When I was in grammar school we learned a song, it went: “Make new friends, and keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.” This song, which appears to now be in the public domain, was intended to teach kids that friendships are precious and meant to be mutual.
The older I get, the more I appreciate the friendships in my life. When you’re young, it’s pretty easy to make friends, especially when you’re still in school and there’s a wide variety of people in your age group. I remember in high school and college I had a wide circle of friends from various groups, and a couple of “best friends”. We were all so close, and in our youthful optimism sure we’d be “best friends forever”.
Then we all graduated. Some people moved away, some got married and started families, some focused on their careers and, for the most part, those friendships faded away. Until we all joined Facebook, I had no idea what became of most of the people I hung out with when I was younger. It can be sad to think of those long-lost friendships and the absence of people from your life who were once so important to you.
Adult friendships are a tricky. It’s more difficult to create new friendships and find new potential friends. You don’t have endless hours to hang out and get to know people, like you did when you were a kid. As adults, most friendships seem to come from work, parents of your kid’s friends, neighbors, or couples you hang out with.
I think we’ve all had the experience where you had a really good friend at work, then one of you moves on and that’s it for the friendship. Or you were good friends with your husband’s best friend’s wife, but then one of the couples splits up and the relationship is lost. Or you felt close to someone then they dumped you as a friend as soon as there was an issue between you instead of talking it out. Those separations hurt for sure, but in the end you have to wonder if you were really friends at all.
Adult friendships are crucial to our mental health. Having friends can increase your level of optimism, decrease loneliness, get you out of the house even when you’re feeling down, and provide crucial support when life gets hard. Friends can be energizing and open you up to new experiences. Studies have shown that there is increased well being and happiness among adults who have at least five meaningful relationships.
How do you develop meaningful friendships as an adult? Since you can’t just go up to random people and say “will you be my friend?” like you did as a kid, you have to find other ways to add to your circle of friends. Here are some ideas:
- Join a club: When I started running, I became involved in several running groups. I made some good friends through those groups, a few of which have survived the test of time. It doesn’t have to be just running, other ideas to try: book club, writing group, adult sports league, and knitting groups are just some of the places you can find a new friend.
- Meet Ups: If you watch the “meet up” boards you’ll find opportunities to meet people and do anything from hiking to board games to movie nights to wine tasting and more. You have to put yourself out there and meet up with a bunch of strangers, but they’re all there for the same reason as you: to make friends.
- Rekindle Dormant Friends: Let’s say you have a friend you haven’t seen in a long time and you miss. Give them a call or send a message and suggest getting together for a drink or coffee. It’ll be good to catch up and you might realize that they’ve been missing you too but felt weird about initiating contact after so long.
- Start Talking to People: You probably see some people all the time and think they seem nice. Start chatting with that woman who always puts her mat by you in yoga class. Strike up a conversation with that guy who does his laundry at the same time as you. Suggest a happy hour for people at work to get to know each other more. Go to an art event alone and see who else is alone. The worst that can happen is that you have an awkward conversation, but you might also find a friend.
It’s also important to put a little effort in maintaining the friendships you already have. I went through a period of time years ago where I was going for quantity of friends, but eventually I realized a lot of those relationships were empty and full of drama. Now I focus on quality.
The friendships I have now are, for the most part, long-term and absent of any drama or expectations. I’ve learned over the years that I don’t want drama, and I don’t want to have to do all the work to maintain the relationship. If you don’t generally feel good hanging out with your friend, it’s not worth it. If the friendship is more work for you than them, or frankly if it’s a lot of work at all, it’s probably not worth it. Sometimes you just have to be grateful for the good times you had, and let go of friendships that aren’t working. Like any relationship, being friends with someone shouldn’t be exhausting.
In my circle right now I have some friends I talk to every day, and some I get together with for a drink or a walk every few months. Some I mostly keep in touch with via text. I have friends who go to yoga with me, friends who go to happy hour with me, and friends who will try out a new class or go to a movie. I have a friends who I know would pick me up if my car was broken down, or help me bury a body. I even have friends who I can not talk to for six months or more, then when we see each other we just pick up where we were last time we met, which is awesome.
You are deserving of friends who enrich your life and make you feel good. Call or text an old friend today. And if you have space available in your life for new friends, put yourself out there a bit and see who’s waiting to be your new friend. Remember, friends are gift. Appreciate them. And if they don’t fit quite right, return them and shop for someone new.
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