This week a dear friend will turn 70 and while I have a card ready for her, I haven’t sent it yet. We’ve been friends since grade school and were attendants in each other’s youthful first weddings.
We’ve stayed in touch, and we have one of those relationships where each time we reconnect, we can just pick up the conversation as if it has only been days since we last spoke – even if it has been weeks or even months. She is the kind of friend to whom I can speak my heart and not apologize for how I’m feeling or how I sound on the phone. I don’t have to pretend to be “up” when I’m down or explain why I’m sad.
I don’t think we’ve let a year go by without at least a phone call – although maybe that’s just my memory telling me what I want to believe. It is one of my most lasting, valued, relationships. I simply love her for all the many ways she’s been present in my life over the years. We get each other.
I’ve needed all kinds of friends in my life.
From the neighbor who will lend me the proverbial cup of sugar to the office mate who would go out of her way to pick me up for work when my car is in the shop. Different kinds of friendship show up differently — and that’s good!
Now, at this age (70) I try to have friends – genuine friends– in every decade, not just friends who are similar in age to me. But I do notice that as we all age, I’m losing friends in their twenties (they’re aging out!) and I need to find new opportunities to connect with young people not only to replenish my 20-something relationships, but to learn from young people – they’re wise in ways I’ve long forgotten!
We all need friends – those meaningful connections that anchor us to our past and propel us into the future – the people who lift us up, sit with us when we’re down, and understand the emotional extremes we’re likely to encounter throughout our lives. But many of us don’t know how to make or keep friendships – they seem to dwindle or drift away from us without our realizing what we’ve lost until they’re too far out of sight to reconnect – that can be very sad.
How do we make and sustain valued, lasting friendships?
Here are six reminders that have worked for me over the years. . .
- Make time for each other – give time with those you care about priority attention – it may not be frequent or lengthy, but never be too busy to be there with your friend even if you cannot be present in person. Encouragement matters and we all need to know we’re seen and understood.
- Bond over little things – the big events will come, but it is the tiny ones you’re likely to remember and hold as special. Everyone sends congratulations for the first baby – only real friends remember to hug you when the last one goes off to kindergarten.
- Be honest with each other – if I can’t get away for a “girls’ weekend” then, I need to say so – maybe I can’t afford it, maybe I have other family obligations, maybe I’m too tired to organize my end of the trip, but if this is my genuine friend, she deserves to know what’s going on with me – honestly!
- Demonstrate that you care – which could be as simple as listening or as difficult as helping her pack when she needs to escape a troubled relationship. Your demonstration doesn’t need to impress your friend, but it does need to suit the situation that’s creating upset in their life!
- Share an adventure – when we were kids, that might be an all-day bike excursion to a park we’d never explored; now, it might be an afternoon lunch at a new, exotic restaurant we’re eager to experience. Making memories together strengthens friendship.
- Don’t let distance get in the way of heart-felt connection – whether you schedule annual birthday phone calls or share cupcakes on Zoom – simply being far apart does not have to alter the depth of your friendship if you focus on what your connection is all about!
Brené Brown reminds us that we’re “wired for connection” – that as humans, we both need and thrive on our capacity to sustain relationships with others. Who needs to reconnect with you just now? Who have you allowed to slip away, that you need to reach out to in the days ahead? What can you do to assure that your friendships are solid, lasting, and replenishing?
When we feel isolated or alone, it is important to reach out, to restore connection where we can, to build fresh relationships when we’re able, and to cherish those that have sustained us over time. I like to think I’ve built some skills at this – so let me know if I can help!