When I was little I was in the Brownies. You know, the little kid version of the Girl Scouts. We sang Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold. A circle is round. It has no end. That’s how long I want to be your friend.
While a lot of circles have turned into lines that ended, others remain circular and are strong in my life after many, many years. We’ve been there through confusion, change, self-discovery, the hardest times and the happiest times. We’ve grown more resilient and strong. It has taken a lot of open-mindedness, learning and effort to maintain these precious relationships. Here are some of the key practices that have sustained my closest long-term friendships.
1. Be There
A defining difference between my friendships that have lasted and ones that faded away is the practice of prioritizing being emotionally supportive. As we age, we move around for school, work, family. Staying communicative is so important. Pick up the phone. My best friend needed me those early mornings she called me for weeks battling alcoholism and hitting her bottom. Someone needed to listen and tell her things no one else had the clarity and care to tell her. She helped herself by getting into recovery.
2. Be the Friend You Want
Being conscious of what you want in a friendship is eye-opening and freeing. Friendships nurture our passions, preferences, habits and favorite past-times. Be yourself and treat others as they wish to be treated so others may treat you as you wish to be treated. Through doing this we foster equality in friendships and find those who make compatible friends.
Bob Marley said, “The truth is everyone is going to hurt you. You gotta find the ones worth suffering for.”
Holding a grudge gets in the way of holding love for someone. In the absence of love we lose the premise of our relationship with others. Holding onto resentment robs us of our chances for emotional intimacy and can spur feelings of rejection or shame in the other. My best-friend-turned-high-school-sweetheart broke my heart into pieces, but through forgiveness, we have come to have one of the most understanding and honest friendships I’ve ever had.
If you know you hurt someone with your careless actions, let them know you recognize it was wrong and that you are sorry. Don’t apologize to feel better. Apologize because you empathize with how they are feeling. Pride should never get in the way of a fulfilling friendship. Resentments or hurt that go untreated can completely erode a relationship. Say you are sorry and talk, hear and listen to feelings, express yours. Never doubt the ability of a friendship to bounce back.
Be honest and conscious enough to follow through with your word. Even if with the help of a phone, calendar or notebook, being reliable when you’ve made a commitment and knowing dates important for your best friends means you can prepare yourself to be there for them when they need help or something exciting or difficult is approaching. These times don’t go forgotten.
One of my best friends loves musicals. I hated musicals, then she showed me Rent and I realized I love musicals! I decided to be open-minded and accepting of a person whose company I enjoy. It can also open your world up. My friendships are not based off of trying to change others or finding people just like me; instead I am ensured by the freeing feeling in each moment as I accept my unique friends for exactly the people they are. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
One of the most powerful parts of friendship is knowing someone, including their bad habits and their tendencies that occasionally need to be called out. Sometimes we need to encourage close friends with words they aren’t able to say to themselves, disagree with their self-deprecating statements or their externalizing comments regarding their ex. Friends who know each other well can help bring out the best thinking and behaviors in each other to foster healthy and honest living.
8. Reach Out
It can be easy to feel far from friends when you’re going through something hard, you live far from each other or it’s been awhile since you talked. Give them a call! There is your good friend, still genuinely interested and supportive of your decisions and your life. What a blessing!
9. Be Good to Yourself
This goes along with being the friend you want. Be your own friend. The biggest lesson I’ve learned about maintaining friends is how hard it is when you self-abandon. Be it through staying in a bad relationship, giving up on your passions or rejecting a part of your identity that is true for you. Love is based on accepting and experiencing people for who they really are. When we lose ourselves it is a very isolating process, the hurt of which is felt by those who enjoy our company and care about our wellness; our loved ones.
I’ve found that being a good listener is just as rewarding (sometimes more than) being actively listened to. One of my best friends and I are pen pals who have been writing and talking to each other for ten years. Communication is our relationship. In building that connection I see how doing things together is not everything. Hearing and being heard truly are critical in friendship.
11. Love Unconditionally
No matter what, true friends are real. Even when they make you mad, the times you share together are irreplaceable. Appreciate their quirks, their unique selves. The ways you know and understand each other no one else does. This is special and always will be.
What’s something you’ve learned about keeping good friends?
Also by Alyse: 3 Yoga Breathing Exercises for Stress Relief
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