off. Three years later, I have a handful of dear friends who really know me well and are a weekly part of my life. I turn down more social functions now because I want to focus my free time on being intentional with friends I’ve already made. But if I had waited around for people to notice me, I'm pretty sure I'd still be friendless.
4. Reach out to other women who need friends.
The “cool crowd” isn’t just something you deal with in high school. There is always that coveted group that you see and think, If only I were a part of that group! They know each other so well and hang out all the time! I want to be friends with them!
The thing is, trying to force yourself into an already existing group of friends often backfires. These people already have their history together and you may set yourself up for heartache trying to insert yourself into their community. But there are ALWAYS women on the peripheral, longing for friendship just as much as you are.
When I first started attending my church 3 years ago, I made a point to seek out women who also seemed new to the church or on the outside of already established friend groups. These women are now some of my dearest friends.
Instead of fighting to insert yourself into a community, be bold and create your own.
5. Don’t put unreasonable expectations on your friendships.
When our desires become expectations, relationships wither. Case in point: several years ago, I was grabbing lunch with a friend, a friend who was really draining me, although I couldn’t quite pinpoint why.
At some point, feeling frustrated but also wanting to know how to love her well, I asked her, “What would it look like for me to be a good friend to you in this season of life?” She told me that she really needed me to call her every week, and to hold her spiritually accountable for some things going on in her faith walk, and that it would be great if we could meet up face to face at least once a month (we didn't live in the same city, so getting together was hard).
Her response was illuminating for me. Her expectations might not have been unreasonable for some, but in the season of life I was currently in (new marriage, new town, new job) I couldn’t possibly be and do all those things for her. I was able to articulate that her desires for our friendship were becoming expectations I couldn’t live up to, and that helped ease some of the pressure I felt to meet all her needs.
It was a heart check for me as well, as I considered all the unrealistic expectations I was placing on my other friends. Which leads me to...
6. Generously give grace.
Your friends are going to let you down. That’s just a fact. But giving grace doesn’t only mean forgiving a friend when she does something intentionally hurtful.
Grace is needed for the unintentional hurts as well—like for that friend who is terrible at initiating get-togethers. Or the friend who often dominates the conversation. Or the friend who never got back to you about hanging out, but you see on Instagram that she’s been with various friends after work all week.
You have to decide: is this person, with all her quirks, still worth pursuing in friendship? If the answer is yes, then you're going to have to learn to give a lot of grace. Of course, that doesn't mean you can't bring up problems or always avoid conflict, but I think we often expect way too much out of our friends.
Personally, I have a friend who is terrible at initiating get-togethers. But when I’m with her, I always have the most encouraging and thoughtful conversations. So I’ve gotten over being the one who always calls, because she shows me in other ways just how much she cares.
7. Finally, learn to listen well.
This means cultivating the art of being silent. We might have the perfect solution to a friend’s problem, or have a story that shows just how much we understand what she is going through, but sometimes it’s not about saying anything. Sometimes people just need to be heard.
When we fine-tune our listening skills, our friends walk away feeling heard, known and cherished. Who wouldn’t want to be friends with you if that’s the feeling you leave others with?
Making and keeping friends isn’t easy. It’s almost always hard work and it often leaves us feeling vulnerable and wounded. I’ve shed plenty of tears over friendships that just didn’t seem to be going at the pace or depth I wanted. But learning to view community building as a process that takes time, intentionality and grace has helped me make and keep lasting friendships.
What other tips would you have for someone struggling to make friends?
Kelly Givens is the editor of iBelieve.com.