My life is so much better because of my friends. They are there to celebrate big life moments with me, we hang out often, and I know I can count on them to be there when things go wrong. But building and maintaining these bonds hasn’t always been easy.
Work, family commitments, and just trying to keep my head above water make it tough to find the time and energy to nurture friendships both new and old. Still, I know the intention and effort I put in is always worthwhile – so I’ve made it a major priority in my life to stay connected with my friends.
Over the years, I’ve really stepped up my friendship-building game. Not only do I regularly stay connected with old friends, but I’ve worked toward nurturing new friendships as well. It doesn’t happen by accident or because I’m a natural extrovert (I’m absolutely not). It happens because I’ve found useful strategies to make friendships more intentional.
I don’t simply assume my friendships are going to stay happy and healthy as long as no unexpected fights erupt. I take the time to nurture my friendships and give them the time and priority these (hopefully) lifelong relationships deserve.
Here are four things I do to keep my friendships strong:
Schedule time to reach out
You know that one friend who keeps popping into your mind, and how you keep thinking I should text them about that event we chatted about? Those thoughts usually pop up at an inconvenient moment — in the middle of work, while you’re in the shower, during the drive to yoga, basically any time you can’t pick up the phone and text them.
It feels like we should easily have the time to shoot off a text, but without a cue to do so, our friends often get forgotten. That’s why I take a chunk of time at the beginning of each week to reach out to my friends.
Who I’m reaching out to and why changes each week. Maybe I need to check in with a friend whose pet is sick. Maybe I need to initiate plans for dinner or coffee. Maybe it’s simply been a while, and I want to keep an old bond alive. Having time set aside to think about my friends and reach out means they’re a priority in my week (which is also why my outreach day is always on a Monday).
Avoid the “let’s hang out soon” trap
How many times have you seen a friend at a party and lamented how long it has been since you’ve seen them? Let me guess – you talk about all the things you should do together, and at the end of the get-together say “Let’s hang out soon!” only to repeat the same scenario months later?
I get it, I’ve been there. What’s the solution? Not leaving it to chance. As often as I can, when I start talking to a friend about making plans, I pull out my calendar and suggest a time and date. Scheduling can be a bear, so I usually list off a few options and if that fails, ask them to shoot back a couple of days and times that work for them.
And once we’ve done the thing and hung out, whether it’s one friend or a group, I try to plan our next get-together right away. Even if we’re planning a month or two out, having it on the calendar makes sure it happens.
Make friendship a “to-do”
As much as I want to be the friend who always remembers that you have a big presentation coming up or that your brother is having surgery – my brain space is often too disorganized to remember important things when it counts.
This is why I put important check-in dates on my calendar, and schedule friend activity brainstorming in my planner. While we’re often told that friendships should be spontaneous and effortless, in reality, it’s much more loving to put effort and intention into these relationships. Friendships are work, and we shouldn’t be afraid of admitting that and planning for them accordingly.
Show up when it matters
The birthday, the promotion party, the breakup, the big move — whether your friends are celebrating or falling apart, show up when it matters. Actually, show up, period. Even when you feel kind of tired and don’t want to go out, you’ll rarely regret it. The more often you can commit to plans when times are good, the more easily you’ll be able to be a true comfort when times are bad. And true friends should be there for all of it.
I still tear up thinking about my friend bringing over a meal the day I had to put my dog down — knowing how real and devastating the grief would be. She’s the same friend who has also shown up for every birthday, every girls’ trip, and many a night simply hanging out and watching television. Presence is what builds friendships, and the more of it the better.
While it may seem counterintuitive to put effort into friendships — I promise you, it’s not. It’s the only way these relationships can survive.