Did you know that 36% of all Americans (including 61% of young adults) report feeling seriously lonely? Connecting with other people is a necessary part of a healthy, fulfilling life, yet never has friendship been more difficult than it is now. From the ripple effects of COVID-19 to the continued evolution of social media and the metaverse, finding (and keeping) genuine friends is a daunting task. Where are you supposed to look for people who share similar views and who will value your friendship in return?
What Is a True Friendship?
While it’s true that in some ways, society has never been more “connected” than it is now, simply becoming friends with or following someone’s online presence doesn’t mean you’re actually pals. A true friendship is something that requires more time and care than a single click. A real friend is someone you can call when you need support, who you trust and respect, and who you enjoy spending time with and supporting in return. Take a look at your current friendships and reflect on whether they possess these aspects of a genuine connection:
- Honesty, trustworthiness, and respect. You can be certain that you and your friend tell each other the truth and that when something is shared in confidence, that confidence will be respected. You can also trust that your friend will act in a way that is respectful to your values and boundaries, as you do for theirs.
- Balanced initiative. You know that your friend thinks about you when you’re not together and isn’t just using you for what you can do for them. They take the time to schedule hangouts, check in with you on your feelings and important life events, as you do for them. You don’t feel like the friendship is one-sided.
- Empathy. You and your friend listen to one another without judgment, always trying to understand what the other is going through and offer any support you can.
A shared sense of humor and enjoying the same activities can also be important aspects in a friendship, but a true connection goes deeper than those things.
What Should I Do About Toxic or Shallow Friendships?
Do your friendships have these characteristics? If not, ask yourself why. If it’s because you simply haven’t taken the time to cultivate deeper friendships, give that a try. If it’s because your friends are not kind, trustworthy people, that’s a red flag. Though nobody wants this to be true, sometimes friendships end. If you’ve tried to grow and improve a particular friendship, but it still isn’t a healthy relationship that aligns with your values, it may be time to consider a “friendship break-up.” Ending a friendship is never fun, but ultimately neither of you will benefit from an unhealthy relationship.
Why Is It So Hard to Make Friends?
Maybe you’re thinking, “Sure, a true friend sounds great, if only I could find one! It’s just too hard.” We hear you. Friendship takes work! There are a lot of things that can get in the way of us forming important connections. Here are a few reasons we might struggle to find true friendships:
- Social anxiety. You may be unsure of yourself or of your social skills. You may even be worried about being rejected. Consider talking to someone about social anxiety if you think it’s stopping you from making friends.
- Time. Are you booked 24/7? You have to be able to spend time with your friends if you want those friendships to grow. Consider making “friend time” a part of your busy schedule.
- Lack of intention. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a phrase too often true for people these days, especially when so many of our relationships are long-distance or virtual. Make sure you don’t forget about your friends just because they aren’t around you all the time.
- Limited access. Maybe you go to a very small school, live in a small town, or you simply don’t feel that you relate to any of the communities readily available to you. Consider broadening your horizons, joining new clubs or groups, or using technology to connect with people long-distance.
- Shallowness. You have friends, but they’re not good friends? That doesn’t mean they can’t be! Try pushing a surface-level friendship to the next level by asking someone if they want to hang out one-on-one. Try getting to know them better.
- Social media & technology. These can be really useful tools for creating and maintaining friendships, but they can also be a distraction from spending quality, face-to-face time with friends. Make sure you have connections that don’t just exist on a screen.
Are any of these things standing in the way of you making true friends?
How Do I Find Friends with Common Interests?
Now that you’ve confronted the obstacles, how can you actually find these potential friends? And how do you pick the right people? Try these ideas for finding new, quality friends and making sure your current friendships are strong:
- Take stock of the world around you and decide what you value. When you know what’s important to you, you can prioritize spending time with people who value the same things. If theatre or storytelling are important to you, audition for a play–you’ll be sure to find people there who love what you love. If supporting your local community is important to you, volunteer at your local community garden, soup kitchen, or homeless shelter–the other volunteers will likely share that value too!
- Don’t be afraid to diversify. Sharing values doesn’t mean your friends should be exactly like you. It’s okay to have friends with different views, so long as you agree on a few essential core values, like honesty, integrity, equality, or whatever is most important to you. Beyond those things, keep an open mind! Agree to disagree on things like whether pineapple belongs on pizza. You might miss out on a potential “bestie” if you’re too afraid to have a diverse friend group.
- Make sure your friendships go beneath the surface. Don’t just play a game of pick-up basketball down the street and then cut out as soon as your turn ends. Take the time to get to know people, their names, their interests, and their senses of humor. Hang out one-on-one or in small groups to encourage relationship growth, and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable with those who you judge to be trustworthy.
In the end, the only way to start or check in on a friendship, is to talk to people. We know… but you can do it!
Everyone Needs Friends
Is there someone you need to send a text to right now? A friend you haven’t checked on for a while, or an acquaintance from school who could turn out to be a good friend if you just gave it a chance? Go ahead and send that text right now. We’ll wait…
You did it–showing up is 90% of the battle in relationships. But is it really worth all the trouble? Yes! Strong friendships are incredibly beneficial to our happiness and well-being! Research shows that isolation and lack of connection have a very poor impact on mental health, proving that everyone needs friends.
Even Jesus had friends! And there are multiple verses in the Bible that talk about us being “friends of God.” If you want to know what else God says about friendship, check out the resources we have on relationships at TheHopeLine, and remember that you can always chat with a Hope Coach when you need someone to listen to your story without judgment. We’re your friends too!
A strong friendship will only get stronger when people are clear about what they need from one another Not sure where to start? Try these steps.
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