When I was a teenager, I had no idea how to sustain friendships. This is not hyperbole. I literally did not have healthy friendships modeled for me, and the friendships I did have were with people who were experiencing the same amount of strain or trauma in their personal life as I was. We were all just trying to figure it out without any guidance to show us the way. So, we hurt each other. A lot.
But even with the hurts we were blindly injuring one another with, we still managed to find some lasting and comforting forms of companionship. As I’m writing this, I’m waiting for a friend at a local coffee shop. Someone I’ve known since high school. We’ve managed to stay friends through the years. Through college, career changes, babies and marriages, we’re still a resource for one another.
But this hasn’t been the case with many of the people I once called friends. I’d like to explore some of what brings us together and how to keep these bonds healthy. How do we nurture the initial spark of friendship that brings us together, to last through the years? Let’s start with the spark, and see where it takes us.
What Makes a Friendship?
I’ve said this before on this blog, that Jay-Z’s line, “real recognize real and you lookin’ familiar” has a spark of truth in it for me when it comes to describing a friendship. What I like about it is, that I think we recognize what’s familiar in one another’s experiences and circumstances. We see that we’re in the middle of something that looks familiar to us, and are drawn to one another. I suppose as a way to support each other while we try to figure it out. Two heads are better than one, as they say : ) ( :
We’re mirroring each other in a way. And I believe this brings us comfort. Because seeing someone else succeed helps give us the confidence to succeed. And if we fail, we have each other as support. Someone who can show us the positive in us while we’re busy beating ourselves up for not succeeding. And if you’re like me, you are beating yourself up quite a bit.
So having another around to help show us that we’re human, and bound to make mistakes, is helpful in keeping us more grounded and balanced. For me, it has been invaluable to have that kind of friendship. The one that tells me I’m “killin’ it”, while I’m paying back my student loans after cutting back to only working one job. This friend was also in debt until recently. We are both here for each other, cheering one another on while we work to achieve our goals. And that’s a great feeling. Feeling support from someone who knows how difficult it can be.
Maintaining a Lasting Connection
This was the difficult part for me. It was fairly simple finding people who were/are in similar situations to my own. But keeping the friendship alive was a mystery to me. What I’ve come to realize is, that we were all just surviving, and not able to think past our immediate circumstances. This lead to somewhat superficial connections.
I was so concerned with when the next panic attack was going to come, that I didn’t have the bandwidth to make plans for the future. Nor did I have the foresight to do the basics. Such as putting close friends’ birthdays in my calendar. I was just drifting from day to day without any plan or goal in mind, playing video games and drinking to numb my experience of what was happening to me. No bueno.
So, how did I change this? How did I go from just surviving to being an active role in my relationships? This took a lot of work. And it’s something I’m still working on. Let me show you what I’ve come up with for fostering friendships.
Make a List
I’m a list maker. I get a sense of joy and satisfaction just from organizing tasks, thoughts and events into a functional and attractive looking list. This is why I bullet journal. It gives me the right amount of art to organization ratio I need. So naturally, in order to stay in touch with those close to me, I’ve made a list.
This list is on my phone, and I’ve put various friends and relatives into four different groups of people. In the first group, are the people I check in with once a week. Then the following three groups are people that I check in with every three weeks, rotating through each group every week to make sure I don’t miss anyone. This way, I’m staying current with what’s happening in the people’s lives whom I care about.
It also pays to be persistent as well. For example I was texting one person on my list for weeks with no response. This was kind of disheartening because this person is going through a lot of life events right now and I want to be a source of support for them. Then, during one phone call from his brother, I learned that he never responds to texts, (my preferred method of communication) only phone calls. So I called him the next day and low and behold he got right back to me with a text saying he was at work and is it important. That felt good. Like unlocking a puzzle.
Diligence has paid off with friendships for me in different ways too. I had definitely left many of my friendships to decay by simply neglecting them for a very long time. And I was a different person to most of the people who knew me before I changed. So rebuilding those connections wasn’t something that was a one and done deal. It took being persistent, but not pushy, and kind to those I was reaching out to. Hopefully letting them know that I’m not the ass I used to be.
