Things No One Told Me: Adult Friendship

I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up. But when I moved to college, I finally felt like all of the pieces were in place to develop real friendships. Proximity made getting to know people pretty easy, and I had more genuine friendships than I had ever had in mere weeks after moving into my dorm. They meant the world to me (and still do, actually!).

And then I graduated from college and my closest friends moved away. It was hard. Most of the people my age at my church had been involved in our college ministry, which meant that we had sort of tried to be friends and given up years ago.

Working as the only single female in a workplace made up almost entirely of complementarian, married men who seemed to mostly follow the now-famous “Billy Graham rule” also made friendship difficult. Needless to say, friendship was slow in coming. I thought it would be easier after I got married, but it turns out that marriage doesn’t cure all of your relationship woes (who knew??).

As newlyweds, we had lots of acquaintances, a few baby friendships, and very few come-over-and-watch-TV-with-us friends. It’s amazing how much you miss the lazy Saturdays of college dorms with all of the back-and-forth visiting, and spontaneous outings. Outside of college, you have to work to make friends and plan activities with friends ahead of time because  your best friends don’t live with you or down the hall.

In my grad school class this semester, my professor mentioned that working “full-time” means that you use all of the time you have available outside of helping your family to function and thrive, to work. That feels real to me. With a full time job and real life responsibilities, friendship takes more effort, motivation, and time than I ever realized. It can be hard. And lonely.

It is possible, though, to make friends. And it’s worth it. I think we’re finally on the up-swing of what has felt like a long year. It took several years to build solid friendships, and it has been hard this year to watch many of our good friends moved away. Here are some things I’ve been learning about making friends as an adult:

  • Plan and persevere. We’re in a particularly busy season, parenting a toddler while both of us are in grad school. We have felt lonely this last year, but it has been difficult to use even the dregs of our energy to invite new people into our lives. We have needed to get better at planning ahead and getting out of our comfort zone to build friendships.
  • Join the club. It is rare to make good friends quickly, as an adult. Maybe some people can do it, but most people find it hard. It didn’t take long for us to figure out that our few friends who didn’t move away were feeling like we were. So we started a small group with them for people like us: busy people without time for a lot of extra responsibility, but who need a place to intentionally study God’s word and build new relationships with peers. It has been a great blessing to have a few new friends to focus our limited energy on.
  • Every minute counts. I’ve been learning, or trying, to initiate openness in a healthy way. When time is short, it is easy to let relationships stay in the awkward small-talk phase. Realizing that most people hate small talk has helped me take steps toward having real conversations in even those small moments. I’m trying to learn to ask and answer questions in a way that feels like “relationship building” even in short conversations. In other words, I’m trying to just get to the point instead of wasting precious moments in small talk.

Life is full of transitions, I’m learning. Stability rarely lasts more than a few years: jobs change, friends move, families grow and change. Life just happens, whether you’re ready for it or not. It’s a reminder that we, too, are not permanent. Even the longest friendships on earth are but a breath. The good news is that “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Is that a comfort to you? I want it to be a comfort to me when I’m feeling lonely. In the comings and goings of precious and dear friends, we can remember two things:

  1. Jesus will never leave you or forsake you, if you are his. He made us for community, but when we inevitably feel lonely, it is a comfort to know that we are truly never alone. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert alone. Before the crucifixion, every single one of Jesus’s friends let him down in a major way. He is the best person to understand our loneliness, and he loves to care for us in our pain. We can cast all our cares on him.
  2. If our distant friends are in Christ, we will never be permanently separated from them. Moves across the country and around the globe will only mean a delay before we spend an eternity with them in heaven. Now that’s something to look forward to.

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