A lot of us feel like we don’t have anyone to talk to or any really close friends. Here are 7 ways to make some better ones.
We live in a catch-22 of a society around our interconnectivity. Through technology like Facebook, Skype, Google+, MySpace (if you still have it), WhatsApp, Foursquare and even the humble SMS, we are able to instantly communicate with anyone anywhere in the world and have them immediately enter conversation with us. Back in the day, maybe even as recently as 20 years ago, there would be a longer process to be able to communicate with someone. You could give someone a phone call to talk with them instantly, but there was no guarantee that they would be there. You would leave a message on their answering machine and hope they checked it in the next few hours or days. You could also type or handwrite a letter and send it off to their mailbox, with a few days turnaround each time.
And yet for all our connection, a lot of us are lonelier than ever.
There’s a lot to be said about what having a “friend” on social media means. Even in person, our definition of what a “friend” is is quite nebulous. A lot of us aren’t sure how many true friends we really have.
I talk to a lot of people about relationships and family and how their life is going in general. And as people get older, one of the biggest problems people talk about is a lack of really close friends. Not having anyone to talk to. Surrounded by people, but frequently lonely. Just got off talking to a bunch of people online, but crying to sleep at night. In school and uni, the common experience meant you actually got to meet a lot of people. As people’s lives start to head in different directions, we wonder some very profound things about our aging selves…
Who knows who I really am?
Here are 7 ways we can make some better friends.
An opening note…
Most people say they want their spouse to be their best friend. I agree with that mentality. So, consider an investment in developing close friendships an investment in your current/future spouse also.
#1: Position yourself
Forbes has written a number of articles on How to Marry a Millionaire. They say that commonality is something to keep in mind as people tend to marry from similar socioeconomic backgrounds. In related articles, people will say that if you want to marry a millionaire, you need to position yourself in places where millionaires hang out.
The same is true of friendships. If you want to make good friends, you need to go to places where people are.
Sadly, a lot of people complain about being lonely, while at the same time, keeping very much to themselves and avoiding a lot of environments or conversations that are conducive to friendships. If you’re always staying home when people are hanging out, if old friends want to catch up but you’re always “busy”, if you’re only ever doing things that you want to do, then maybe you aren’t fostering a lifestyle that will lead you to make closer friends.
#2: Be interested in others and learn the art of conversation
A lot of modern conversations are made of about 10 minutes of small talk and awkward staring around until someone (or both people) pulls out their phones nervously and refresh their News Feed or check their messages (even though nothing has changed in the last 10 minutes), before trying to move around the room or summing up with an early “good to see you”.
Good conversation is intentional. It requires two people to participate, and sometimes it requires you to be a bit more forward than the other person to get results. Sometimes people just really don’t want to talk, and you aren’t able to control that, but what you are able to control is your participation in the conversation.
Engage in the lost art of asking questions. Once you’ve moved past the “what do you do”, probe a bit more. “What subjects do you study?, where were you before that?”, or how about “why do you enjoy that?”. It’s amazing what you can learn about someone when you actually want to. Maybe some of your best friends are hidden behind commonalities you both share but you didn’t know about cause you didn’t bother to find out.
Sometimes you need to talk a bit more about yourself before a conversation will get going. An old adage in leadership is that people will only go as far as you are willing to go. If your own responses or statements about yourself are short, empty, or awkward, don’t be surprised if they return the favour. Maybe you need to spell out a bit more what you thought about a recent world event or a movie you’ve seen. Small things go a long way.
#3: Be an encourager
Scripture tells us that life and death are in the power of the tongue. Many of us know what it is to experience both ends of that statement, with hopeful words that have kept us going in our lives, as well as destructive words which have really torn us down.
You have the opportunity to do either of those for the people you meet. There is so much bad news in the world today, and so many reasons why people are told they aren’t enough. They’re too short, too fat, too skinny, too single, have too many kids, don’t look a certain way, don’t have the right career, blah blah blah blah. Why not be a voice that speaks life and hope into people?
One of the pastors at our church is famous for some good advice – “if you see a good thing, say a good thing”. Don’t just think, “oh hey, I like that”, let them know. And let them know why you like it too. Everyone wants to be friends with that guy.
#4: Don’t put it all on one person
It often happens in marriage that people blow up at their husband or wife because they’re not understanding or accommodating or nice enough when they need to be. A lot of these problems are accentuated by the fact that people make their husband or wife their whole world, and end up putting all their expectations and hopes and dreams and fulfillment for human interaction on them. They end up getting way more hurt or offended than is reasonable because of one simple reason – there is literally no one else in their life they are being open with or talking to.
You don’t like it when people expect you to be their sole friend and be their everything. Don’t do the same to others.
#5: Open your life
Is there anything in your life that you’ve never told anybody before? How much? Do people know how you really feel about things? Or do you keep yourself repressed and not really say a lot about yourself?
“Well, I don’t like talking about myself” we’ll say.
But you need to. If you don’t want to feel like people aren’t interested in you or that they only like you for what you do and not for who you are, then you need to be more open with who you are. If you don’t give people the chance to actually get to know or to see what’s going on on the inside, then you will go insane from a deep loneliness, born out of you remaining a flinched, closed, broken book.
You don’t need to tell your deepest darkest secrets to everybody, but you need to build relationships of trust where even just a few people know how you’re really doing. You are the one who has to open your life to others, no one is able to come into your life without your permission.
#6: Be a forgiver
If you lose friends faster than you gain them, you will have no friends. Simple mathematics. Let’s be real though, people can really hurt us. Especially the people you let in to your life. One of the psalmists said that he could have dealt with something bad that someone had done to them if it was a stranger, but because it was someone close, it broke their heart.
When that happens, you have two possible responses:
- Lock them out and never speak again
- Forgive them and let the healing process begin
Now depending on what it is, there may actually need to be some space there for people to get over things. If there is physical harm or something more sinister involved, maybe you do need to cut someone out of your life, even if only for a time.
But the vast majority of the things that divide friendships are minor things. Someone didn’t return a phone call or text. Someone said something that your dad said to you when you were a little girl and it’s one of your buttons. Someone said a small rumour about you in passing to one of his friends.
Would you rather hang on to your grudge or to your relationship?
#7: Be grateful for people
Man, we take so much for granted. We have all this technology, we have all this money (we complain about being poor while our two airconditioners are running and our garage is full), we have so much opportunity and education. And so many times, we’re so busy trying to get to the next step or negotiate a small problem during the day that we overlook these things.
The people in our lives are also something we too often take for granted. They are often only in our lives for a season. Some of our friends have seen as at our absolute worst. Where others would have left, there are people in your life who have stuck through thick and thin. There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother, and our lives are full of them.
In summary, do unto others…
After all of these points, Jesus said it best – do unto others what you would like them to do for you. The so-called “Golden Rule”. So simple and yet it is the most profound summary of all aspects of how to do relationship well. You’d like these things to be done for you – why not be the one to do it for others?
What are some other ways to build good friendships?