Practical tips: making friends

I wrote this article for the women's magazine of my husband's theological college. As most women at the college (or spouses of guys there) will expect to be moving around for the rest of their lives, a lot of them struggle with how to go about making friends. I've moved heaps, so here are my top tips!

Have realistic expectations
Most of us only have between three and six ‘best-friendships’ at any one time. Expect to have a few really close friends, a few more good friends, and a lot more people at ‘friendly acquaintance’ level.

What does your inner voice say?
Some of us have gnawing doubts about our own worth or whether others will like us. Others of us waltz through life assuming we will always be the most ‘popular girl in the school’. Both of these inner voices will affect our ability to make friends. Mediate on the fact that we all have something to offer, and we are all as valuable as each other because Christ loves us.

Just do it
For those of us who are shy, it’s hard enough to meet people for the first time. It takes a whole other effort to get to ‘friend’ level, but you’ve got to decide that you’ll take the steps to get there. If you do, you’ll have friends within six months.

Build history
The history that people share helps to build a friendship. It can be as simple as going to the beach or on a picnic, working on a church project, or having children playing in a paddling pool. And don’t wait to be invited. Invite them (or invite yourself). Even if they can’t go, you’ve shown you’re thinking about them, and that’s worth some warm feelings.

The pain of rejection
Someone might always be too busy or might be downright rude. Chances are the reason is probably not you. They might have their own problems, you might subconsciously remind them of a schoolyard enemy or they may be immature enough to feel that you are a threat to their own established friendships. On the other hand, it might be something you said or did that offended them. Either way, you probably won’t gain any ground by asking if you have upset them. Keep being friendly, but from a non-threatening, polite distance and work on the other friendships you have. After some time, the difficult person will probably come around.

Know when to give up
Some people think they don’t have room in their lives for new friends. The reality is that no matter how hard you try, they don’t want to get closer to you. This is especially so in churches where people have grown up together. Don’t take it personally, but do move on in time to find someone else who is looking for friends. They are always out there.

Listen to yourself
Are you the person who turns every conversation around to be ‘all about me’? Or the one who never stops talking about her children? Perhaps you’re the person who speaks in monosyllables or never starts a new topic of conversation, or who is ‘such a good listener’. Friendships are built on a balanced give and take in conversation. It’s not all about you, but neither is it all about them.

Small talk serves a purpose
Some people disdain small talk, preferring more ‘meaningful’ conversations. But small talk is useful and necessary for making friendships. It builds common ground and is a springboard to other topics.

Don’t talk about your other friends all the time
There’s nothing more disconcerting than people who go on and on about their ‘great friends’ elsewhere. It can sometimes make the ones who are trying to be friends feel only second-best. If you’re the one who has to compete with these old friends, be aware that the person is probably talking about you to them in the same way!

Don’t try too hard
There’s also nothing more disconcerting than people who appear desperate to have friends. If you really are that desperate, it’s time to get yourself to a counsellor or chat to your mother to work out those feelings. Then be strong enough to appear as if you aren’t going to live or die by the friendship you’re trying to make. People are always more attracted to others who don’t come across as needy.

Don’t be fake
Balance out the tip above with this: the opposite of needy is plastic unreal perfection, and neither extreme is helpful. While you don’t want to over-burden new friends with your needs, honesty in relationships is a beautiful Christian quality.

The power of place
Being in proximity to people helps firm up friendships. So go to places where you’ll see the same people regularly!

The value of time
It is a rare friendship that gets established straightaway. It takes at least six months in a new church before you start to feel comfortable and known, and at least a year before you feel you are starting to break into the established friendships and groups.

Prepare to be surprised
You might have an idea of the kind of people you’d prefer as friends, but don’t discount people who are out of your ‘box’, in age, life experience, interests or nationality. You might even end up friends with people you didn’t like at first.