Perhaps no truer words have been spoken than, “good friends are hard to find.” If you’ve been fortunate enough to collect a few quality friendships through the journey of life, hold onto them. There’s nothing quite like being able to look over at an old friend to say, “remember when?” While new friends are a gift, keeping up with those who have known us for years offers a unique and special connection that isn’t easily replaced.
Unfortunately, life gets busy. Romantic relationships, moving away for college or career changes, family obligations, and other commitments often get in the way from spending quality time with friends. As we grow and change, our old friends don’t always have as much in common with our new lifestyle. If we’ve lost track of maintaining friendships, it’s never too late to reach out and reconnect. Taking a proactive approach to bringing our friends back into our lives gives us a chance to find new things in common.
Furthermore, friendships naturally go through ups and downs. A small misunderstanding can cause a major rift between even our closest allies. While we tend to assume that our friends will always be there, the truth is, maintaining friendships takes work. Here are some ways you can keep special people in your life throughout the seasons of life.
Benefits of Friendship
Even if our lives are going smoothly, we all need people we can rely on. Friends can be there for us in unique ways that family sometimes can’t. We choose our friends based on the characteristics that we value and find appealing. Friendship offers several benefits that go well beyond having someone to feed your cats when you go on vacation.
Friends give our lives a sense of belonging and purpose. They provide a sounding board when we’re making decisions or going through challenging times. A good friend raises our self-esteem, and brings our stress levels down, enriching our lives with laughs, lightheartedness, and fun. The company of a friend offers a sense of comfort and connectedness to the world around us.
Plan Time to Connect
Many times, we meet good friends at school, work, or in our neighborhood. However, once we change jobs or move away, it’s all too easy for those friendships to fall apart. That’s why it’s essential to schedule designated times to talk to the people we want to stay in touch with. Set up a weekly Saturday morning chat or email check-in. Plan to Skype on the first of the month every month, or do a virtual game night. Arrange to take a class together or go for evening walks. Whichever way you’d like to do it, putting your friends on your calendar keeps them as a priority in your life.
Avoiding Superficial Friendships
Social media can make it seem like friendships are effortless. However, social media interactions and posts often don’t offer a deeper level of connection that real friends should aspire to. Social media might alert you to significant milestones or even day-to-day activities of long-distance friends. Still, much of what’s posted on social media is a fabricated version of real life.
Following your friends’ accounts doesn’t replace the value of reaching out through phone calls or making an effort to visit in person. Why not plan an annual road trip to get together in person? A spa weekend, holiday shopping outing, or hiking trip are great ways to continue making new memories together and keeping your friendship from going stale. If we rely too heavily on social media to passively do the work of friendship for us, we risk losing the depth that meaningful relationships require.
When Friends Let You Down
Sometimes the distance between friends isn’t set by physical space but rather a sharp word, cold response, or unexpected action. If you’ve felt slighted by a good friend, the pain and surprise you experience can make you want to retreat as far from them as possible. However, before hastily making this decision, we owe it to our good friends to understand why.
There might be layers to the story that we can’t see or issues on our end that need to be addressed. Instead of writing off good friendships, build them back stronger by working through the damage of a misunderstanding. Show mutual respect and appreciation for your friends by not giving up too quickly.
If you know the reason why your friend is upset with you, you should address it head-on. Using a gentle approach, reach out directly to discuss the issue. Avoid blaming the other person and make it clear that you’re coming from a place of genuine desire to maintain and repair the friendship. Focus on the value you don’t want to lose, rather than the anger or resentment you feel.
Perhaps the most challenging situation is when a friend becomes distant, but you’re not sure why. If you believe a friend has been avoiding you or unfavorably responding to you, there could be several reasons for the change. Perhaps it’s something you did unintentionally, or maybe it has nothing to do with you at all. If your friend is silently suffering from a personal issue, it can be tough to know the right amount of support and reaching out that you should do.
Sometimes the only way to figure out how to mend things is through trial and error. If you get the message that your friend is unwilling or ready to reconnect, give them the space they need. We have to respect our friends’ wishes, including not pushing them into an uncomfortable position. However, we never want to assume that our friends wish to have space just because they’re going through a difficult time. More often than not, they might need you to extend a helping hand a little further than usual. Always make at least one apparent attempt to connect before pulling back on a friendship.
When in doubt, do your best to communicate your intentions. Giving someone the option to say that they would like your help or prefer to be alone helps you understand what they need. Check-in periodically to see if their feelings have changed without forcing your company on them. You can also ask for permission to reach out again in a month or two.
Grieving the Loss of a Friend
Unfortunately, sometimes even the most fulfilling friendships come to an end. Whether it’s by choice or unavoidable life circumstances, friends are not a lifelong guarantee. As with any relationship, it’s perfectly normal to go through a period of grieving when a friendship diminishes or disappears. There’s nothing wrong with seeking support and guidance on how to handle the loss of a friend.
Once we embrace our feelings and accept the process of grieving, we can heal our hearts and bring our full selves to future friendships. If we remain hurt by letting unresolved grief linger, we risk missing out on new opportunities to engage and bond with others. Don’t let the sadness, disappointment, or anger of a failed friendship hold you back from moving forward and enjoying the company of those who are present in your life today.