Growing up, I loved going to the park. You could find me swinging, flipping around the monkey bars, or playing a game of Tag with the other kids on the playground. Leaving was always the hardest part; it felt like I was saying goodbye to a group of close-knit relatives, not just a few kids I had met twenty minutes earlier. We’d promise to meet the next day—same place, same time—to continue our burgeoning friendship. Oftentimes, I’d never see those kids again. Sometimes, however, our playground meet-ups actually did develop into significant friendships.
Now, several decades later, making friends looks different for me. It’s not a typical afternoon activity like it once was. In fact, making friends can be painfully difficult. Having relocated a number of times, I know how overwhelming it can be to step out and make new friends. It’s not as simple as an enthusiastic trip to the park. Why is that?
1. We Often Spread Ourselves Thin with Many, but We Need to Go Deep with a Few
A few years ago, I moved from Chicago to Seattle to attend graduate school. I didn’t know a soul when I first entered the Seattle city limits, but I was determined to change that in record amounts of time. My solution was to try and be friends with everyone. I spread myself exhaustingly thin, saying yes to every invitation and attempting to form a bond with virtually everyone attending school with me.
Playground friendships are one thing, but the gift of a deep friendship in adulthood comes fromthe depth. We cannot go deep and wide with everyone, and realizing this can be a helpful place to start in our journey to making friends. We are busier and in higher demand as adults than we were as children; when time constraints appear to be hindering us from making friends, they might actually just be trying to tell us something. We can only do so much. We can only take on so many responsibilities and relationships. As we seek to pursue new friends, we should keep in mind that a small number can be a mighty number when it comes to life-giving friendships.
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2. We Often Want Effortless Friendships, but Lasting Friendships Require Work
Once we meet the few people we want to go deep in relationship with, the real work begins. Friendships do not form without some level of authenticity and vulnerability. This is a shift away from many of our younger relationships, when being at the same place at the same time was one of the only stipulations for making friends. Friendships should have an element of necessity to them—we need our friends. The need, however, is felt only when the friendship has gone to a level beyond acquaintances. This requires a great deal of effort! If we’re having a difficult time making friends, we may need to reevaluate what it is we are offering to others, because friendship does require something of us.
This is not to say we bare all to anyone who will listen. It is over time and with discernment that we allow our friends closer into the core of who we are. We reveal our fears, dreams, and struggles. We confess, we communicate our disappointments, and we ask for help. This is not easy. Why is it so hard to make friends? Because it is so hard! We have to be willing to let others see and know who we really are, and that includes the parts of ourselves we’re not totally fond of.
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3. We Only Want to be Encouraged, But Sometimes We Need Sharpened
Of course, friendship is not one-sided. As we’re giving our time to and being vulnerable with our friend, they are doing the same for us. We have the privilege of receiving their vulnerability, and doing so in a way that communicates unconditional love for who they are, no matter their flaws. This is a particularly sacred part of friendship. Not only do we offer our truthfulness and vulnerability, but we receive theirs, too. In the process, we may find ourselves sharpening or being sharpened (Proverbs 27:17). Both are necessary components for a lasting friendship, though this isn’t necessarily the most fun part of having friends.
Many of us, myself included, may be tempted to run when it comes time to be sharpened by our friend. It may be humbling or painful to accept their correction, but this is a tremendous advantage of having close friendships! We have someone who sees us, loves us, and desires more for us. If we constantly try to escape sharpening or being sharpened in friendship, we are not only hindering the growth of the friendship, but we’re missing out on a massive perk friendship has to offer us.
Friendship requires much from us, and storybook friendships certainly aren’t written overnight. Why is it so hard to make friends? Because it’s hard work! The payoff, however, far outweighs the cost. When we are struggling to make friends, we may just need to narrow the field and, with wisdom, choose a small number of people we feel safe being vulnerable with. It is a slow and steady process, but the richness good friends bring to our lives is like the greatest jackpot we could ever win.
I am Mallory—a wife, a writer, and a dog mom to Roger. I love dry humor, clean sheets, sunny days, and frequent reminders of grace. These days, I hang out at malloryredmond.com, where I tell my stories with the hope of uncovering places of connection in our humanity. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter.
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Originally published Wednesday, 07 March 2018.