Matilija Press
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by Patricia Fry

2001 – Signs of the Times

Your Friends

Do you stay in touch with friends like you used to? How many times this year have you seen or talked to your best friend? When did you last participate in a planned activity with friends? If you’re like many adults, time with your friends has become a luxury you can scarcely afford.

Gone are the days of frequent chats over the back fence with neighbors. People are away from home more now and when they return, they crave privacy. Where we used to know all of our neighbors by name right down to their pet hamster, today many of us identify neighbors only by the cars we see them driving into their garages.

The Value of Friendships

Do we need friends in our busy lives? Psychologists and healthcare professionals chime a resounding “Yes.” It seems that healthy relationships promote a healthier you. In fact, according to a 1979 study by the California Department of Health, people with social ties outlive those with few or no friends. Why? Loneliness promotes stress and depression which promotes illness and friendships are a buffer against loneliness.

While it’s worthwhile to establish new friendships, long-time friends are especially valuable in that you’ve already laid the groundwork for the friendship. There’s a comfort zone with long-time friends because you share a common history. With old friends, you can generally pick up where you left off even after periods of separation. Old friendships are more straightforward—you’re no longer negotiating for position or struggling to be understood.

Making new friends is exciting, but it becomes more difficult as we mature. We’re more picky about who we want in our lives. We set stricter boundaries. Our standards are higher.

Make Friends Important Again

Distance and time are the two thieves of friendships. How does one continue long-distance and close friendships despite busy schedules?

Make time for friends. If you’re having trouble maintaining your friendships, schedule time with friends as if they’re a priority. Don’t pencil them in, but write their name boldly on your calendar.

As with anything worthwhile, friends take time, work and effort. Show a genuine interest in the other person. If you live nearby, carpool to work so you can spend time together during your commute, volunteer together or do your chores together. Help her wash windows or wallpaper her kitchen and get her to come work with you in your garden. It will take you half the time to complete the task, you’ll have fun doing it and your friendship will grow.

Angelique meets her friend, Marcia, in the park once a week to chat while their children play. She says, “It’s practically the only chance we get to see each other anymore, so we really do take advantage of this opportunity. If the weather is bad, we go to the mall. The kids play on their indoor play area while we chat over a cup of mocha.” Incorporate friends into your daily activities. When you’re busy, you may have to be creative in order to see your friends. Rather than folding clothes in front of the TV again tonight, invite your favorite neighbor over for a glass of lemonade or a cup of tea after you put your children to bed. Hubby out for the evening? Have friends over for a potluck or a slumber party. Take an extra half hour for lunch and meet friends near the office for a bite to eat. Invite your friends to workout with you a couple of times a week. Be a friend. What do you want in a friend? Someone who genuinely cares about you and demonstrates this by staying in touch? Maybe you want a friend who will invite you out once in a while, drop you a note occasionally and who always has time for you when you need to talk or to cry. The best way to have a friend like this is to be a friend like this.

When you know your friend has lost his job or his mother is scheduled for surgery, call to ask how things are and if there’s anything you can do. It helps in stressful situations like this just to know that someone cares.

Maybe your friend is studying for her college exam, has just applied for a job or is expecting her first grandchild. Call or send a note of support and then check back to ask the results and share in the joy or the sorrow. The friends I value most in my life are those who demonstrate that they genuinely care about my struggles and my joys.

Give and take. In an ideal friendship, sometimes you call your friend and sometimes s/he calls you. Sometimes you suggest an activity for the two of you and sometimes your friend does. When you’re together, neither of you monopolizes the conversation. Certainly, there are times when one friend needs a little extra prodding, comforting or attention, but in a healthy relationship, there will be a good balance of give and take.

Neglect is a common reason for the demise of a friendship. Lydia knows this only too well. She says, “I have no tolerance anymore for people who don’t participate in the friendship. I’ve had friends for years who I talk to only when I call them or when they need something from me. Lately, I’ve been putting more effort into my friendships where there’s more giving and less taking.”

Stay in touch. Get into the calling and writing habit. It means a lot to receive a cheery greeting from a dear friend even if only on the answering machine when you return from a grueling day at work. It’s uplifting to open a note of adoration and appreciation from a friend.

If you’re a long-distance friend, one way to stay in touch is by making a specific date to talk by phone on a regular basis—once a week or once a month on Sunday afternoon or Thursday evening, for example.

Keep note cards in your car or purse and write to friends while waiting in the doctor’s office or for your child at soccer practice.

Don’t let your friendships fade. Whenever thoughts of your friend pop into your mind, jot her name down on your calendar or on a sticky note and vow to call her the next time you have a few minutes.

Internet friendships. The Internet is a fun way to stay connected with long-time friends and to meet knew ones. Use email or Instant Messaging to visit with friends. Reserve a chat room just for the two of you.

Meet new friends by responding to bulletin board messages in areas of your interest. I have three wonderful Internet friends – two whom I met at an Internet writing club site and one I met through a grandparenting message board.

Make new friends. Additional ideas for meeting new people and establishing new friendships might include: joining a group or starting one. Common interests are always a great basis for starting a friendship. Volunteer in an area of your interest and/or expertise. Say “Yes,” more often when invited out. Attend activities that would draw the sort of people you want to meet: church, art shows, writing groups, a book club, car shows or a cooking class, for example. If you’re new to an area, join a newcomers club and meet others who are anxious to make new friends.

With relatively little effort and genuine desire, you can build friendships that are valuable growing experiences. Nurture your friendships and you will receive some of God’s highest rewards.

Patricia Fry is the author of A Writer’s Guide to Magazine Articles for Book Promotion and Profit (Matilija Press, 2000).

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