I didn’t have a lot of friends when I was growing up because I was shy. I still am, but over the years, I learned that one way to overcome being tongue-tied around people is to “go out there” and expose yourself to different kinds of personalities. The social experiment worked: not only did I discover I have a knack for helping people (usually passing on useful information), I also met some wonderful souls – such as classmates and colleagues – who eventually became friends.
I can’t say all of them are still in my circle to this day. Some just slowly disappeared over the years, while others I have to let go of because the connection was no longer there. And while I initially felt sad that the number of people I called “friends” was thinning, I’m no longer disappointed because I’ve accepted these realizations:
• The number of real (vis-à-vis Facebook) friends one has doesn’t necessarily indicate the person is ‘popular’ or likeable. Who among those friends can you really count on in times of need? If there are only two or four, then that’s good enough. Value quality over quantity.
• The number of years one has known someone doesn’t necessarily mean you’re close or tight or “BFFs” (best friends forever). Is there real connection between the two of you? Can you talk about how you feel (with grace, of course) without sounding like you’re always watching your words? Did the camaraderie develop since the first time you met? Did the two of you grow as a result of having that rapport? If the answer is “no” or “not really,” you’re better off calling each other “acquaintances” than “friends.”
Consider also “chemistry.” That oil-and-water experiment from chemistry class applies to how some people, despite proximity, will never get along no matter how hard they try.
• Don’t be surprised if you find yourself enjoying the company of someone you never expected to be in your circle in the first place. I think some people go through life thinking “only these kinds of folks can be my friends.” Sometimes, that thinking is justifiable; perhaps they were hurt in the past and don’t want to go through that experience again. Or, they’re really just more comfortable with certain kinds of personalities. Fair enough.
On the other hand, having a set of criteria might make you miss out on meeting people who can help you grow as a person. I should know. I used to be like that, but I was much younger then. Nowadays, I consider at least three friends as the perfect complement to my otherwise reserved personality, and I honestly enjoy their company! They make me laugh. They teach me to be more spontaneous.
• Showering friends with gifts or little tokens doesn’t always mean they’ll like you back. Let’s face it: people will accept those gifts, but the heart of the giver is what truly matters to them. How do you make them feel without giving them anything?
• Similarly, nurturing friendship is like taking care of a garden. Pop in once in a while with a short SMS, email, or a phone call. Send a card even when there are no special occasions. Do the same when there are important milestones such as birthdays, wedding announcements and anniversaries, and birth announcements.
Basically, show you care. Nowadays, there are so many ways to do so.
• It’s all right to cut your ties with someone, especially if the relationship is “not working,” “no longer working,” or irreparable. The latter depends on what one considers important for a relationship to thrive. Over the years, I learned to distance myself from someone if: I always need to pick (be careful of) the topics we talk about, all I hear are complaints or gossip or negative comments about someone else, the attention I give is not reciprocated, I ‘feel’ (very subjective) I’m taken advantage of.
Friendships are meant to be lively, a source of joy most of the time! If being around people you call “friends” is stressful or tiring, cut your losses and move on. It’s not always easy, in the same way that making friends is a constant challenge, but believe me, there will always be individuals who would be more than happy to step up and call you their friend.
What about you? What are your insights about making friends and maintaining friendships?