5 Simple Strategies for Cultivating Friendships
1) Don’t sweat the dates
It’s great if you remember your friends’ big days, but it shouldn’t be everything. My evil step-grandmother never forgot a birthday, but also never told anyone she loved them. Also, people get lots of attention on those “special” days. True friends are there for you on random Monday nights when you realize your relationship is crumbling, or they bring you soup and Kleenex when you’re sick. They show up when you don’t really have much to say, but need to talk. Even when you’re not wearing a party frock, and don’t have fun plans, they still wanna hang. That’s friendship.
2) Friendship isn’t proximity
This has been a big one for me, as I’ve moved around a lot. Some people think that friendship has to be something one maintains by being in the same room at least once or twice a week. People who move away, well, they’ve let the friendship go.
The reality is that the solid friendships know that relationships aren’t based on location and that it’s so much more gratifying to keep people in your life who really get you than to fake it with warm bodies who can be in the same room. Of course, it takes conscious effort to maintain friendships that are long distance, but these relationship can be important and gratifying.
3) Give to give, and receive with grace
Making the people you love happy should be a joy in itself, as should receiving gifts. I don’t just mean tangible gifts, either. Do nice things with joy, and receive nice things with joy. One temptation is to tally up gifts as favors— “I phoned twice last week, so she should phone me at least twice back.” Never tally, in either direction. That makes generosity a competition.
4) Love isn’t cool
I studied Nietzsche and his will to power as part of my PhD, because I’m so interested in the subject and I’ve always been hyper aware of power dynamics. A super dangerous dynamic is that of “who cares for whom more,” and wanting to be “cool” in relationships, be they platonic or romantic. The fact is that being cool usually means having one foot out the door, and that’s not a healthy place for any relationship. I’m not saying become a doormat, but also don’t be withholding. Cheryl Strayed it best:
“Withholding love distorts reality. It makes the people who do the withholding ugly and small-hearted. It makes the people from whom things are withheld crazy and desperate and incapable of knowing what they actually feel. So release yourself from that. Don’t be strategic or coy. Strategic and coy are for jackasses. Be brave. Be authentic. Practice saying the word ‘love’ to the people you love so when it matters the most to say it, you will.” (Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Life and Love from Dear Sugar)
5) Be sweet (to yourself as well)
On that note, I think sometimes we forget that we all need affection. Don’t forget to tell other people why you care about them or how great they are. Congratulate them when they achieve a goal. Be there when they need a hug or a high five. But, on a similar note, don’t forget to tell your friends what you need. Our friends aren’t psychic, and they don’t know if something is important to us unless we tell them. Practice self-care by reaching out and being honest and vulnerable with people you trust by saying things like, “I am feeling down today, I could use a friend,” or “I just crushed my goal, can we celebrate?” Be reasonable in your expectations — the celebration might come in a few days, not immediately — but you won’t get what you need if you don’t ask.
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Originally published at https://nicolepeeler.substack.com.