International Friendship Day – The importance of being there
I’m sure we can all remember our childhood friendships. Even if they didn’t stand the test of time, these early relationships were a vital part of growing up, essential for our social and emotional development.
Friendships are unique because, unlike familial bonds, they’re voluntary, and unlike marriages and romantic relationships, they lack a formal structure. They’re beautiful, because we choose them freely for the joy and happiness they bring to our lives. Friends really are the family you choose.
However, just like all human relationships, friendships are complicated. Their informal nature makes them subject to life’s whims in a way that more formal connections aren’t. As we get older, jobs, home and family commitments all tend to get prioritised over friendships.
Covid-19 and subsequent lockdowns have put a unique strain on human interaction, making it much harder to maintain our friendships. But the past year has also encouraged reflection, and while at times my friends have been kept at a distance, this tough period has made me realise just how important they are to me.
Over the years, I’ve come to realise there’s no secret ingredient to successful, long-lasting friendships. Developing and maintaining good friendships requires a willingness to put in effort on both sides. The good news is there are several things you can do to improve your friendships. In this guide I will be sharing some of what I’ve learnt about cultivating and keeping a strong network of friends. And what a great time to talk about the power of friendship, in the lead-up to the United Nations International Day of Friendship on 30 July.
Communication is key
Relationships are built on good communication and honesty, and friendships are no different. It sounds so simple, yet many of us struggle with it! We all go through phases when life gets on top of us and we barely have a minute to spare, but the trick here is good communication. Be honest about what’s going on in your life and what commitments you have, and if there are certain days or weeks when you are going to be less available, let your friends know, so they won’t see your unavailability as a rejection.
Give them space
However, this works both ways. Make sure you’re also accommodating and flexible with your expectations of your friends. While it’s disheartening when a friend doesn’t return a call or cancels plans, we must give people room to breathe. It’s important to understand that our friends have other commitments and priorities that may mean they can’t always stick to plans. Be the bigger person, let your friend know you are still there for them when they need you, and then let them come to you.
Arrange in advance
At the same time, the pace and busyness of many people’s adult lives means they risk falling out of touch with their friends. Try to carve out some time to catch up, reconnect and prioritise your friendships. It’s so easy for messages to get lost among a sea of notifications, so allocate time each week to respond or chat on the phone. If you and your friends all tend to have busy schedules, get a date in the diary so you have something to look forward to, even if it’s weeks or months in advance.
Developing and maintaining healthy friendships involves give and take. Sometimes you’re the one giving support, and at other times you’re on the receiving end. When friends share details of hard times or difficult experiences, be empathetic and make sure to let them know you are paying close attention through eye contact and body language. Be that no-judgement zone your friends can count on when times get tough.
An acquaintance is someone you know of, whereas a friend is someone you know. To make deep and meaningful connections, you have to share things about yourself, as well as asking questions about their lives. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and share experiences. These open and honest interactions have the power to draw you closer, cementing your friendship.
It’s important to remember that over the years, people grow and change. Often the friendships you made in your teenage years won’t stay with you through to adulthood. Or if you do remain friends, your individual interests and attitudes may change over time. People and friendships evolve, but it’s never too late to build new friendships, or reconnect with old friends. Friendships give us so much. In an uncertain world, they provide a comforting sense of stability and connection. Investing time in strengthening your friendships will pay off for years to come.