How to Build Friendships
There’s a lot of good material in my archives most of you have never seen, so from time to time I will revisit some of it. This is a topic I first looked at in newsletter #16, namely about how to build friendships and relationships.
Much like with romantic relationships, many of us treat friendships as things that are supposed to just happen organically. And early in life they seem to do so. We generally make friends in school, then in our work environment.
But things aren’t working out like this as much as they used to. A surprisingly large share of millennials say they have no friends. Men especially seem to struggle to build friendships. And the older we get, the less likely we are to just make new friends organically the way we did in grade school or college.
This means for those of us who want to make friends or build relationships with people, we have to be intentional about it. In fact, I’d argue we should be intentional about it, making sure that we actually do have friends. Because a lack of friendships and similar relationships is potentially harmful to us in the long term.
I’m by nature an introvert. While not autistic, I’m towards that end of the range. So relationships building is not something that comes naturally to me. I had to consciously learn how to do it.
I learned one simple mechanism to do this from a person who is a natural at relationships and who used it on me once. That is, to simply set up a cadence of getting together with someone in person.
During a particularly rough period in life where I didn’t have great social connections, a guy named Josh decided to come hang out with me once per week. I’ve used the same approach with others multiple times - and it works. If you simply spend time with someone on any sort of regular basis - it doesn’t have to be every week - you’ll likely start to like them and become friends with them.
Now, some people won’t want to get together in person with you. There’s nothing you can do about that. But there are plenty of people who are also looking for connections who’d love to, for example, grab coffee every two weeks. With men, it’s easy to establish some purpose for this, such as giving each other feedback on career, talking about fantasy sports, working out at the gym, going to the driving range, or venting to each other about mutually shared positions on politics.
Friendship, especially for men, comes from simply spending time together and shared experiences or shared projects. Obviously, there’s an element of personality or shared values that makes it easier to become friends with people. But even with people we might seem to have nothing in common with or even be incompatible, simply spending time together engaging can work its magic. That’s why if we need a friend, we shouldn’t get too hung up on all these various criteria.
Tim Keller does a great job of describing this in his book The Meaning of Marriage.
Kathy and I had a mid-week day off, and were deciding how to spend it. I had thought of a particular couple in the church and proposed that we visit them or have them over. She looked at me astonished and said, “Why on earth?” This particular couple had few or no friends. They had many personal problems that made them unattractive to others and indeed to each other. Kathy certainly understood the need to see them and spend time with them, but this was our day off, and surely time with this couple was ministry “work.”
For a moment I was surprised by her surprise, then I laughed when I saw what had happened. For months I had been investing time, thought, and emotion into helping this couple move forward in life…And after all that, I’d realized, I’d actually come to like them.
Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for friends who are pleasant to be around, who add a lot of value to your life, have compatible views, etc. The key is not to over rate the importance of these criteria in finding a genuine friend.
So if you don’t have a lot of friends at this stage in your life, setting up an intentional cadence with someone will probably work its magic. Again, not everyone will be up for this, but I think you’d be surprised how many are. Especially if you attend church, this should be easy. My observation has been that a lot of people who go to church do so in the hopes of finding friends and relationship, so they are probably hoping someone will do this for them.
If you’re like me, you won’t remember to just get together with someone. So putting it on your calendar, and having a literal recurring get together for some purpose helps make sure it happens.
Of course there are many other ways to start meeting friends. You could volunteer at a soup kitchen, join the Lion’s Club, etc. But for those who aren’t as into these kinds of group activities - I’m not - one on one get togethers work well.
For those of you who do have plenty of friends, I’d encourage you to also do something like this to at least one lonely or troubled person who needs a friend. While we need to surround ourselves with those who can support and build us up, in a world of so much pain and need, we should all be trying to be a support to at least one other person who doesn’t have a lot to offer us. Or so we might think. Don’t be surprised if it ends up being very valuable to you as well.
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To read more on this topic, see newsletter #16: