Last weekend I went to a lovely engagement party of my boyfriend’s friend. The next day I got an email from one of my boyfriend’s friends’ girlfriend (bear with me), saying she was trying to find me on Facebook but couldn’t: “at least let me know your number,” she wrote. I was so flattered and giddily emailed back my number (and we’re still trying to find each other on FB. Weird because my privacy setting is so low, due to PD and whatnot).
Girl-romancing, or feeling a friendship spark, is in many ways similar to dating. It happens when you first meet a potential friend, or after a long time has passed and you somehow have a breakthrough moment. And when it does, it’s magic, just like in a romantic relationship. The difference is that while the latter comes with problems related to physical attraction (insecurities, ennui, too much or too little attachment), platonic friendship requires zero worry that if you’re not ripping each other’s clothes off, something is wrong with your relationship.
That’s not to say platonic friendship isn’t worry-free. The truth is that as adults, friendship takes more of a background role as our lives fill up with our career and love interests, and eventually our own families. People generally feel shy about pursuing adult friendships actively (which is sometimes called “creepy”), even while doing the same with dating is seen as normal. Personally, I’ve always felt much more hesitant/nervous about getting a drink with a potential girl friend to see if there is a spark, than about doing any sort of dating thing. It just feels more likely to lead to no friendship, and therefore disappointment.
So why bother with adult friendships? David Brooks points out that a string of eminent philosophers from Aristotle, Cicero, to Montaigne all ranked friendship as *the* building block of human society. Friendship allows you to be yourself without fear of judgment or rejection; to accept your flaws or figure out how to resolve them; to savor the good things in life and laugh off the ridiculous things. It not only makes living bearable, but valuable. I’ve only just realized that until I built a new adult friendship based right here in NYC, I didn’t feel like this city was ‘home’–despite having always had a boyfriend here.
Here’s how to make and maintain friendship at any age.
1. Always keep an open mind.
I have so many opportunities to meet friends of friends. Honestly, often I go into it not expecting any sort of connection to happen, because of age difference, occupation, etc. But just because someone works in a completely different field doesn’t mean s/he won’t have anything to talk to me about.
2. Do keep in touch with your old friends.
Use whatever medium you need in order to stay up-to-date on their lives: call, text, FB chat, email, snail mail, smoke signal…Just make sure you’re actually communicating rather than just liking each other’s posts on social media. (But keep liking each other’s posts too!) Better still, make plans to visit each other even if that only happens a few times a year. Yes, it’s easy to grow apart, and you’re all leading different lives in different parts of the world–but you all still have serious issues to talk about. 🙂
3. If you have any problems, talk it out.
Occasionally you will inadvertently hurt your friend’s feelings, or the reverse will happen. My policy is to always be as honest as possible when something arises. That means immediately admitting my faults and apologizing, or saying that my feelings were hurt due to XYZ. When you mutually care enough about each other, this course of action always leads to mending of friendship. But sometimes, I didn’t think it worthwhile to have a difficult discussion, resulting in loss of trust, and becoming distant. And you know what, that happens too–friend-ghosting is real, but it’s better than inauthenticity, and not everyone has to end up being your BFF.
4. Actually make plans to hang out with your new friend.
At some point, we all have a set of friends and social circles, and then later on in life we even have our own families. So you should just say, “oh yeah, let’s definitely hang out some time,” and *just end it there*, right? No! Definitely follow up with an actual plan to hang, if you seriously liked this new potential friend. A good bet is to include this person at a group hang-out. If you do something 1-on-1, the rules are similar to dating: lunch or coffee is efficient, but you’re probably going to be too tense and worked up to feel loose. A mid-week dinner or happy hour will be more relaxed.
5. Share something about yourself.
No one likes to reveal vulnerabilities to strangers, especially not as adults (meaning: we’re all supposed to have our own confidants already), but guess what, that’s where a light bulb goes off. For instance, when I was talking to my new friend at the party, I’m sure I said something borderline TMI about my imperfect self (due to drinks being had). And instead of shunning me, the new friend was like, “oh hey, me too!” Like C.S. Lewis said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .’ ” It is a leap, but that trust is what makes it a friendship.
How do you make adult friendship work? Did you ever make BFFs post-college a la Sex and the City? Anyone else dream of going of luxurious girls’ only trips? yes, me too.
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Photo: Shandi-lee Cox via Flickr; Peaceful Dumpling