What have you done since my last two posts on making small changes go a long way, and on your 2022 resolutions?
Did you know? The most read post of the year was How to improve your mental health?
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A reader suggested this topic. Related to it is why adults have a more challenging time making friends. We all remember easily making friends when we lived with our parents, went to school, had no money of our own, and couldn’t yet drive. But before you quit your job, move in with your parents, and sign up to repeat first grade, let’s take a deeper look at the situation and what we could do about it.
Sociologists say that we need organic, unplanned interactions, and shared vulnerability to make friends. Translation: getting in trouble together because we didn’t think things through.
But adult responsibilities get in the way of spontaneity while past experiences help us develop foresight to help us avoid trouble.
We also move around a lot. Very few people still live in the town where they were born or work the same job for decades, making us feel like outsiders wherever we are. On top of that, we hurry up to find someone we like, shack up, make babies, and start worrying about bills, jobs, and house repairs. As we grow older, our worlds shrink in many ways. We stop playing with random strangers just because they pass by and have a ball in hand. Instead, we build fences and lock the door.
Our time passes in traffic, at the office, in front of the computer, working, or at home doing chores and watching TV. That’s just life, they say. We get busy and preoccupied. But we also become more self-conscious, set in our ways, and more judgmental. None of these are good starting points for friendships.
As people get older, lonelier, and more isolated, there’s a tenancy to expect rejection if they reach out to make a connection. They are hypervigilant and anticipate interactions to be negative. It’s even more complicated for older men, as the fear of being perceived as gay is a real thing for some, which narrows their options even further. People worry about their appearance, status, wealth, fear judgment, and doubt others’ intentions.
Think about the oldest and dearest friends you still have. How did you come together? What made you friends?
We went to school, joined teams, signed up for summer camps, fraternities and sororities, and various clubs to have a good time, learn something, and team up with others. We found challenges, adventures, and experiences we would never have on our own. We had little to lose and everything to gain by putting ourselves out there, deliberately looking for connections with others.
And that is what we found!
It required participation, but we rarely complained. We were probably more willing to skip a class than a party. We made stories together. Stories we still reminisce about any chance we get.
If you want friends, you have to make room for stories again and set out to find the cast members.
Start with your interests. Look for communities organized around your interests and plug yourself right in, as awkward as it may be at first. Studies show that you will be more successful within the context of a community than seeking individuals out and trying to make it work. It will feel more natural and organic too. I had a friend who moved to the area years ago and joined a ping-pong club with a bunch of guys from work. Before you know it, these guys were drinking beers and chatting regularly, even without the ping-pong table between them. Do you like old cars? Dancing? Fine dining? Working out? Do you have kids? Hike? Find others like you on Meetup.com, Facebook, through work, or through your kids’ school. Join the gym, the local yoga studio, the senior center, or a volunteer organization. The options are too many to list.
Never say “no” to a party invitation. Not at work. Not at the neighbor’s house. No excuses! Offer to help too. Make yourself useful in every way you can. Bring some food, help clean up, or set up. Feeling useful will eliminate some awkwardness, as the responsibility you embrace will also give you a reason to talk and interact with others. Plus, if you promise “to help,” you are less likely to flake out when the time comes.
Always turn off your phone. Please leave it in your pocket or purse and do not look at it! Too many people end up in the corner absorbed by their phones, avoiding the discomfort of making eye contact with strangers. Pretend it’s 1975. No one has a smartphone. What would you do with yourself?
Did you know that there are apps for making friends? Yeah, like Tinder without the hooking up. Here are 10 of them! I am not sure they work, but it doesn’t hurt to try. It might be a millennial thing, though. So proceed with caution, depending on your age group.
Expect to make acquaintances first and hope to grow some of them into good friendships. That next level requires more time spent together and willingness to participate in each other’s lives more closely.
If you don’t let anyone in, there won’t be anyone there when you need them.
People often think of their love interest as the most important one. But in case you haven’t noticed, feelings come and go, which is why the divorce rate is about 50%. It’s also usually just one person at a time. But friendships! You can pile those up on top of each other, mix and match, and enjoy forever!
