Cultivating Friendships

  Some people say blood is thicker than water.  Family is important, that much is certain.  One thing about family, however, is that it cannot be chosen.  You are born or adopted into a family, it is not your choice. With family, it is chosen for you & it is an amazing thing, but even more astounding is when you can make choices regarding with whom you’d like to spend your time.  Some people use the word “friend” loosely.  They use the term to describe any acquaintance with whom they come into contact.  Real friendships, however, are those that are intentional & in which you invest your time and energy.  Your meeting may be coincidental, but a long-lasting friendship will need more than a chance meeting.  It will require time, care and consideration in order to grow.

Just as soil needs to be cultivated or loosened in order to grow plants, so also do we.  We need to be able to be relaxed in order to focus our attention on another individual.  If you are extremely stressed, you may need a friend to lean on, but that is not the time to try to make new friends.   You’ll be unable to focus on their needs.  Because friendship is reciprocal, you can use a stressful situation to deepen a relationship, but do not begin a new one in that way.  If you do, your relationship may continue to follow the same pattern of one friend always advising and the other friend always needing advice.  Instead, start your friendship when things are relatively normal and stable.

Set aside time to talk.  Whether it is on the phone or writing back and forth, you’ll need to communicate if you want to get to know someone better.  Be sure that that communication involves asking many questions of the other person and showing interest in what they have to say.  Even if they have interests that are directly opposite to your own, you can still be interested in them.  Ask questions like, “Why do you like football so much?” or “Why is orchestral music your favorite type?”  Once you know a little bit more about the subject, you’ll be able to ask more directed questions and perhaps eventually be able to dialogue somewhat intelligently on that particular subject.  If you do not know anything about the subject, do not act as if you do, but rather admit that you do not.  There is no shame in not knowing about something.  It simply means that you’ve not been exposed to the subject material yet.   If you know nothing about something that they are passionate about, just be honest.  In reality, they’d probably be very excited to share their passion with someone else. 

Make an appointment to get together to do something you’d both enjoy.  While it is true that friendships can be maintained long-distance, most relationships can benefit through some quality time spent together.  If you live a great distance from one another, make arrangements to meet in the middle at an inexpensive location to spend the weekend.  Or, take turns hosting the other person.  Whichever way your choose to work it out, be sure that your costs are split evenly and that the activities are things that you’ll both enjoy.  If it ends up being a good experience, you’re more likely to repeat it.  If it is boring or annoying for one of the parties, they’ll not want a repeat & you’re sure to grow apart.

Help one another grow.  If you recognize certain destructive behaviors in a friend, find out from them if they’re willing to talk about it with you.  Sometimes this is a good thing to discover at the beginning of a friendship so you know whether they will be a life-time friend that will help you grow into a deeper person or more of an acquaintance.  Start a conversation by saying, “I tend to be very direct with my friends if I notice that something is off or if it seems like they are making choices that may harm them.  Will it annoy you or offend you if I do that with you?”  Also let them know that you would expect them to do the same with you if they notice things that are not good.  This lets them have an option of deciding that they would not like to be that close & also prepares them for a more direct approach in the future so that you will not need to tiptoe around difficult subjects.  Often, people are uncomfortable with this type of honesty, especially if they’re dealing with addictions.  It is always better to be aware of this before you invest loads of energy and time with a person.  If they will end up resenting you for the perceived interference, you do not want to begin.

Pay attention to how your friend shows that they care.  If they complement you with words often, they probably appreciate words.  If you shower them with gifts and never say positive words they may not perceive it as care.  If they like you to spend time with them & instead you send notes all the time, they may not consider you a caring person.  People often will show you how they want to be treated by how they treat you.  Pay attention & care for them in the way they need to be cared for.

Friendships are sometimes difficult, but are always worth it in the end!  Keep up the good fight!