Friendship is funny; we pick humans we like, and we decide to spend time together. Similar interests and opinions help the relationship flourish, while the opposite traits give us a new perspective on the world and balance each other out. The benefits of these authentic social connections are essential: They inspire positive mental health, give an immune-boosting rush of endorphins, and help lower blood pressure.
So how do we build and maintain lifelong relationships?
Adapting to the times
Change is never easy, but it’s always imminent. Lifestyle changes, moves, the addition of family members, and prioritizing of careers often means socializing takes a backseat to “life”. Then one day we wake up and realize, quite possibly, that we’re alone. The thing to remember is, real friendships don’t need to be an extravagant time commitment. It’s about making time, just like for anything else, for quality connection. This includes communicating expectations about socializing boundaries in terms of time and type. If one person feels ignored or the other prefers one-on-one to parties, communicating these likes and dislikes are important to establishing relationship commonalities. Making space for the other person’s preferences, especially as we age and those preferences have a good chance of changing, is also key; just as we hope they would do for us.
Authentic ways of showing gratitude and affection
Learn your friends’ love language! It might not be the same as yours: You may love gifts and they may love a home-cooked meal dropped off in a time of need. Try to be conscious of how and what you give that’s aligned with what they like to receive, rather than what makes you happy to give. This extends to the way you communicate. Is it through texts? A standing weekly coffee date? Whenever you “have the time”. While some of these may be circumstantial based on how far you live from your friends, health factors, etc., take stock of how you allot your time and ensure you’re prioritizing your friendships as much as you are, say, getting in that daily 30 minutes of exercise. Even if it is a quick text because you know they’ve got a big life event happening that day goes a long way. Your health, mood, and friendships will be all the better for it!
Be the safe zone
Friends tell friends the truth, but they are also the safe, judgment-free zone. Telling your friend the truth about their latest haircut is one thing, imposing your life viewpoint on their latest lifestyle choice is quite another. Hear each other out, be open, but hold space for all viewpoints. Sometimes, just being there is all that matters: For the big stuff like a retirement party, or the little moments. Positive, consistent “showing up” is what counts and allows for the type of vulnerability in the relationship that stands the test of time.
Sometimes you have to be the one to make the first move.
Feel like you’re always the one calling or texting first? You might be. It’s important to evaluate if this added effort is worth it to you, or if you’d rather invest in relationships that are more of a two-way street. We all understand life gets busy, we get into routines, and before you know it, months have passed! Again, it doesn’t have to be a big effort, just a consistent one that shows both sides are invested. And be honest! If you’re the one who can’t be as involved, but still cherish the connection, tell them you might be off the radar for a bit or not as responsive.
There are so many benefits to being social. An introvert? We also have five effective and easy tips for seniors to make friends in our Inspiring Stories, as well as ways to connect in the digital age.