Investing in Friendship: Kickstart a Change

{This is the second of a three-part series. If you missed the first post, you can find it here.}

Friendship: Two girls with arms around each other
Photo credit: Hannah Busing

After completing your friendship assessment from the prior post, perhaps you’ve identified some friendship gaps you want to address. Now the question is how. I’m a practical person, so I’ll provide a lot of ideas to get your juices going. But here’s the thing — other people will benefit from YOUR ideas, as long as you’re willing to share them in the comments. Let’s crowdsource some tips to kickstart the change we want to see.

Be the friend

Think for a moment about the qualities you want in a friend. Here are a few that made my list: a good listener, trustworthy, curious, spiritually minded, good sense of humor. Now, consider whether someone considering YOU for a friend would see those qualities in you.

Remember, friendship grows from the root of mutuality. Both people give and receive. If you want someone who will listen to your heart, you must also be prepared to reciprocate that level of interest in them.

It’s not vain to make a list of your own friendship qualities. You have something to offer, and people are attracted to confidence. On the flip side, are there things you could work on that would make you a better friend? For example, are you known as someone who keeps a confidence? Are you open to other points of view? Are you a good conversationalist?

If we’re going to build better friendships, some of the work is internal. As a first step to upping your friendship game, determine to BE the friend you’d like to have. Take stock, be honest, and set some measurable self-improvement goals.

Adjust expectations

You already know these things, of course, but it’s still worth a reminder. This is a long-term goal for a reason. In order to keep your focus and not become discouraged, maybe tuck these reminders into your planner for a monthly review.

  • You can’t make a friendship happen. Some people click immediately, some people grow to appreciate each other over time, and some people, no matter how lovely, will never meaningfully connect. Learn to discern, and be prepared to cast a wide net.
  • Friendship takes time. If you’re starting over in a new town or a new chapter, gird your loins and celebrate small wins.
  • Define your intention. How will you know if you’re making progress? Put some oomph into your intentions by setting specific, attainable goals. For example, within a given month you may determine to initiate three conversations with a stranger, meet a new or old friend for coffee, try one new activity outside your normal routine, and send three encouraging texts.
  • Give yourself grace. Change is hard. It takes real courage to put yourself out there. Good for you! When you feel deflated, look in the mirror and repeat this quote from the movie “The Help”: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” Nothing wrong with a little self love, my friend.

Broaden your circle

Many of my survey respondents said they needed to find ways to increase their human interaction. Here are a few of the life circumstances prompting this need:

  • I’m a college student who lives off campus. All the social life happens in the dorms.
  • I recently moved to a new state and left several close friendships behind. I miss my friends, and it’s hard to start over.
  • My children are leaving the nest, and all our social connections were geared around their activities.
  • My children are grown, I’m in a new city, and my husband just passed away.
  • I started working from home during Covid. I thought it would be temporary, but now it’s permanent. I can go for days without seeing another person outside my family.
  • I’m tied to my home caring for small children or an elderly parent. I’m both isolated and exhausted.
  • My friend circle changed when I got divorced.
  • Most of my friends are retired and have the financial means to go on trips together. We are still working part time and will have financial constraints even after we retire.

For each of these respondents, some life change had disrupted his or her previous friendship environment. Whereas friendships happened easily and naturally before, life happened, and now friendships require more intentional effort.

Without even realizing it, we’ve lost a significant amount of human interaction through technology and cultural changes. We order everything from staples to clothing online and have packages delivered to our door instead of going to the store. Or we go to the store and do curbside pickup. We use the drive through or ATM instead of going inside the bank. We stream movies at home instead of going to the theatre. Some people even attend church virtually, a pandemic accommodation that we rather liked. We even get our fitness workout through a screen instead of in proximity to other sweaty bodies.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the first step to broadening our circles is to get out of our houses. Go. Be with humans, in real life. The possibilities are endless, but here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Begin taking fitness classes at a local gym
  • Start a book club
  • Volunteer at the hospital
  • Be a door greeter at your church
  • Attend community festivals
  • Become a literacy tutor
  • Volunteer at a local skilled nursing facility
  • Get involved with your local humane society
  • Become an Uber or Lyft driver
  • Attend local craft fairs
  • Be a Salvation Army bell ringer
  • Join a quilting club
  • Join a bowling league
  • Coach Little League baseball or youth soccer
  • Share your musical talents in a local symphony or church praise band
  • Become a regular at your indie film theatre
  • Volunteer to chaperone field trips at an elementary school
  • Attend high school drama and concert performances
  • Support your local museum or zoo
  • Run a 5K
  • Be a companion to an elderly person
  • Babysit for a stay at home mom
  • Volunteer at a food pantry or thrift shop
  • Help deliver meals for Meals on Wheels
  • Check your library for events featuring local writers or literary groups
  • Volunteer to serve as an usher at your local performing arts center
  • Serve in your church nursery
  • Attend live performances by local musicians
  • Audition for a local theatre performance
  • Join a birdwatching group at the Audubon Society
  • Display your vintage car at local car shows
  • Join a local genealogy group or historical society
  • Volunteer to help maintain a historic cemetery
  • Take beekeeping classes
  • Attend holiday tours of local historic homes
  • Get involved in your child or grandchild’s school PTA
  • Become a booster for your local college football team
  • Join a cyclists group
  • Make a meal for a family who just had a baby or a medical need

Someone, somewhere, shares your interests or needs your talents. Every non-profit group I know welcomes volunteers with open arms. Engage your passions, share your talent, and find kindred spirits.

