During the course of our lives, friends come and go, but the really good ones are always there. As my son and I were waiting to board a flight for our vacation, I checked my email and saw a message from one of my long-lost best friends from junior high. I’d thought of her often over the years and wondered what had happened to her because we’d lost touch. She’d found me on the Internet and sent me the nicest message. We’ve been emailing a lot, reminiscing about old times, which reminded me of something really important. When someone is REALLY your friend, it doesn’t matter how much time goes by without talking to them, you can always pick up as if it were just yesterday since last you spoke. My old friend now lives in Kuwait, but it’s been a true blessing to have reconnected. This newsletter is dedicated to all the true friends out there.
There’s a saying that people come into our lives for a season, a reason or a lifetime. Take a look back at your life and you’ll find that there are very few people who come for a lifetime. Those are the ones you cherish and hold onto. They are the ones for whom you would do anything, no questions asked, and they’re the ones who would do anything for you. They don’t keep track of what they do for you, they just do.
That doesn’t mean that those who come for a season, or only just a reason, aren’t important, because they too, have a purpose. Since my dad died and my family fell apart, friends have become my family. They were the ones who were there when I needed a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen or to watch my son when I traveled for work. They’re the people who were there when I really needed them and they’re still there when I don’t.
Friends can come from surprising places. They can be your next-door neighbor who became the sister you always wished you’d had. They can be the person who has a child on your kid’s team and you just click. They can be someone you met working out in the gym or on the job.
But with friends, it’s not always smooth sailing. As with any relationship, friends can bring support and joy, but can occasionally bring strife. Here are seven simple ways to make or improve your friendships.
Make time. Whether you’re feeling blue or are busier than you’d like to be, promise yourself to make time for others. This can either be people you know or people you’d like to know better. Friendships enhance our health and well-being because they help us feel supported and understood. They’re worth the time investment. Put this at the top of your to-do list for 2015.
Put Yourself Out There. You’re not alone. Most people want close friendships, but they don’t know how to go about it. Spend some time and energy and find the courage to do something different than what you’ve been doing. Make eye contact, smile, say hello. Invite someone for coffee, a glass of wine, a walk or to go to the movies. Don’t just assume that they already have friends and don’t want another one, or that they already have plans. Be okay if they say no.
Open your Eyes. Friends don’t always show up where you think they should be or look like what you imagined. Don’t discount someone who is older, younger, richer, poorer, heavier or thinner or even a different race or culture than what you imagined. Potential friends are everywhere. I met one of my closest friends at an audition: me for acting, her for modeling. We had an instant chemistry and 14 years later, we don’t see each other much, but both know that when we need a friend, we’re probably each other’s first call. Do things like take a class, join a gym, go to a wine tasting or volunteer. You’ll probably find that there are others who want to make friends as much as you do.
Don’t Give Up too Soon. You won’t necessarily bond with someone as soon as you meet them. Often this will happen, but every potential friend isn’t always “like at first sight.” Give any relationship time to blossom and if it’s meant to be, it will get stronger. Let potential friends show you their stuff and vice versa. We only get to know someone else over time. Old friendships require nurturing too, so don’t forget about them! But if the friendship becomes or is toxic, end it. You deserve better.
Be the Friend You Want. This goes along with the saying, “Treat people the way you want to be treated.” Be sincere, compassionate, loyal and honest. Listen as well as talk. Don’t gossip about or betray your friends. That’s the worst thing you can ever do, and we’ve all been there. Reach out when someone needs you, even if she isn’t able to ask or tell you what she needs. If you’re truly their friend, you’ll know something isn’t quite right. Be reasonable in what you expect from others. Be willing to forgive, because people make mistakes. If they’re really your friend, deep down, you’ll know they didn’t mean it. But be willing to give up on a friendship when it isn’t working, which can happen to the best of friends. Friendships should be mutually satisfying and if they’re not, be willing to say goodbye.
Be willing to say you’re sorry. If you truly did something wrong and you know it, apologize. If the person is really you’re friend, they’ll forgive you. If they’re not, they won’t. Move on.
If someone hurts you, tell them. Most people aren’t mind-readers, so if you think a friend has wronged you, tell her or him. If they’re really your friend, they’ll probably have no idea they’ve hurt you. Don’t wait a week or even a day because the anger and resentment will fester. Tell them and talk about it. It’s not fair to either of you to do otherwise. Friends don’t intentionally don’t hurt friends.
I’ve learned a lot about friendship over the years and the bottom line is this: True friends are hard to find, but they’re out there. If you’re lucky enough to have one, or more than one, tell them how much they mean to you. Trust me, it’ll mean the world to them and you’ll feel great for letting them know.
Post by Susan Monaco (CLAS ’85), Certified Health Coach
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