Everything the internet tells you about making friends as an adult is true.
As we age, our life rhythms fall in and out of sync with the people who surround us: past friends, present friends, and even potential friends.
One friend has kids who are older than mine, which means it’s easier for them to leave at night. One friend doesn’t have dependents so they have the flexibility to travel. Another friend’s career is moving at top speed, keeping them on the road more days than not, while my career has found stable ground (some might call it boring) with lots of regular days at the office.
We used to have MySpace, AIM, or even Google Chat to help us stay connected.
But now Facebook has clogged our feeds with multitude of advertisements, ripped off TikTok videos and those obnoxious “Amazon finds” videos that suck us in.
It’s hard to remember that we logged onto Facebook to double check the birthday of a close friend because… is it the 7th or the 17th? Our memories are fuzzy, and our planners are cluttered with to do lists and reminders.
But we get lost and never find out when their birthday is until it’s past.
Being a friend in the digital age as a 30-40 something is not for the faint of heart. But I still believe in the power and goodness of friendship, and how foundational it is to doing the collective work of justice.
We can do this. Let’s make it simple and remember these three things.
Digital communication is our friend
When my partner and I first started dating in the mid 2000s I had a cellphone that required me to tap the numbers to spell out my message. Yup, no fancy keyboard or iPhone for me. After some ridicule, I upgraded my phone and was opened up to a whole new world.
And now, at 40, I’m a professional voice message recorder, and that’s probably because I’ve gotten lazy with texting complete sentences. But, if I can send you a voice message instead of a text, I will. I want you to hear my voice when my sarcasm is thick or the way my voice sounds when sadness or joy hits my vocal chords.
There’s no need to make this complicated. Forward a funny video on social media, send a Marco Polo (bonus points if you send it before you’ve brushed your hair), or video call out of the blue just to say hi. Digital communication in all its forms is able to carry hard conversations, life updates, random tidbits, or the hilarious things your kid says.
Listen with your whole heart
Sending a text or a Marco Polo is second nature for so many of us, but we still need to listen with our whole heart. What’s being said that’s not being said? What’s their body language communicating on Marco Polo that they haven’t expressed? What’s the one liner they slipped in that could go easily unnoticed in the stream of messages about exercise dresses (I need one!) and recipes for the air fryer.
To be good friends, we must do the hard work of active listening even when we’re not face to face. Ask follow-up questions and express empathy, or just allow the sound space to hold your lack of words. Ask for pictures of their garden, the Pride Parade they went to, or the birthday cake they baked.
Listening with a curious heart positions us in a posture of care and even, dare I say, love. And that’s what we want to extend to those we’re closest to.
Show up in real life as much as you can
We need this balance of chatter and real time face to face moments together. Make an effort even when you don’t want to put pants on! Not every time you meet has to be a memorable event-maybe you just grab coffee, wade in the water at the beach, or visit the nursery to scout plants.
When we’re face to face we can read the non-verbal cues better, which strengthens the bonds of friendship. FACT About walking without talking
What if you can’t meet face to face? Skip the lunchtime Marco Polos and plan a virtual lunch together. After living apart from my very best friends, I’ve taken to setting up regular coffee dates and lunches with my dearest friends, and those days are some of the best. It takes little effort to send a link, show up, and spend time together, even for just 30 minutes while the baby sleeps. Send a card in the mail or have Amazon print and send a set of pictures from your last in person gathering. Print one for your refrigerator and one for their desk as a reminder of your time together.
Each friendship is different. Your best friend of 20 years can watch you eat lunch over Zoom and watch you raid the fridge for an extra snack without fear of their judgment because they know you. New friends might require a purpose for the conversation, like talking about summer plans or what you’re reading, to warm up the conversation.
But what about managing friendships in hard seasons of life?
First, give yourself grace.
Life challenges us sometimes with what feels like more than we can handle, and it’s easy to feel like we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. And there is no room for friends, and the hole we’re in is far too deep and dark for anyone else to enter.
I’ve been there. Can I tell you something?
Show up for your friendships in whatever way you’re able. Maybe you were the hostess with the mostest, but this season of life is filled with grief and triggers too many to count. It’s okay if you can’t host your friends. Maybe the question, “How are you?” brings tears to your eyes, but even though you want to connect with friends, you don’t need another tearfest to land you in that post-cry hangover for another day.
Show up however you can. Send weird Amazon-find videos, links without a message, and brief text messages.
And, if your friends don’t understand, then that’s okay. As difficult as it can be, this friendship might not be the one that you take into this season with you.
I’ve lived this season, and while I wasn’t always ready for the deep and vulnerable conversation, I knew that staying connected to their friendships was important. Those friendships were my lifeline. So I kept texting even when I had to politely decline coffee dates and Zoom calls.
It was out of this season that I developed our “I see you” digital encouragement notes. I wanted to give you and me a way to encourage one another without having to expend the energy of finding the right words or spending 20 minutes searching for that inspirational video we saw three days ago. Having these at our fingertips means we can still show up for the people we love even when we don’t feel like we have the bandwidth.
In this with you, Elicia