“Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.” Sounds like something grandma would have stitched on a pillow or something. But it’s true: friendship doesn’t happen overnight. Whether you have a solid tribe or you’re the new kid who knows nobody, you’ve probably noticed that it takes time and effort to build a healthy friendship.
That’s how the important things in life usually go though. An awesome friendship is worth working hard to maintain. How does an acquaintance transform into a lifelong pal? Let’s talk through nine major ways that anybody can use to make and keep friends.
Real friends don’t need us to be cool. They accept us for all we are: amazing but imperfect people. We all need friends we can be real with. Trying to be someone you’re not is totally exhausting. That’s actually a good test: if you feel completely drained after interacting with someone, if you feel like you had to be constantly monitoring what you said, you not feel comfortable enough with that person to just be you. It’s normal to be a little self-conscious when we’re first getting to know someone, but if it’s been a while and we still don’t feel at ease around this person, it may be time to find another friend.
How’s your day been? What did you think of that test? What are you doing over the weekend? These are all easy topics to get a conversation started, and then we can go further. We can ask our friends about their hobbies, favorite movies and music, what makes them laugh, and what they’ve learned recently.
Once we’ve grown to trust a friend, we can begin to share the more personal stuff. This doesn’t mean you have to share everything with them, but it’s good to have a couple friends that we can go deeper with. This could include our goals and dreams, problems with family or friends, fears, sadness, or really great news.
How do you know someone’s really listening to you? Usually they make eye contact, put their phone or other distractions away, and don’t interrupt. A great way to show someone we’re listening is to ask clarifying questions like, “How does that make you feel?” or “What happened next?”
Whatever you like to do for fun, do it with your friends! Play sports, make art, sing, ride bikes, watch movies, play board games…there’s probably some activity that you share an interest in. We can also do more everyday stuff with our friends, like helping each other with chores or studying. A good friend can make anything more fun!
We all need encouragement. When we see a friend succeed, we can say “Wow, awesome job!” When we see them struggling, we can say “I’m here for you,” or ask “What can I do to help?” It’s important to tell our friends by the way we speak and by the way we act that they matter.
Chances are that we’ll disagree with our friends about something. Whether its religion, politics, or our favorite bands or sports teams, there will always be people who disagree with us. It’s really good to have friends who are different from us, and we can have really strong bonds with someone even if we disagree about something. We can do this well by asking questions about their viewpoint, using kind words, and practicing those listening skills we talked about earlier. Respecting opinions doesn’t mean we have to believe what our friends believe, it just means that we can have open discussion, disagree, and still care about each other.
We’re not talking gymnastics, though that’s another fun activity to do with friends. Being flexible in this context means being okay with not always getting what you want. Maybe a friend wants to play basketball but you want to go on a walk and talk about life. You could either play a game and then go on a walk, or let your friend choose today’s activity and you get to choose next time. However, being flexible does not mean giving in to peer pressure. It’s not okay for a friend to ask you to do something harmful or that makes you uncomfortable. If that happens, get help from a trusted adult right away.
We said before that we’re going to disagree with friends. How do we handle conflict? What if a friend says something hurtful, or we hurt them somehow? Again, using those listening skills is so important. We can also spend some time apart to cool down. That doesn’t mean ignoring our friend, it means letting them know “I don’t want to say anything out of anger, can we spend a couple days apart and talk about this next week?” If we’re having trouble working out a problem by ourselves, bringing in a neutral third party like another friend, family member, teacher, or mentor to listen in on the conversation and help us sort things out can be extremely helpful.
This is just some food for thought to get us started. Friendship is such an awesome, life-changing, challenging part of life that deserves a lot attention. Ask any mentors in your life about their friendships and what they’ve learned through all the ups and downs. If you’re looking for a new friend or wanting to take your current friendships deeper, know that it’s totally worth the work and life is so much sweeter when lived alongside others.
By Kath Crane