They say that you can choose your friends but not your family, and while this is true it’s not always as easy as it sounds to just pick and choose friends. First of all there’s no guarantee that the people you want as friends are necessarily going to want to be friends with you and no guarantee that you will be able to meet people who will make the kinds of friends that you like.
Then on top of this isn’t not always so easy to keep them once you’ve made them, there’s the small problem of moving away and chances are that at some point or another you will part ways, then there are all those life events that can cause a rift or that might just cause you to drift apart or lose the time for each other.
Then there’s the opposite problem – when you don’t want someone as a friend but you can’t seem to get rid of them. When you get those ‘clingons’ who follow you everywhere and call you even though they don’t really know you all that well – and you’re just too polite to tell them to get lost.
So it takes a certain knack in fact to ‘choose’ your friends and a lot of it comes down to luck, timing and their willingness to cooperate. Though of course that’s not to say that you don’t play a role and most certainly you can improve your chances of success or reduce them depending on your behavior. Here we will look at how to go about that – how to go through the three major stages of friendship and make sure that the people in your life are the people you’ve chosen.
To make friends you need to first of all meet them and this is perhaps the hardest part. At school it was easy – every so often you’d be slung into a new class with new people and be forced to work together and everyone was in the same boat. Furthermore there was no shame in simply going up to someone and saying ‘will you be my friend?’. However in later life things get more complicated – you’re now in a position at work where you will likely remain for a long time with no real change. There aren’t ‘classes’ for you to be put in and so basically the people surrounding you in the office today are the same ones you’ll be working with next year and the year after. And often they won’t be your same age and anyway they will have their own lives and social commitments already. And if you ask them to be your friend then you will just have made a rather serious social faux pas. What do you do instead then?
You need to look elsewhere is what, and specifically this means joining clubs and activities that you have an interest in. By doing this you will be meeting a group of people who will be locally located and who will have a shared interest and that’s a great start. Sometimes it helps to just talk to the people in your life who you don’t normally too – the person who serves you in Costa for instance or the cleaner in the office. Often friends aren’t where you expect them to be.
Another way to make friends is by going through other people. Hopefully you know a couple of people in your area, so just tell them that you’re struggling to fill your social calendar and ask if you can head out with them and their friends next time they go out together etc. Family too might be able to introduce you to more people. Attending parties is also a very good way to make friends – far superior to trying to meet people in clubs where it’s impossibly loud to talk. Finally try hitting up old friends by giving them a call or sending a card or using the wonder that is Facebook. Facebook can also help you to find those parties and gatherings where you will be able to talk over some wine. You can even host your own parties – for instance house parties or launch parties or moving in parties and that then gives you an excuse to invite the people in your area.
Meeting people doesn’t instantly mean they’re your best friends though, you also need to somehow bond with them and get to that point where you’re buddies and not just acquaintances. Fish for similar interests you might have when you’re in conversation and this will give you some great subjects to bond over. At the same time be sure to ask them how their day has been and how things have been going and to honestly open up and tell them about your day at the same time. Telling someone about your day honestly is a great way to start to feel a familiarity with someone and it gives you a little snapshot into their lives that can really help. You can also try to bond by making little observations and taking a risk ‘so you like Sarah from financing then do you?’ and if they open up that then gives you a great bond and something to talk about (and it won’t hurt that they’ll associate you with something they secretly enjoy talking about a lot).
When the time is right don’t be shy to invite them for a night out or around yours, and likewise don’t turn down events with them. You need to take your relationship out of the office or out of the pottery making class and into the ‘real world’. But ease them in gently – by asking if they want to grab a beer at lunch or a cup of tea after class. Getting their number is also a great way to feel more connected to someone as is adding them on Facebook, and if you know their interests and their sense of humor after a few meetings you can start to send little texts and jokes that will make them smile.
Setting about proactively making friends is a difficult process and one that can often feel odd and contrived, but in some cases it’s necessarily. Try to be organic and natural and look for people who share your sense of humor and your wave length. Often you find them in unexpected places, but when you hit it off with that chemistry you will know.
Next you just have to keep them, and this is a two way street again that relies on both of you being easy going and reasonable. Make sure that you are attentive to your friendship and that you give as much or more than you take from it. If they give you a gift then make a mental note to give them one sometime, and likewise make sure that you listen to them when they need you and that you’re there for them when they need to head out for a drink. If you never answer their calls because you’re busy, and if you’re never free to go for a drink then they will eventually stop bothering calling and that’s how you drift apart. Make sure to see them if they’re local at least semi-regularly and if you can’t make sure to phone them.
Sometimes you can’t see anyone for whatever reason and this means that you’ll need to find other ways to keep the contact going to ensure that it’s awkward the next time you see them. Phoning regularly can help this, and if you don’t act weird about it then they won’t. Likewise if you think of them then send them a little text – just an observation that you think they’ll enjoy or a little joke. Sending a joke to someone is a great way to remind them of you and to make sure they know that you still think of them. Likewise the occasional Facebook message to a long distance friend can work well – but if you do live a long way apart then you should be sure to occasionally make the effort to go and visit them or to have them over yours.
Then there are the situations and the disagreements that can sometimes threaten to ruin a friendship – they crashed into your car, they forgot to feed your cat while you were away, they only call to moan about their life etc. In these scenarios you need simply to think how much you value the friendship and if you decide you value it enough then you need to be the bigger person and not make a fuss. You don’t lose anything by being unreasonable and if you can swallow your anger or disappointment then you might just keep a friend as a result. That’s got to be worth it right?
But then there are the cases where it’s not worth it and where the friendship has become toxic and bad for you, or where you just don’t have time for it any more. In these cases think long and hard first as throwing a friendship away is a serious business and highly reckless. But, if you decide it’s the right recourse you have two options: honesty or subtlety. If you’re angry at them or if you are very upset with them, they you might want them to know why you’re cutting them off in which case you can just tell them – but then be sure not to answer future messages as doing so will simply lead to a drawn out and often quite nasty argument. Instead just tell them you don’t want to see them anymore and why, and that you won’t be answering their messages and then don’t. Don’t be harsher than necessary, and make sure you give them closure by telling them what it’s all about.
If you want to be more subtle then you simply need to ‘phase’ them out. Let them know you’re very busy and make this seem like it’s about you and not them. Take a while to answer texts, don’t answer the phone and when they offer to go out for drinks just say you don’t think you’re free for a while. Bear in mind though that if you make this obvious it can be even more hurtful than just telling them you don’t want to see them anymore and certainly a lot more drawn out – so make it subtle or be straight with them. If your lives are growing apart anyway then often you genuinely won’t be interested in doing the things they want to do so you can tell them that too and it will make it a lot easier to go ahead with gradually losing contact.