I have recently moved to the Seacoast area of New England, where I’m regularly meeting new people and wondering if any of them will develop into friends. This means I am regularly practicing the steps to start new friendships.
Right away, a new friendship is interesting (or should be) because we’re sort of curious and excited about who this person is. Do we really connect as easily as we did in those first few minutes? Are they actually who they appeared to be? What else will we find out?
We know all people eventually hit a place where they don’t agree, but at the beginning it isn’t always obvious what that will be. So, this new friendship also feel tentative. We aren’t really sure if it’s going to be a fit for longer than a few weeks or months. We know the excitement and the curiosity mean we will be paying extra close attention to this person. And all this is appropriate for a new friend.
If friends are flowers, new friends are the sprouts. So of course, new friends need extra care. With new friends you must protect your growing connection. But you’re also taking notice if this person really is a fit for you. All the tools we’ve talked about (pacing, sorting, rhythm building) will help you.
When making a new friend, I try to notice if they have the capability to remember me, to return my texts or calls. Or do I have to chase them down? I also notice if I am befriending them because of foolish but powerful external forces (occupation obligations, making someone else happy, vying for power in the community, or just feeling sorry for them). All of these external forces, I’ve found, set up a new friendship to fail.
It’s a lot like dating. If you date a guy because of his car where will you be when he sells it? If you befriend someone because they might donate to your non-profit, it’s not going to last. So the first cardinal rule of a new friendship: the things that first attract you need to be obvious, nameable virtues. And these things (for example: their curiosity, their intelligence, their attentive listening, their capacity for courage or insight, or their ability to make you laugh) will become the places that enchant you more and more as you get to know them better. These virtues will become places you will need when the dry season comes.
But how can you figure out if this new acquaintance has any virtues? Doesn’t that take time? Well, sometimes. But, if you’re observant (another learnable skill) it’s amazing how much a person’s clothes, hair, demeanor, eyes, posture, walk and table manners can tell you about their beliefs about themselves and the world. Virtues and vices drip out of us more often than we realize.
Regardless, though, you can never build a lasting friendship if you begin by using a person for something else. This is why I’m not friends with my banker or my chocolatier. I could become friends with them but only when I see them as more than a banker or that sweet lady who chooses chocolates.
Remember, a friendship is about celebrating who this person is “It is good that you exist.” Friendships means you both can celebrate each other and contribute (as far as you are able) to each other’s flourishing. This automatically excludes every person you’re using to get at something else. But for those people you’re actually celebrating whenever you get together, these are people to nurture, like little sprouts. Grow those connections.
Let me leave you a cherry on top. My top five favorite ways to grow a new friendship:
- Return texts with a day or two, matching length (and use or non-use of emoji’s) as you can and still be yourself.
- Initiate when you haven’t heard from a friend after a few weeks or months. Don’t second guess, just assume they’re buried or hurting and reach out first.
- Remember past conversations by bringing them up when pertinent.
- Create space to be willing to hear the negative or hard stuff from their week
- Pray for them without being asked.
Next week I’ll explain the two biggest forces that work against growing a friendship, new or old.
The Friendship Posts
Expecting Better Friendships: Friendship Fountain, Sorting Friendships and Downsizing Friendships
What is a Friend: Balloon Friends, Companions, It is Good You Exist
The Pace of Friendship: Walk with Me, Return the Volley, Trains and Rollercoasters
Growing Friendships: Friends and Flowers, Growing a Friendship, Weeding a Friendship
Healing a Friendship: Forgiveness, The Work of Healing, The Crucial Question
Imagine your friend opening a frame picture of a flower that is special to her. On the back of the frame is a little explanation of what made this flower special. That’s one of my favorite ideas for taking beautiful cards and turning them into frame-able memories. You’ll find some pictures and more ideas in my Artist’s Note. If you’re ready to purchase the Flower Collection right now. Shop here.