A few of my friendships have outlasted several long-term relationships. A friend of mine once said, “I wouldn’t still be married if it wasn’t for my friend X.” Once, a friend asked me to talk sense into him as he was on the verge of leaving his wife for someone half her age. I did. He stayed. It took a long weekend and lots of deep, sad, confusing, engaging, and vulnerable conversations. Another friend once told me, “I have friends I can have dinner with, and then I have friends that will help me hide a body.” I guess it was a compliment that he put me in the second category.
Here’s what TO DO if you want to make and keep your friends.
Go out of your way to be helpful and valuable. Think of what you can contribute – your sense of humor, a car ride, a pizza, access to a place, etc. Perhaps you are the person everyone wants to see because you make people feel good, or you’ve got all the great dance moves.
Be available. Go all in! Make time for a good time. Show your excitement when people invite you to do something. Commit. Show up!
Initiate! You be the one to put the party together or get your coworkers to go drinking after office hours. Movie night? Got tickets to a game or a show? Who wants to go to the movies? Reach out and invite.
Listen, pay attention, participate, reciprocate.
Forgive and forget. People are not perfect. If you want to keep them in your life, you’ll have to cut them some slack.
Be open to surprises. Allow for people to learn and change despite your past experiences and judgments. Old rejected friends could make new best friends.
Here’s what NOT to do if you want to to make and keep your friends.
Don’t be too picky in the beginning. Meet as many people as you can. Some can lead you to others. Some will be more casual, and others may end up important. But if you start too picky, you will talk yourself out of many opportunities you didn’t even know were coming your way.
Don’t be a pushover, but don’t be demanding and self-righteous either. Those are synonyms for “asshole.”
Do not interrupt people talking. Even if their story feels like it’s dragging for too long. If it’s important for them to tell you, let them tell you. You are listening to them, for them.
Don’t “one-up” your friends’ stories. Give them the pleasure of the spotlight for a moment, even if you do have a better story. You’ll get your chance to tell yours. Be patient.
Do not make them feel stupid or inadequate for something they’ve done or said. If they are not asking for your advice, don’t tell them how things should be. I get paid to give my advice, and I still don’t tell people how things should be. Instead, I help them figure out what they need and want and their options. The rest is up to them.
Do not burden people with your problems that you intend not to fix. No one likes a complainer who doesn’t do anything to change anything. Your friends are not Kleenex. You can’t blow your snot on them regularly and expect them to stick around.
Don’t feign interest or care. We’ve evolved to recognize the fakes among us and avoid them. You will be avoided.
Don’t always ask for favors.
Don’t be a flake. Period. End of story.
So, with a little effort and a little good luck, you should be sitting in the company of friends in no time! Hopefully, you’ll keep them too—even the quirky ones. You never know what the future brings and who’s going to be the one you can’t live without.
What would you tell the FUTURE YOU today? Did you know you can write him/her a letter today? Check out this video and then go to their website and send yourself a letter to be delivered a year or more later. It’s free! And it’s cool. I just got a letter from myself from a couple of years ago. I am heading over to write another one. Thinking long and hard. You can read letters other people sent in the “Read public letters” section. They are anonymous. The one you send to yourself can be either private or public as well.
Why would you want to do this?
Because by thinking of how you are today, and who you want to be in the future, may calibrate your actions and intentions. Plus, giving your future self some good advice will prime you for doing what it takes, question yourself, and appreciate the cumulative effect your actions can have over time.
Here are a few thoughts on time:
Time is always necessary for healing, learning, and creating and deepening connections.
My favorite quote from Rilke’s Letters To A Young Poet:
I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
Our subjective experience of time is often the source of conflict within ourselves and with other people, even though we all have accurate time keeping devices.
Even though we have unlimited opportunities for consumption, productivity, work, play, learning, and growth, we have limited time every day, and an expiration date we can’t avoid. Remembering this, from time to time, could help us decide how to spend our finite time on this planet.
Thanks for reading.