I think a lot about friendship. You can't swing a cat (um, please don't ever actual do that) on the Internet without reading a post lamenting how difficult it is to make and maintain friends as an adult.
Does it make me a jerk to admit that friendship has actually gotten easier as I've gotten older? Maybe. I'm sorry. Yet, it's true. I think adult friendship, especially of the close girlfriend kind, is the actual best thing on earth.
Here are 11 things I know for sure about friendship.
1. Friendship takes effort to get started.
Maybe this seems obvious. I’ve been to a host of blog conferences and there’s always a few people pinned to the wall, constantly refreshing Twitter and waiting for people to approach them. Not surprisingly, there seems to be a strong correlation between these people and negative posts after the event complaining that no one talked to them. These are usually the same coworkers that never come to lunch or the people at yoga who don’t say hello to anyone else. Don’t be that person. Meeting people usually requires putting yourself out there. If you have nowhere to start, volunteer, join meet-ups, chat up the co-worker that seems cool, take some classes at the gym. Don’t wait for others to find you. Find them and say hello.
2. Friendship takes effort to maintain.
If you want a friendship to take off, you better work! If you like someone and want to be their friend, invite them to do something. Cast a wide net, and it’s likely you’ll find your people.
Once you have a friendship, continue the effort. I might not see my BFFs every week, but there are emails, phone calls, texts, videos, and voice memos. We visit one another and make plans in advance. Friendship requires effort and energy to grow, no matter how established. And when it’s a new friendship? Double that effort. That said…
3. Friendships don’t always work out.
Sometimes, friendships just don’t feel right. My rule is generally to give a new relationship three opportunities to blossom. If it's not happening? No hard feelings, but no forcing it either. I believe we all have limited energy, and if a friendship isn’t working, it’s not working. Let it go! Don’t pull a guilt trip, hound or pester. It doesn’t feel good to spend time with someone out of obligation. Letting something go gracefully is ideal for both parties.
4. Friendship means you have to show up, consistently.
Hands down, my biggest deal-breaker in friendships are cancellations. Cancel on me once, it’s fine! Cancel on me twice, I’m pretty irritated. Cancel on me a third time? It’s unlikely we’ll hang out again. I want to fill my time with people who want to hang out with me, and who make time to do so. When I schedule time to be with someone, I’m declining the chance to do other things, and I take that seriously. Show up for the people you care about, and do it regularly.
5. Friendship is like a bank account.
When you have a shared experience, it’s like a “deposit.” You’re building up your friendship. Every time you cancel/don’t text back/blow someone off, you make a withdrawal. We all “spend” sometimes, but ideally, you're working hard to build a healthy balance. The same thing goes for sharing things about who you are. I’ve spent time with people who verbally vomit everything about their history when we’re having our first coffee or brunch. TOO MUCH. Conversely, I’ve shared parts of myself with people and then never heard anything about who they are. Ideally, a friendship builds over time: you start sharing, and then the other person shares in return. You slowly but surely build a mutual respect and trust, one “deposit” at a time.
6. Friendship means trying not to take things personally.
I struggle with this a lot. I think it’s really easy to feel left out or excluded sometimes, especially on social media when you can see everyone’s check-ins and Instagrams and wonder where your invitation went. More often that not, it’s not about you. If you often feel left out and excluded, become that inclusive person you wish existed in your life. It always stuns me how often I hear people who I perceive as popular and busy say they feel the opposite. If you feel like there’s a void in your friendship life, than fill it yourself by reaching out to people you want to know.
Also? It’s perfectly okay for people to want to spend time with other friends without you. Many of my best friendships are from larger groups of friends, yet I still really treasure the one-on-one time I spend with my best friends. And I know they feel the same about their friendships with our mutual friends. It doesn’t mean you aren’t important or they don’t value your friendship. It means they have a relationship they’re nurturing. No one friend can or should fill every need in your life.
7. Friendship should only happen when you genuinely LIKE the other person.
This seems to apply to the Internet more than real life, yet it's worth mentioning. I find blogging events hilarious because people get so crazy trying to talk to the “it” blogger of the moment --- the high school equivalent of trying to befriend the Homecoming Queen in hopes of boosting your own popularity, regardless of whether you like them or not. Don’t do that. Find people you like, regardless of their blog traffic or social status, and build those relationships. I have several friends whose blogs are a million times more successful than mine will ever be, and guess what? They’re normal humans who want normal friendships. I feel lucky to know them because of who they are, not because of what they are doing.
8. Friendship requires you to grow and change.
I used to have a MAJOR issue with gossip when I was in high school and my early 20's. Finally, enough friendships were ruined by my careless talk and I stopped doing it. My friendships have improved dramatically. It took awhile to change my ways, but it literally changed my life.
If you’re getting the same result from your interactions over and over again, it’s probably not them, it’s you. If you're continually struggling to get friends to stick around, or friendships are ending in the same manner or whatever it is, be willing to take a hard look at yourself, and be open to change. Be aware of how you come off to other people and the energy you’re putting out there. If it’s not working? Shift.
9. Friendship means constructive criticism and clear communication.
If you don’t like something a friend is doing, tell them, gently and kindly. Foster open discussion. My best friendships are ones when I know my friends are acutely aware of my shortcomings and love me anyways --- when we can openly and honestly share about things that annoy or hurt, and then move on. Don’t let things fester, don’t ignore problems and don’t be unduly harsh. Make sure that you can take gentle feedback, too. It makes all the difference in the world.
10. Friendship is cyclical.
Most friendships that last a long time go through different phases. I've had some of my friends since elementary school, and many since high school and my early 20's. There are some periods when I see the same people all the time, and others when we take a little break. Go easy on each other. The best friendships I have are ones where no one gets their feelings hurt when you're busy or you're invested in other things for a bit. Eventually, things come back around. I've found that the less I try to force and control my relationships, the better they are.
11. Friendship means letting people know you love them.
Everyone likes to know you love and appreciate them. If you find someone you’re grateful for, tell them. Knowing that your friends love you makes all the difference. Let those you love know you’re glad they’re around. Successful friendship is worth treasuring and celebrating. Do it often.