You would think that the older you get, the easier it is to make friends. But often the reverse is true – it can be harder to make real friendships.
When you were little it was fairly easy to make friends with anybody. You always had something in common – you were just a kid. When you are a kid anybody can be your friend. If they are standing outside your house, they’re your friend!
I remember a boy from the next street walked over to me once. I was test-driving my new wellies by walking in a muddy puddle. He came over to watch. He wanted to walk in the puddle too but he was only wearing shoes. I tempted him in. He had a great time but ruined his shoes. His Mum went mad. We became friends from that day. But when we left primary school, we lost touch.
From your teens into your twenties you are exploring the freedom of adult life and are likely to ‘try out’ lots of friendships. It’s a time of experimentation and friends are in great supply. You’re often spoilt for choice.
In your thirties you find you have a set group of friends. They know the places, the food, the ‘in-jokes’. It then becomes hard to make new friends. We now have emotional baggage and we have found a few people who understand us, or at least tolerate us.
We experience internal shifts in how we approach friendship. We move from self-discovery to self-knowledge, so we become pickier about whom we surround ourselves with. We become less tolerant of those people who engage in toxic behaviour – like constant negativity, victim mentality, repeated angry reactions and putting others down. (We’ll explore those in another post).
The manipulators, drama queens, and egomaniacs will eventually be sidelined by most people.
When we find true friends, it is important to invest time in those relationships. Spending time with a true friend is never a waste of time. An outside observer could view the time I spend with true friends and think they were watching two people waste time – nothing really happens. But actually it does – something deep and unseen.
I used to have a friend who lived just round the corner. We’d call on each other and have a chat and drink coffee.
One day he became ill and went to hospital. Soon he moved house and his sickness became terminal. It was devastating to watch this guy, who was only a couple of years older then me, physically decline.
When he died, I conducted his funeral.
I miss him dreadfully. Every time I walk past his old house I remember the days of laughter, discussion and friendship.
And that’s the thing, when you get into your fifties, some of your friends pass away.
Those sad moments make me realise that actually we are all one. When I was little, my Mum told me never to speak to strangers. But you know what? I’ve started doing just that – saying hello to strangers I meet in the street and on walks in the countryside. We are all human and many are lonely.
Earlier this year, we arranged a reunion with a few friends from college days. I’d not seen some of them for twenty or so years. We picked up the friendship like we’d seen each other yesterday. We are going to meet more frequently now.
These men were really three clowns. (I’m the fourth clown.) We were and are a bunch of clowns. But those friendships are special.
As we drove home from that weekend reunion, I remembered that, back in the 80s, when our son died just before his third birthday, these three guys were the ones who came to visit us when no one else did. They didn’t come with an agenda or advice. They just came to be with us. They still clowned around but with a deep respect for us. It brought a bit of normality into our tragedy. One of them came to the Coroner’s Office and helped me register the death.
These days I think I have friends for different needs. It may sound a bit clinical or efficient but it isn’t. I have writing friends, a few coffee friends, some lunch friends, a swimming friend etc. Some of those friendships overlap, which is even better.
If we want friends, we need to be a friend. We need to invest in time together, create memories by doing things together, and build a shared history.
Facebook tells me I have 170+ friends. I haven’t. I know 170 people enough to chat to them when we meet – and it’s rare that we meet. Those are really acquaintances.
True friends – in whose company we can just be ourselves – are few. And that’s true for most of us.
So what’s the simple step on friendship? If you want a friend then be a friend to someone. Invest time in your best friendships. Make time to hang out. Look at yourself and ask if you frequently engage in toxic behaviours of negativity, anger, ranting, or the ‘poor-me’ victim mentality. If you do, stop it. Be positive. Don’t take things too seriously. Be the type of friend that you would want someone to be to you. Who do you plan to spend time with this week?
‘You are my friends.’