August 7, 2018

Wanted: a Real Friend.

Wanted: a real friend who is trustworthy, judgement-free, creative, and not easily intimidated.

Must have life experience and a quirky sense of humor. Understands the challenges of having a work/life balance and is okay with regularly compensating for failure with chocolate, wine, coffee, or fast food. Artistic and/or musical background a bonus. British accent preferred.

I have never been someone who had a lot of friends.

My parents have been friends with the same core of folks for pretty much my whole life. As their lives changed, they have all gone through the challenges together. They have struggled, celebrated, learned, and grown through different phases of life—from getting kids to sleep through the night to weight loss to managing difficult teenagers to health scares and death.

I haven’t had the same kind of experience with friendships, and I feel like I have been missing out.

Growing up, I had two friends who lived in my neighborhood who were my “best friends.” I went through a variety of phases in high school (think preppy then punk rocker then cheerleader), and my friends shifted as my phases shifted. I found a group of friends in college that I really connected with, and we still connect through Facebook, but we are not necessarily “close.” My family is very close, and my sisters are really my closest friends, but there is definitely a difference between family and friends. Mostly, I have had friends through work.

Work friends have the benefit of common life experience. The conversation is easy and the risk is low—unless you are struggling with something real in your life. Then, it gets messy.

When we bring our life stuff to our work friends, we cross the boundaries that made those relationships easy and risk-free. It’s like crossing the streams in “Ghostbusters”: things can go very bad.

When work friendships go bad, it can make the workplace extremely difficult. The rumor mill starts and people feel like they need to take sides. Breaking trust in any friendship is extremely hurtful, but when work friends break the bonds of trust and friendship, it is nearly impossible to “just push through it.” The loss of the work friendship can impact workplace productivity and job satisfaction.

I am the boss at work, which makes having work friends even more difficult, because they aren’t really friends.

When the boss shows vulnerability, there are two different responses: those who applaud the strength it took to be honest about being a leader through personal challenges grow in trust and appreciation, and those who see vulnerability as a sign of weakness begin to circle like vultures, waiting for an opportunity to swoop in.

So, how do we develop and nurture friendships outside the workplace when we have spouses and partners, families, work, school, and an endless list of responsibilities?

First, we have to realize that friendships are a part of self-care, and making sure that we prioritize time to take care of ourselves is an essential part of being emotionally healthy and well.

Prioritizing time for self-care can be tough, even when it’s just about getting your hair or nails done or doing yoga every day. Saying that self-care means going out with friends might be a tough sell in some of our personal relationships.

But, research out of the University of Michigan shows us that friendships are important to our health and well-being—and may be more important over time than even our family relationships.

It turns out that friendship is as important to grown-ups as it is to kids. Friendships are a mirror through which we can see ourselves and they help us to process and think through our experiences. We need to be able to balance our time and our commitments in order to be happy and healthy, and friendships are a part of that balance.

Here are some tips to getting more of what we need out of our friendships:

Make time for friendships.
Whether it is once a week, once a month, or once a year, schedule time in to your calendar to do something with your friends. Even if it is just time to chat, make the time a priority. If you can make it a routine, like the third Thursday of every month, you will know ahead of time to keep that time sacred.

Keep work separate.
Set boundaries for work friends so that work is kept at work and your personal life is kept personal. That will require that you really consider what you need in a work friend and what you need in a true friendship. Your true friend will be there for you in your lowest moment and in your greatest moments of celebration. Set the boundaries for your friendship and then hold one another accountable for keeping those boundaries.

Speak up for what you need.
Believe it or not, it is not just okay to ask for what you need, it is a part of self-care that we are really missing. It’s not healthy to always put the needs of others ahead yours. It is okay to show up for yourself and say what you need. It’s actually so much better to say it than to just hope that people will read your mind! So, tell your friend what you need. Say, “I’m having a crap day,” or “I just really need to get this out right now.” Friends want to be there for us and they can’t be if we don’t say what we need.

Call instead of text.
I love texting. There is a simplicity and a disconnectedness about just typing what you want to say. But it is precisely that simplicity and disconnectedness that only allow for quick messages rather than heart-to-heart conversations. When you need to really talk, send a text that says, “Hey, can I give you a call?” We get a lot more from voice tone than we do from emojis and hashtags.

Get out of your comfort zone.
Even friendships need a little bit of spice, so get out there and do something fun! Take a cooking class together, volunteer together, upcycle furniture together—something that keeps you laughing and learning about one another. When we limit our friendship to a glass of wine and complaining about work and our spouses, we miss opportunities to deepen our relationships and learn more about ourselves and our friends. So, get out there and do something!

And just in case you are looking for a friend, I know a witty, sarcastic, and wildly funny writer who you might want to know.


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