“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.” ~ Helen Keller
As an introvert by nature, it’s never been “easy” for me to make friends. In my childhood through early teens, our family would move every few years. It seemed as soon as I would make a few solid friends, we would relocate and the painful process of being friendless and putting myself out there would start again and again.
As an adult, I’ve certainly gained skills and confidence that help in the friendship department, but I’ve been spoiled being married to my best friend and I haven’t always reached out or shared myself with others as much as I could have.
It’s been a year of change, awakening, and rebuilding for me. I’ve felt a lot of loss—of loved ones, of ego, pride (and sometimes self), as well as being plagued by imaginary fears of losing everything and everyone that is dear to me.
The overwhelming epiphany this year has been that, above all, life is about love and connection.
With this renewed perspective, my focus has been to strengthen my friendships and build new ones. I have had a lot of conversations with people about friendship and loneliness. The struggle to create and maintain friendships is something we can all relate to, whether we are children or adults. Like anything in life, connecting with others gets easier with practice. Just like a muscle, it takes time to build up your friendship skills—you will face rejection and roadblocks along the way, but you will find your flow with practice.
If you find yourself craving connection and want to grow friendships, I hope these 10 steps will empower you to head in that direction.
1) Initiate opportunities for connections.
Think Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” Invite friends along to that movie you are going to see, ask them to come to your kid’s basketball game, plan a game night or dinner party. If you sit around waiting for friends to invite you to an outing, it is likely not going to happen. Don’t be surprised or dejected if you get turned down. People have a lot going on and a lot of us are not in the habit of saying “yes” to play time as often as we could. Don’t take any “no” responses personally. If you get turned down by one person, ask another. I promise you there are people out there wanting to connect as much as you do.
“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go get them sometimes.” A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
2) Make time to connect.
It is important to add fuel to your friendships. If someone continually invites you to connect and is turned down, they WILL stop asking. Start saying “yes” more often to loved ones if the opportunity sounds worthwhile, even if it means shifting around your schedule a bit or stepping out of your comfort zone with a new activity. If your priority is to connect, you can find the time. Remember that letting friends know you support and care about them doesn’t have to be an all-day event. Connecting can be as simple as sending a quick text or email letting friends know you are there for them.
3) Offer to help/accept help.
If you notice a friend has a need you can fulfill, offer to help. Not only will you be doing a good deed for someone you care about, it’s good karma as well. Even better, take a friend up on their offer of help to you. Don’t be too proud to let them in. Remember how good you felt inside the last time you helped a friend in need? Let someone feel needed and useful in service to you as well. We all need help from time to time and opportunities for service to loved ones help bond us together.
“Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.’” ~ E.B.White, Charlotte’s Web
4) Don’t expect friends to fit into a certain mold.
I often hear others complain it’s difficult to find friends that fit into the same criteria as them: “single, no kids”, “couples with kids”, “drinkers”, “yogis”, you get my drift.
As a married childless agnostic in a suburb with a high percentage of religiously conservative married couples with kids, it would be easy for me to use this excuse. Many friendships I’ve made recently are with people 20+ years older and younger than me. The most profound friendship I’ve discovered this year is with the dog at my riding stable. Tig, the scary guard dog who doesn’t like strangers, became my unconditionally loving companion with a few treats and snuggles. The joy I feel when my canine friend runs to greet me and stays by my side for hours is boundless.
If only all friends were this easy to make and keep! When you open your heart to friends from all walks of life, your perspective of life broadens immensely. That close friend you are looking for may be very different from you, so drop the labels.
A friend can be anyone you choose to open your heart to.
“Each friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” ~ Anais Nin
5) Let friends into your space.
No, really, let friends into your space. Don’t get hung up on how clean or fancy your home and car are, how little furniture you may have, how small the space might be. I admit to being a recovering perfectionist. In the past I wouldn’t let anyone in my home unless it could pass the white glove test. I now realize how much of a barrier (both physically and emotionally) this was to my friendships.
A lot of my friends have the same hang-ups.
I have never shared a meal at their tables or stepped foot in their homes. It is a lovely feeling to be invited in to someone’s space with clutter, kids, pets, and all. It shows openness and authenticity, a “take me as I am” attitude, that helps foster feelings of true connection. It’s not about what your home looks like, it’s about the love people feel when they are sharing space with you.
Trust that you are enough. Your friends will be honored to enter your private space and connect with you in a more intimate setting than any bar or restaurant could ever offer.
6) Reconnect with old friends.
You became friends for a reason. You connected on a deeper level with this person than 99% of everyone else you crossed paths with on this earth. You may need to swallow a bit of guilt for not reaching out sooner, but if the connection was there once, it will always be there.
Do it sooner than later, don’t live another day regretting you haven’t reached out.
I had the pleasure of connecting with one of my best friend from elementary school not too long ago. Even though it had been twenty plus years since we’d spoken last, we talked for hours. We were completely engaged, like no time or distance had ever separated us. What a wonderful feeling it was, spending time with an old friend!
“Time doesn’t take away from friendship, nor does separation.” ~ Tennessee Williams
7) Talk to strangers.
Ditch the fear-based “Stranger Danger” mindset your mother ingrained in you during childhood. Make connecting with everyone you interact with a daily priority. Listen, make eye contact, treat everyone you meet as if they are already your friend. It’s amazing how quickly you can connect with someone new when you are present and mindful.
“A friend may be waiting behind a stranger’s face.” ~ Maya Angelou
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” ~ Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
8) Find your tribe.
Connect through your shared passions.
I admit to being one of those women in my early twenties who didn’t have any close female friends. I didn’t think I fit in with most of the women I crossed paths with (of course these were my own limiting beliefs at work). Then I starting riding horses again, rekindling a childhood passion. I have met so many wonderful “soulmate” friends (mainly women) through our shared love of horses and equestrian sports.
Finally, here were women who weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, who were athletic and brave, loved animals, the list goes on. We can talk endlessly on the subject and spend time together actively engaged in what we love.
Find your passion in life and you will find your tribe, friends that love something as much as you do.
9) Be your authentic self.
to connect with others on a deeper level, let go of any pretenses or facades. Let people see who you truly are and the right people will come into your life and love you for just being you.
“Our imperfections are what create authentic connections with one another.” ~ Henna Inam, Wired for Authenticity: Seven Practices to Inspire, Adapt, & Lead
“If you celebrate your differentness, the world will, too. It believes exactly what you tell it – through the words you use to describe yourself, the actions you take to care for yourself, and the choices you make to express yourself. Tell the world you are one-of-a-kind creation who came here to experience wonder and spread joy. Expect to be accommodated.” ~ Victoria Moran, Lit From Within: Tending Your Soul For Lifelong Beauty
10) Be your own best friend!
This may be the hardest step for many of us but it is also the most important. Think about all the qualities that make you a good friend—kind, compassionate, complimentary, supportive, thoughtful, loving. Are you practicing those on yourself?
Tell yourself you look good today, smile at your reflection, build yourself up the way you would your best friend.
The most important relationship you have is with yourself.
“Self love is an ocean and your heart is a vessel. Make it full, and any excess will spill over into the lives of the people you hold dear. But you must come first.” ~ Beau Taplin
There is no reason to go through life alone. There is someone out there that needs the special unique person that is you in their life as much as you need them.
Be brave, reach out! Flex your friendship muscles today and watch beautiful new connections unfold and grow in your life.
It starts with you, my friends.
Author: Valerie Byers
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Harry (Howard) Potts at Flickr