I know that I have talked lightly about making friends and maintaining friendships, but I am starting to realize through my time working at the center that this topic merits its own post. I cannot tell you how many guys I know that struggle with consistently maintaining contact with friends, especially as they get older. I am just as guilty as the next guy. Even as I write this post, I am needing to get back with a friend who left a voicemail about four days ago. Keeping up with my friends is not usually a high priority for me these days. However, it needs to be. We cannot ignore the need that we have for community with others. We are not meant to be alone.
As I have gotten older, I have noticed that it becomes even more difficult to stay connected to my friends. When I was in high school, I didn’t even have to try. It was a perfect, natural environment for meeting up and sharing experiences together. College was about the same. Now that I am no longer in school, things have changed. I don’t share lunch time with my buddies. We don’t meet up at the end of the day. Some days, it’s a hassle just to get out of the house. When we get older, we have to work at it more. We have to be willing to set aside some time to pick up the phone or go for a little drive. We can’t keep putting all our other priorities ahead day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Eventually, when we don’t care for those relationships, they go away, and we are left with a lot of regrets.
I get that it’s not easy to make friends when you get older. As times change, we pick up extra responsibilities, our valuable resources of time and energy dissipate, and we find ourselves very selective with who we let into our lives. With all that said, even when we at our most busiest and overwhelmed, having strong friendships is crucial (especially then). In my own experience, I found that there are three good ways to make and keep friends during the challenging times. 1) I open up at work. I let people know more than just the professional side of me. However, I don’t just start spilling out my soul to everyone that I run into. I am careful and selective with who I open up to. I also make sure the setting is appropriate for personal conversation. I do need to connect with others, but I don’t want to abandon my responsibilities in the process. I aim to be most vulnerable with colleagues of the same gender to avoid putting myself in a tight spot. 2) I go to places that reflect my interests. My faith is very important to me, so a good place for me to find friends is at church or a related event. I’m also nerd, so I am likely to find like-minded people at a comic book shop or a gaming store. When I spend my free time outside of the house and outside of my comfort zone, then I am able to meet up with people that are likely to understand my world. 3) I put time with friends on the schedule. When I don’t have time written down on the schedule to spend time with friends, it doesn’t happen. No matter how good my intentions are (or even how much a want to see my friends). I don’t tend to follow through with contacting my friends until I have something written down on paper.
While I’m on the topic of friendship, I also think it’s worth saying that we need to be mindful of who we choose as friends. I remember some of the friends that hung out with while I was in school. Let’s just say that I am glad that they are no longer in my life. Some of the poorest decisions I have made in my life were with a friend standing by my side cheering me on. We must choose our friends wisely. The people that we spend the most time with are the ones that will shape our character and values over time. When we invite trouble into our homes, it’s likely to stay there. If the friends that you are hanging out with are flaky, refuse to be there for you when you need them, or if they are a bad influence on you, then it might be time to consider looking elsewhere for someone to spend your time with.
I have been alluding to this already, but it’s not just important for us to find good friends; we also need to be a good friend to others. We need to be reliable, loyal, and selfless toward our friends. If we can’t be the friend that we would want to have, then we can’t expect any different from them. If we fail to show up when they need us most, we might be burning bridges with the same people we might be counting on later on down the road. That is not to say that we should view our friends as an emergency fund, where we invest in them today so that we can pull out what we need in the future. On the contrary, a healthy friendship is a constant give and take. We approach our relationships with a desire to care for people that are important to us, without the expectation of return. We are not investing, we are loving. In a good relationship, our friends will be acting in this manner toward us as well. Good friends know that a healthy relationship is built on mutual respect and love, which requires everyone to do their part.
There was one last thought that I wanted to encourage us to consider as we focus on the topic of friendship. I have seen and experienced personally that it’s really easy and convenient to have many shallow relationships with other guys, but keep from ever going deep. Sure, there are guys in my life that I joke around with, talk “shop,” or share in some common hobbies with. These aspects are all important to a friendship. However, I must ask myself (as we all must): “How many guys in my life know the real me? How many people in my life are close enough to me that they can call me out when I am being a fool? How many of my friends know when I am hiding something from the rest of the world? If I were to become reclusive for a week or two, who would notice my absence?” If the answer to any of these questions is “no one,” then I need to challenge myself to go deeper with some guys. I don’t need to wear my heart on my sleeve, but I do need to have a few people in my life that I can be genuine with. One of the best feelings in the world is to have a few people that know the real me, the good and the bad, and still find value in my company.
We all need a “friendly” reminder every once in a while to make time for our friends. As I said earlier, being mindful of our need for community does not come naturally. Good friendships are made through discipline and intentionality. We must remember to care for relationships that we want to keep strong. If you find yourself reading these words, knowing that you are not the friend that you desire to be, that your friends are not people that will be there for you, or you can’t honestly say that you have any close friends- get out there; step out of your comfort zone; challenge yourself to go beyond surface level with other men. In the meantime, I think there are a few guys that I need to call later on this evening. Like I said, we all need a “friendly” reminder from time to time.
PS- I realize that this topic was heavily sided toward man-to-man relationships. Having our deepest conversations with women that our not our partner is dangerous business. I would not recommend it.
PSS- Sorry about the hazy picture. I couldn’t get it to come in clearer and I had difficulty finding a better substitute.