When I was younger, I took my friendships as a given. I assumed existing friendships would last, and new ones would come along naturally without much effort. I (sadly) didn’t think too much about my role as a friend and didn’t work at fostering friendships when I was in earlier stages of life.
As I’ve aged, I’ve realized that friendships are precious. The old ones need tending if they’re to last, and new ones may require putting yourself out there first. Once I understood the true value of friends, I had to reexamine my behaviors and assess the kind of friend I want to be and the people I hope to attract.
It does not matter what your personality type is, either. We all need friends. Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, fostering friendships is essential to help you and to thrive as an individual and feel part of a community, too. Friendships not only help us feel connected but provide us feedback so we can be the best version of ourselves.
Some people innately understand the importance of friends, while others (like me) learn as they experience life. At nearly 60, I believe strongly in the capacity to change – no matter our age. I’ve made it a point to rethink my actions and shift my behaviors with friendships in mind.
Here are 5 lessons I’ve picked up about what is needed to be a good friend and what it takes to make new meaningful friendships, too.
- Make friendship dates. Have you ever been guilty of saying, “Let’s get together,” while in the back of your mind, you realized you’d never actually do it? I vowed to stop that insincerity in 2021.
I used to meet interesting people and promptly do nothing about establishing a relationship. (Lazy me!) Now, as I’ve decided to take action and make new friends this year, I initiate invitations for coffee, a glass of wine, or my favorite activity of walking.
Every week, I arrange one outing with someone I’ve met recently, or a new or existing friend. For friendship to happen, it’s essential to not just intend to make dates but to actually see them through.
“The best time to make friends is before you need them.” Ethel Barrymore
- Offer friendship without expectation. Be honest and ask yourself if you are keeping a “friendship score,” as in when you make an invitation or do something nice, do you expect the other person to reciprocate?
When it comes to making new friends (and keeping old ones), expect that some of your outreach and gifts of time may be disregarded. Give first and when you feel like it, without expecting something equal to come back your way.
Ultimately, even if the friendship doesn’t blossom for you and the other person, take solace that you’ve been your kinder self. It’s a worthwhile thing.
When you make it a point to build friendships, go into the activity with both a sense of humility and adventure. True friendship takes time and history, and allowing the space for friendships to evolve is essential to cultivating richer and lasting ones.
“Don’t make friends who you are comfortable to be with. Make friends who will force you to lever yourself up.” Thomas Watson
- Spend time with friends and activities that challenge you. It’s pretty easy to love lovable people who are similar to you, but what about lovable people who differ?
We live in polarized times when differences between people are not tolerated. It seems more and more live in our universe with our individual view of the world, which doesn’t account for all the other universes out there.
When we are open to spending time with those who differ from us, we allow ourselves insights that remind us to embrace humility and seek diversity and shared humanity.
Meet with people of varying ages and life circumstances and see where there are potential opportunities for friendship. Be objective and remember we are each equally deserving of our place in the human experience.
“Not chance of birth or place has made us friends, Being oftentimes of different tongues and nations, But the endeavor for the selfsame ends, With the same hopes, and fears, and aspirations.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
- You’re never too old to build friendships. Do you think of yourself as too old to change? Do you consider making friends as an older person is impossible?
The truth is that building friendships can be more challenging to come by as we grow older. In our formative years within the school setting and extracurricular activities, we were more interested and open to friendship. Then the demands of work, family, and activities make building friendships and maintaining them a challenge. We can become insular in our daily routines.
However, as we age, the space for friendships can once again opens. Often people rediscover old friendships. Yet, building new friendships is important, too. If we are to stay connected and healthy, we need to expand our friendship base.
“It’s never too late – in fiction or in life – to revise.” Nancy Thayer
- Care for the friends you have today. How good a friend are you for your besties? How about your spouse or significant other? And your extended family? Once I realized I wanted to focus on being a good friend, I recognized the people most deserving of my best self are those in my closest circle. I admit that’s not always been the case.
We tend to let our hair down in our intimate bonds and hope they’ll love our frumpy selves anyway.
But what if we make a concerted effort to practice the rules of good friendship with those who matter most? Negative behaviors can become habits, and conversely, practicing positive ones can replace them.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou
Let Friendship Be an Ongoing Theme in Life
I’m sure my newfound interest in friends is partly due to aging and a response to the isolation I felt during the shutdown and sheltering in place in 2020. But whatever the reason, I’ve found working on being a good friend has been a positive experience, and I feel more positive, more motivated, and I’m building some great friendships, too.
None of us is alone in this life, but if we don’t take the time to forge friendships, we’re likely to feel lonely and more isolated. Connect, bond, and prosper because you deserve to be your best friend, and making friends is a gift for you.
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