Friendships are an important aspect of a happy, healthy life.
As part of our work with clients, we address social support systems – not just to figure out potential obstacles with newly developed healthy eating patterns (i.e. how to now navigate book club, happy hour, pizza night) but to also check in and see how to supported our client feels in life and how to improve it further. Studies show that, particularly for women, social support is a determinant for health.
In addition, the concept of ‘soul-food’ comes into play. Sure there’s nutrition that helps build our bones, cells, muscles, but there’s also invisible energy that also ‘feeds’ us on a deeper level. Think back to your childhood or adolescence when you went outside to play with friends for hours or were thoroughly engaged with a project of your choosing. Your parent might have called you in for dinner but you were so involved in the game or in a state of ‘flow’ with your individual enterprise that you responded with “I’m not hungry!”
While we know that social media is not a substitute for creating deeper friendships, it’s often easier to scroll through our feed, “like,” and move on with our day. We create a self-deceptive illusion of not being isolated; instead, we believe we are ‘connected’ with our community and x-number of friends (followers).
The common challenge for many clients is that, particularly for those in their 30s-50s, the busyness of work and family life, moving away or having friends relocate, changing jobs, and the changing seasons of our lives can loosen the bonds of friendship and social support. It may be years before one even realizes the effect these gradual changes have had on their previously-strong support system.
Maybe you realize that it is time to make some new friends and to deepen the friendships you’ve established. Sometimes, you may have to do a hard-restart if you’ve left a religion affiliation, organization, or even addiction, that previously supplied you with plenty of connections.
In the book, MWF Seeking BFF, Rachel Bertsche describes her story of moving in with her boyfriend and getting married, only to discover that, despite the fact that she had best friends all around the country, she didn’t have anyone in her town to hang out with. She decided to go on 52 friend-dates over the course of the year in the hope of making a new Best Friend Forever. Throughout the book, she shares research on the science of friendship while also writing about the awkward, funny, and lovely moments of her experience in friend-dating.
Tips for making and keeping friends as an adult:
- Be intentional – just like paying off debt or making a healthy lifestyle change, you can’t just go to a single art class and expect to leave with a bunch of besties. It will take intention and repeated effort.
- Truly connect – not just texting or liking photos on Instagram or Facebook. Deeper friendship requires spending TIME together in real life. We need undistracted conversations that challenge and uplift us. Actual hugs and high-fives are at least 10x better than the written words or emojis.
- Hang out where there are people you have already something in common with – yoga, political organizations, wine and art nights, religious (or non-religious) organizations, meditation circles, improv classes …..arrive early or stay a bit late and chat with people a bit more. Proximity is one factor that helps create new friendships; be a regular, contributing member.
- Friends of friends can be a well-spring of opportunity to meet people who share a similar value or type of personality. There’s a chance your vivacious, yogi friend has other people you might get along with. Same with your introverted, book club-loving friend.
- Go deeper – ask about your friend’s life beyond what is currently going on for her at work or home. What’s a challenge she’s facing? Learn about her past and her hopes for the future. It doesn’t have to be so serious; you can laugh as you swap stories.
- Find friends in the same ‘season’ of life as you. Acknowledge that your friends from college may have other priorities or needs now. Some might be ready to step up the ladder in their career, others are at home with children, others may be traveling the world or focusing their time on volunteering.
- Focus on how you can be a better friend. This won’t immediately bring you more friends, but putting the work in now will eventually create your desired result. Often our fear or rejection makes us afraid to even start a conversation, and so we are left hoping others realize how awesome we are and invite us to their next cool event. When you do the work to be a better friend, others will likely notice and reciprocate.
- Get creative – if you can walk with a friend while the baby sleeps in the stroller, that can help you two get together without having to involve an extra step of hiring a babysitter. Create a retreat for a small group of friends, a day trip to another town to hike or visit a farm, or even just getting a hotel room for a girl party/spa night can make the time spent together more intentional. Instead of waiting for others to invite you to boot camp or dancing class, take the initiative and find fun events to share. View this as an adventure – there will be highs and lows in the process of creating better, deeper friendships.
- Manage your expectations – if you grew up watching the fictional friend-group of Sex in the City or only see Instagram stories of women talking about their wonderful ‘tribe’ all meeting in Greece for a week, you might have imagined and created all sorts of unrealistic expectations for what a fulfilling friendship should be.
- What are your priorities and current investments of time? Are you looking to improve your dancing skills? Join a mom’s group or book club? Deepen your yoga practice? Learn more about herbal medicine? Start getting involved with classes or groups in-person or online. Then, make the first move and ask an intriguing person to an associated event or to coffee/tea.
The good news is that lots of other people are looking for deeper, more meaningful friendships too. Be brave, open, and reach out. Just like when dating, you have to get used to rejection and (gently) rejecting.
Also, realize that you don’t need to be friends with everyone and not everyone needs to be kept in your friendship tree. That’s a blog for another time though.