For most people, time constraints are a major impediment to building friendships. Here are two ideas for finding or making time: 1) take something that you’re already doing and add a social element, and 2) start or join a group that meets regularly, where your attendance is not essential. Let’s talk examples.

On the first item, maybe you are already making time for a fitness activity, but you’re doing it alone. You run, or you bike, or you do yoga with an online instructor. Yes, it takes less time to do your workout alone and on your own schedule, but the incremental increase in time to join a gym or a running club is relatively small. By taking that activity from a solo to a group setting, you’re only slightly increasing the time requirement and you’re adding social interaction.

Another example: we spend a great deal of time attending our kids’ sports activities. What if you extended an invitation to the other parents to meet at the local frozen custard joint after each home game? The incremental time investment is small, and its a natural, easy way for you to get to know other parents. And if you can’t make it sometimes, no big deal. Low pressure. Organic. Easy.

The second idea, to start or join a group that meets regularly, has several benefits. First, because it’s a recurring event on a set schedule, you can plan your calendar around it. Auto pilot relieves some pressure. Second, repeated interactions with the same group of people give opportunity for deeper connection. Third, your participation isn’t essential to the group, so if you have a conflict and can’t make it once or twice, no big deal.

Here are some examples:

  • The _____ Breakfast Club. Fill in the blank with whatever commonality the group shares — Old Geezers, Retired Teachers, Stay-at-Home-Moms, Homeschool Heroes, Military Vets, Sassy Sisters, Eternal Optimists, Problem Solvers. You get the idea. Meet at your favorite breakfast spot every Saturday or once a month. This works best for a group of 6-8 people.
  • Soup Suppers. This is a great way to jazz up the deadest time of the year. Invite three other couples or individuals to your home for dinner on the first Saturday of January – April. When I did it, I wanted to make it easy for everyone, so I hosted and made the meal each time, but you could also rotate. By establishing soup as the menu, you guarantee simplicity and keep the focus on fellowship instead of food. A simple meal followed by games = perfect way to spend a dark winter night.
  • Home Group or Life Group. Many churches encourage small group formation. The group determines the time and frequency of their meetings. Some are geared around a book or study; others focus on fellowship. We’ve been in several over the years, some that felt more natural than others, but usually a good experience.
  • Supper Club. Similar to the Soup Supper idea, but works any time of the year. Four couples or individuals commit to sharing an evening meal once a month, rotating the host each month. The meal can be potluck, carryout or gourmet.
Friendship - Kickstart a Change

Go deeper

One of the themes that emerged from my survey was that people wanted a deeper connection. They had friends, but not close friends. Several said they felt stuck at a superficial level in their friendships, but they weren’t sure others wanted more from the friendship.

I’ve been there, and it feels awkward and vulnerable. Oh, for those simple days in grade school where you simply passed a note to a classmate. “Do you want to be my friend? Check Yes or No.” As adults, I highly recommend a more subtle approach. 🙂

Still, there are ways to test the water. It’s quite possible your casual friend shares your interest in a closer relationship, and is just shy about it. Someone must make the first move, so decide it’s going to be you. Here are some ways you might provide opportunities to deepen the friendship.

  • If you’re usually in a larger group, add some one-on-one time — maybe an invitation to get coffee, or an offer to ride together to an event.
  • Really listen, and then follow up later on something your friend mentioned. I’m terrible about forgetting important details, so sometimes I jot a few notes in my phone after a coffee date. By following up on matters that your friend shared, you signify a real interest in them.
  • Ask them their thoughts about an important decision you’re facing. It’s easy to ask which ceramic tile would look best in your bathroom remodel, but what about when you’re trying to decide whether to pursue a different job opportunity? Sharing the bigger life issues communicates how much you value their insight and perspective. It also opens the door for them to reciprocate.
  • Be present when life gets challenging for them. Maybe they have a parent in the hospital. Stop by the hospital for a quick visit and bring a simple flower bouquet or card. Maybe their family has spent the week sharing strep throat. Send a text to let them know you’re bringing supper over this evening and will just leave it on the porch at 5:30. Thoughtfulness is attractive.
  • Send an occasional text with something funny or interesting. Share a recipe or an article about a common interest. Whatever the subject matter, a quick text says, “Hey, I’m thinking about you.”

Additional resources

Let me recommend two additional resources to help you kickstart a change.

  • Do These Sweatpants Make Me Look Single? by Jen Carlson. This was my first read of 2023 and I absolutely loved it! Jen and her sister embarked on a 6-month dating contest, with points for different achievements. The book is both hilarious and deeply human. Reading through the ups and downs of Jen’s 6-month self-improvement project will inspire you and give you plenty of ideas applicable to your friendship goals.
  • The Art of Manliness website and podcast. I can’t personally vouch for this, but a friend highly recommended it. The “Get Social” tab on the website has content relevant to our topic. So especially for my male readers, check it out!

I hope you’ve come away with an idea or two to help you kickstart a change in your friendships. Please, please, add your thoughts and suggestions in the comments for the benefit of other readers!

Next week we’ll tackle some specific friendship challenges, including when a friendship ends. Thanks for reading!

ComeOnAileen

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2 Comments

  1. Please keep these coming! I am loving the tips you share! Passing them along to a person who is struggling to make connection!
    I love your blog Aileen! Fun to read, but also thought-provoking!

    1. Kim, this makes me so happy! I appreciate your kind feedback more than you may ever know. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Aileen

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