But, this method worked. I’m now in regular communication with many of the people I was friends with from my past and I like to think that both our lives are richer for it. For example, a friend of mine that I used to cook with told me to Google search, “gross Jell-o molds” and it did not disappoint. My favorite was the ones with SpaghettiOs in them : P
Remember Your Shared Interests & Look for Experiences to Share
As far as the curriculum of friendships goes, planning events and then executing them might as well have been a trig class while I was still taking fundamentals of math. I’m an introvert, so doing things with others doesn’t come so naturally to me. I believe that in most of my romantic relationships, my partner was the one who was making plans for us. So during the seasons of my life where I’m on my own, I’ve had to find things and experiences to do, on my own.
What I’ve been trying to do is, when I think of something new or interesting that I’d like to get involved with, I scan my friendships to see who else might want to get involved. Then I shoot them a text to see if they’d like to join in. Again, this may seem obvious for many folks. But for us introverts, it’s a bit of a struggle to make that connection.
For example, I’ve been into thinking about my Polish heritage lately and am making my next self-care meal as an homage to Polish cuisine. There are a lot of mushrooms in Polish cooking so I found some recipes that looked satisfying. But the more I thought about mushrooms, the more fun I thought it would be to go foraging for some. I went once when I was a child, chanterelle picking in Vermont, and absolutely loved the experience. So I searched for foraging groups local to me then texted some people in my friend group who I would normally take hikes with. I thought combining the two, foraging and hiking was a perfect match.
If Your Friend Can’t Come to You Go to Them
If you’re like me, you’re pretty busy. Until recently I was working two jobs to pay off my student loans, and on the days I wasn’t working, which were few, I’d be cleaning and cooking for the week. This left me very little time for myself. But, I found the time to visit some of my friends who were equally as busy. Tending to our friendships was a priority for me. And I did this by getting creative with how we spent time together.
For example, one friend of mine worked at a local restaurant until recently. So on my nights off, I’d hop on the train and go visit with him while he was working. I’d grab a beer and a bite to eat while he sat behind the bar a told me about his goings on. His family and what’s been happening with him personally. It felt good catching up with him in this way. Seeing him in another light, another role. I feel like I know him better as a person now.
I have another friend who recently took a job at another local restaurant. We’ve been friends since grade school though we don’t get together very often. A couple friends of mine suggested that we go to his restaurant and visit while he bakes. A fun night out, catching up with old friends seems like a pleasant way to spend an evening : )
It’s also a good idea to be mindful of how much of yourself you’re giving in all of your friendships and be cognizant of your boundaries with them. If you find you are always doing for your friends, then maybe suggest a few changes to your rules of engagement. It’s no longer fun if it feels like a burden.
Also, it’s important to step outside your comfort zone. Building friendships isn’t always a walk in the park. There are going to be tough times as well as the good ones. And, sometimes meeting new people means expanding beyond what your comfortable with.
For example, a friend of mine called me out of the blue because she had tickets to a small venue to see a bluegrass band. It was on a day I had off, so I decided to go. I didn’t realize at the time that there would be close to eight of us going. If I had known I might not have gone. But I went, and had a great time. Also finding an amazing new venue for seeing music that I will be going back in the future for sure.
You are in Charge of Your Belonging
Connecting with others is risky sometimes. The pain of rejection, or being vulnerable around another is not something that is easily tolerated by many. Especially if you’ve experienced abuse or trauma. But it is necessary if we want to feel connection, or a sense of belonging. But don’t forget, you’re in charge.
It’s okay to go slow while reconnecting. That way, you’re taking care of yourself while taking the time in building your friendships. And also to take the time to know that they are healthy and genuine friendships. True friends are truly a blessing. Finding and cultivating these friendships is something that will bring us so much joy the more we tend to them. But we need to take the time to nurture them.
If you’ve found your relationships are less than fulfilling, maybe it’s time to inspect how you feel in your connections with and to others. Is the fear of pain greater than the value of your connection? If so, the relationship my be under strain. Maybe the strain of not feeling like you are totally accepted as who you are in the relationship for fear of being rejected. And being yourself is a large component of feeling genuine connection in our friendships.
So cultivate your friendships. And tend to them with a nurturing effort, and you’ll find joy in them. But also know who you are first. And true friends will help you to be the best version of yourself. Not expect you to change. Friendships aren’t always easy, but few things worth their while are. Be consistent and make your relationships a priority and they will yield feelings of comradery and joy. Peace & thanks for reading : )