Here’s a question for you: How many friends do you have? Not just connections, which is what I consider the number of “friends” you might have on Facebook, but real, true, ride-or-die buddies who you can call in the middle of the night to “help you bury the body” (that’s a hypothetical situation–by no means am I suggesting you actually commit a murder and then hide the evidence). I’m saying, how many people know your deepest, darkest secrets and are still by your side? Those people are essential, no matter your age, and nurturing those friendships is important.
A recent study shows about half of us have between one and four close friends. About four in ten surveyed have five or more; on the other extreme, 8% say they have no close friends. And here’s an interesting finding: About half of adults 65 and older have five or more close friends, and that number actually goes down if you’re younger. In fact, the numbers are 40% for those aged 50 to 64, 24% for those 30 to 49, and 32% for those younger than 30.
These statistics surprise me. I don’t know why, but I always thought we had MORE friends when we were younger, but this study says otherwise. I fully admit there have been times in my life when I felt I had dozens of friends but then others, especially as I went through a divorce and struggled through sadness when I wasn’t sure a single true friend existed. It turns out they were there, but I was pushing them away. Those hard times taught me something, though. Friends matter. Real friends, that is. You don’t need a lot of them, but they do need to be good ones who you know you can rely on. Even just one good friend could be enough. So, how do you maintain those friendships? And if life has gotten in the way of those close bonds, how do you rekindle those connections?
Here are a few tips to help.
1. Make an Effort
Take a friend from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s book. He said, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” Soak that up. Let it sink in. If you’re upset that no one is inviting you out for drinks, or to the latest movie, or the coolest new restaurant, take a look in the mirror. Why aren’t you the one doing the inviting? If you are upset your friends aren’t calling, then pick up the phone and call them. It’s a two-way street, after all. You can be the one to initiate the fun.
2. Reach Out
Reach out to others often, not just when you need them. Ask them how THEY’RE doing instead of just pouring out all the things going on in your world. You may have to do most of the work, to begin with, but after a bit, they’re likely to reach out to you, too, and the give and take should equalize with time.
3. Be consistent.
If some new man comes into your life or maybe a grandchild, remember to still make time for the friends who were there for you when those extra blessings didn’t exist. Keep showing up for those people who were there before, and they’ll likely be there for you later. Regular contact is helpful. So keep making the phone calls. Set up weekly meetups. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on meals or nights out. Just meeting up for weekly walks can do the trick. And if you’re not in the same town, don’t discount the importance of just a text checking in or a quick phone call letting them know they’re on your mind. Eventually, you’ll build a connection that matters to both of you, and being consistent helps them know they can count on you.
4. Don’t rush things.
Remember, everyone has a lot going on in life, some more than others, and some things more difficult than others. Building trust takes time. Forcing it won’t help. Show up for your friend and keep making an effort. With time, a bond will be formed, leading to the kind of friendship we all crave. And even though you shouldn’t rush things, you must dedicate time to building the relationship. You don’t have to physically see each other each day, week, or even month to build that connection. But the more contact you have, the more likely you are to make the bond you crave.
5. Explore New Things
As we age, our time isn’t all wrapped up in our children anymore, so work on finding new hobbies that might lead you to make more friends or do things you love with older friends you may have lost touch with. Make it a goal to spend time doing what you love. Inevitably, you’ll eventually meet other people with similar interests and likely build a whole new circle of people who will become your friends.
We used to sing a song in Girl Scouts: “Make new friends, but keep the old… one is silver and the other gold.” I think that applies throughout life, and if you follow the guidelines, you’re sure to have many friends because you’ll also be a good friend.