So often I hear people say how difficult it is to make new friendships as we grow older.
I always question that in my head, wondering, is it that hard or is it that we become unconsciously stuck in certain routines and don’t want to make the effort?
Over the past couple of days, I’ve stolen moments in time to reflect upon what friendships are—old and new.
We are all blessed with acquaintances, connections, friends, and soulmates.
Some we will meet in nursery school and journey together through the years, drifting in and out of each other’s lives.
Some we will meet while waiting to board a flight and remember them from time to time when a word or experience brings them to the forefront of our memory.
Some will be our tribe; those who we know we could call at 3 a.m., a total mess, and not be able to explain what is going on, and somehow know that they would be there with bells on to save the day—our forever friends.
And some we will feel as if we met in another lifetime—a recognition that is there from the moment our eyes meet and, without words, speaks loudly, “I get you.”
Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know a neighbor who I’ve lived next door to for four years. She and her husband are moving soon (yet only minutes away). We saw each other in the building, exchanged a friendly hello, and would passively exchange a holiday remembrance, but it wasn’t until I brought home my vibrant puppy that our casual exchange grew into something more. Warm, gregarious, and filled with life would be the best way to describe my friend, and I am confident that we will remain close both now and in the years to come. I am grateful she came into my life.
Last evening, I had dinner with women who have been an integral part of my world for almost 20 years, and one who I was blessed to have met through the others. Working for a start-up yet all in separate departments, again a casual hello led to lunch, which led to after-work gatherings, which over the course of time resulted in strong friendships that have endured over the years. Funny thing is, if you had ever told me back then that they would mean this much to me and would have played such a central role in my life, I never would have believed you. I love them all.
And tonight, I shared the evening with another soul friend. We hadn’t seen each other in more than a year, yet the moment we started to catch up, it felt as if no time had passed. When I reflect on how we connected, it was in the ladies’ room at my former company, through a mutual (and former) colleague who knew the two of us would get along quite well. Boy, was he right. Eight years later, I thank him for igniting that fire.
Is making new friends difficult? No. It is what we want it to be.
The supposed friends I had in my youth—where are they? Time, experience, and life seem to have revealed that the commonalities were not so common; the mutual interests were not so mutual. There was a time in my life when I could not conceive the idea of growing apart from such friends, and yet I sit here today acknowledging the fact that growing apart happens whether we are cognizant of it or not.
Life happens. People come and go for whatever reasons, be it a move or through the inevitability of personal evolution. It’s going to be important to maintain our friendship-making skills as life goes on. And like a muscle, this is something we’re going to need to work out and flex to keep our communities strong.
How do we make new friends, whether casual acquaintances, strong connections, or soulmates?
1. Be present.
Don’t be so caught up in yesterday or tomorrow that you miss the chance to be in the now. Oddly, it often happens that the people who have the least amount of time are more likely to carve some out for someone new. Be that person who is busy and who takes the time.
2. Be friendly.
Share your smile. Say hello and genuinely compliment someone on something should you take notice. Don’t become self-conscious and worry about what others will think. Most people can’t help but be receptive to people who are interested in them. And if they’re not, don’t let that stop you from reaching out to another person down the line.
3. Be sincere.
Say what you mean and mean what you say. I offered to help my neighbor anytime she needed help, and when my doorbell rang one morning and I found myself without make-up, hair awry, and looking like something out of the living dead, I hesitated to answer the door. It would have been easy to let my vanity consume me and not come to her aid, but I remembered the promise I had made and thought how rude it would have been if I had let her down.
4. Be available.
We say that we don’t have any time, but is that true? We find time for mindless activities like television or lazing around because we’re tired when sometimes the best burst of energy comes from engaging with the world around us. Maybe a brief walk with a neighbor, or a text to follow-up with someone who was concerned about an appointment they had is in order.
5. Get active.
Join a group, take up a hobby, or offer to help someone in need. The more active we are in our day-to-day lives, the more opportunities we have to meet new people.
When we make an effort to be present in our lives and to look around us and listen to the conversations, we become more aware of the opportunities to find commonalities with the people in our communities and our surroundings.
Never hesitate to take part in or comment on that remark you agree with while standing in a line. So many people are afraid of what others may think or fear they will be unwanted in an already-established clique of sorts. But when we show others how wonderful it could be to engage with others—newbies, so to speak—they just might be responsive to the connection. If so, fabulous! If they’re not, move on!
Life is too short to force anything. But never stop being receptive to what life is leading you to. So often our life plans are not revealed in the ways that we have predicted. So, pay attention to those subtle shifts, and make some new friends or rekindle old ones, today.