Every year I choose three words, put them on a post note above my desk, and use them to help me prioritise my day-to-day decision-making. In 2016, one of those words was Connect.
We’ve had to move a lot in the last ten years, and we’ve lived in 3 different countries, 5 cities, in 8 different houses, I’ve had 5 different workplaces, we’ve been involved in 2 different schools, 3 different early childhood centres, and we’ve been to 9 different churches (some for only a few months, and the longest for 4 years). This has also been the period of time we’ve had our three children, so we have different parenting groups and care arrangements for each. Since 2013, we’ve settled here in Christchurch, New Zealand, and I’ve started thinking about how we might cultivate more long term friendships. I was thinking of this when I added the word Connect to my 2016 post-it.
Of course, I’ve collected great friends along the way, many of whom I keep in touch with (thanks Facebook). But it’s so hard to maintain close friendships over distance, especially when we often need the real life, face to face support of friends in places where we live. I definitely rely more on friendship for my social connection than other members of my more introverted immediate family, but making friends as a full-time working mother is actually kind of hard. I’m mostly either at work, or at home spending time with my kids and husband, doing domestic chores, and sometimes more work. In fact, more than once in 2016, I resorted to googling “how to make grown-up friends”! It all sounded a bit scary, to be honest.
The internet says…
- Take someone on a friend date.
- Offer to do something for them.
- Invite people over.
- Suggest a joint activity.
- Friendship takes time.
- Join a club or group.
- Show that you like people by thanking them or commenting specifically on what you like about them.
- Say yes to an invitation.
- Ask for help.
- Accept help offered.
For so long my friendships have been based around people that ask me to do stuff with them. Apparently, as a grown up, I can also ask people to do stuff with me! In 2016 I attempted all the things on the above list, making a conscious effort to do something every fortnight, if possible. My ‘word’ for the year was Connect.
In 2016 I tried…
- Asking people out for coffee, cups of tea, or walks.
- Offering to do things for people, including cooking people meals, taking someone bra shopping (you know who you are), taking over work tasks, exchanging baby clothes, lending tools and gear. But actually, this was not really directed at making friends, but based on perceived needs.
- Hosting a multi-invitee dinner party once a semester (OK, that’s only twice in one year, but you know, sounds better). I also invited a few people over casually, and also had a regular visitor for meals over a few weeks.
- Suggesting joint activities with cool people: visits to gardens, tramping, museum, parks, movies, meals, writing retreats, fieldtrips.
- Patience, reminding myself that good brews take time.
- Joining a new, smaller, closer, church, also starting yoga to replace my swimming club. I volunteered for the music roster.
- Trying to practice gratitude out loud… awkward, but good. Christmas cards were less awkward.
- Saying yes to as much as possible, while balancing my family’s needs.
- Asking for help when things get desperate: three specific times in 2016, for things that were really awkward or hard to ask for.
- Accepting people’s help when they have offered it, including babysitting, borrowing equipment, accepting generosity with time, food, goods, and more.
So I guess, looking back on the year, some progress has been made. What I have come up against, however, is that I feel more comfortable when my friendships are family friendships — I feel they can move on, then, since my family are such a part of who I am. So in addition to those things above, I have also tried including various family members in as many of these activities as works. But in reality, as the more social member of my family, I need to have the courage to get out there and do my own thing too when they are not interested. I shouldn’t feel guilty about this (although I often do!). With all this in mind, I can offer some suggestions to add to the list the internet provides:
I have learned…
- It feels awkward. Pay attention to the awkwardness (sometimes telling you something important) but we also can just wait out the awkwardness.
- Work on making connections between connections — the friendships seem to grow better if there are multiple connections between friends, including family members. So even if we prefer one-to-one activities and conversations, these need to be balanced with some group activities.
- People are busy — we need to ask them several times before concluding they are not interested. And even then, they may already have way too many friends to keep up with.
- It is easier to make friends with other people who are new in town, or not from here (due to the above…).
- Although I feel like I *should* make family friends, I actually find that making friends with whole families is really hard, and it is very rare to get all the stars aligned between partners, kids and timing. So…
- Age, gender, sexuality, marital and parental status are less important than common interests and complementary personalities. Although I think its important for couples and families to make the effort to connect with each others’ friends, it doesn’t mean every meet up or interaction has to be whole families. I’m really just not that into cricket, to be honest!
Finally, I learned to live in the now, and look for the little moments where connections become possible around me. To truly appreciate with gratitude the small kindnesses of connection, and to not shy away from them — something unexpected might happen!