16. Befriend someone you don’t know

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to get them sometimes.” (A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh)

Depending on your personality, interests, communication style, appearance, and previous experiences, making friends is either incredibly fun or extremely daunting. Every season of life poses fresh challenges to making new friends.

Some people are amazing at keeping friends throughout the years and in every season. They understand how to remain connected in the midst of transition. My wise and friendly husband says, “There should always be an open spot on your friend list.”

I listened to an interview on the Ted Radio Hour where Robin Dunbar talks about how many friends a person can have at one time. His research finds that number to be 150 with about five in the innermost circle and then rippling out from there.

Last week’s episode of On Being challenged me as I thought about our interaction with social media and friendship. Anil Dash talks about how technology isn’t a separate and unrelated segment of our lives but an integral part and that includes our connectedness with people.

There’s power in self-knowledge. Once you know yourself you embrace your strengths and strengthen your weaknesses. This is so powerful especially when it comes to building relationships with people. Personality and communication tests are wonderful tools for pinpointing individual quirks. They shouldn’t box you in, rather they should teach you about what makes you sing and what makes you tick.

As I thought about how to befriend someone I don’t know I reflected on a few things:

  • Personality: I’m a INTJ on the Meyer-Briggs test – it’s an intense sounding one; a Type 1, Reformer on the Enneagram; Input/Intellection/Strategic on StrengthsFinder
  • Current interests: reading, writing, mothering, making delicious food (half are definitely solitary activities)
  • Communication style: a shaper, producer, contemplator (from Life Languages) – basically I love to plan, manage/create, and think (these aren’t super social communication styles)
  • Appearance: mom look through and through (neutral colors, semi-frazzled when out in public, almost always a ponytail)
  • Previous experiences: for many years I worked intensely hard at becoming warm and approachable because experience proved I repelled rather than attracted

“Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.” (Aristotle)

I’m not an expert by any means. But, here are a few things I’ve learned as someone who struggles to connect that work for building new friendships. If you’re a natural these probably sound basic and intuitive so feel free to skip to the next section:

  • Smile and ask sincere questions
  • Be authentic to your own interests as well as interested in other people’s interests even if you don’t share them
  • When talking in person, focus on them like they’re the only one in the room (this is tough if you have kids, but it’s the effort that counts)
  • Give yourself a pass if there’s not an instant connection – some things take time and some things aren’t meant to be
  • If you’re an extrovert try to listen more
  • If you’re an introvert try to speak more
  • Know yourself and love yourself. If you are comfortable in your own skin, it does wonders to help others to feel comfortable to be themselves around you

And some thoughts on maintaining old ones:

  • Take the initiative to stay connected: whether it’s a coffee date, a Skype call, a text message, an email, or good old snail mail
  • Remember birthdays: sounds silly but a card in the mail or a phone call or text message is far more meaningful than a public post on Facebook.
  • Be quick to forgive and ask for forgiveness: don’t let little things build up and create an unsurpassable chasm
  • Be honest and vulnerable: say what you think but don’t force your opinions on them and be open with what’s actually going on in your life, not just the headlines

“Be slow to fall into friendship; but when thou art in, continue firm and constant.” (Socrates)

It’s never to late to add a new friend to your life. Wishing you all the best as you grow in your current friendships and develop new ones.

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