How Can We Cultivate Better Friendships?

People group drinking cappuccino at coffee bar patio - Friends talking and having fun together cafe

Some of us may be familiar with the song often sung by Girl Scouts: “Make new friends and keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” This is a lovably adage but nowhere does it explain how one is supposed to make new friends or keep the ones they have. It turns out that it is not especially easy to do either one of these things once you are past the age of 25 or so.

According to the research conducted by Mia Brabhamp in an article published in August 2021 she notes: “A 2020 study conducted by Cigna revealed that 61 percent of Americans, or three in five adults, reported feeling lonely — a 7-percent increase from 2018. The data doesn’t lie: We are hungry for deep, meaningful connections.” She shares some of the reasons it is increasingly more difficult to cultivate friendships, including the many responsibilities we have, such as work-related responsibilities, caring for children and/or other family members, caring for the home, managing finances and so on.

 “…and then there’s the lack of trust from those who have been scathed by friends before,” as author and connection coach Kat Vellos of We Should Get Together and Connected From Afar puts it in an email interview, ‘Our ability to develop intimacy in a world dominated by impatience and short attention spans [is shrinking]. Even when people want to have more fulfillment, many folks feel flummoxed about how to turn an acquaintance into a BFF.’” Add to that, “…once you graduate from college you adopt new values. And so, you look up, and you think, ‘Where did all my people go?’

 Some suggestions:

  • Start with friends you already know. Contact them and set up ways to reconnect. Invite them to dinner or a movie.
  • Meet your neighbors or make stronger connections with them. These can be people in your apartment or home or even those you see at the dog park.
  • “A great way to find your future people is to join local clubs and teams, and utilize interest groups that you may find through online resources such as, Bumble BFF, and Facebook Groups.”

More information from this article states: “A study by Dr. Jeffrey Hall at the University of Kansas, commonly referred to by friendship experts, found that it takes ‘roughly 50 hours of time together to move from mere acquaintance to casual friend, 90 hours to go from that stage to simple ‘friend’ status, and more than 200 hours before you can consider someone your close friend.”

There’s still a ramping-up process where you vet each other to see if you have chemistry and compatibility…. “Make sure to allow time for that getting-to-know-you phase. You wouldn’t ask a stranger to be your boyfriend or girlfriend without getting to know them first, and the same goes for friendship. That’s an essential part of being intentional when forming relationships.’”

Some suggestions from an article written by Dr. Randy Kamen entitled Ten Strategies for Cultivating Friendships: 

  • Make daily contact with one or two friends or potential friends. Google or Facebook old friends or contacts and reach out to someone you want to get to know. Allow frequent digital communications to be the glue that holds your friendships together, but not the foundation. Make in-person plans and dates.”
  • “Take a class doing something you love. Join a gym or book group, check out a local community center, or volunteer for an organization. The most natural way to make friends is through sharing a common interest, so re-evaluate your hobbies and make more room for them in your life.”

Once you establish a connection with somebody, you need to nurture the relationship. This means you have to be willing to make regular contact with this potential new friend. And it shouldn’t be one-sided. If you end up having to do all the work for connecting this may not be somebody with whom you will want to build a strong connection. Over time lopsided relationships become more of a burden than something you enjoy.

It is important to recognize that people who have experienced trauma during childhood can struggle with making friends because of some of the common beliefs they may experience. Jane Stevens, founder of PACEs Connection, shared the following common beliefs of adults seriously traumatized as children: “I was born bad and have no worth,” “I am responsible for the ways that I was treated because I am not lovable,” “I should have known how to behave,” and “I will always be this way.” Believing one or more of these can make it very difficult for someone to seek friendships and believe they are worthy of having them. If you are someone who holds these beliefs, it is important for you to do the work of addressing unresolved trauma. You deserve that!

If you are someone wishing you had more friends or deeper relationships with your current friends, please know there are ways to cultivate friendships and deepen them. A few suggestions when you are making contact with somebody: be mindful of your facial expressions and smile a lot, be attentive and make good eye contact. Express interest in what they share and be willing to share a few things about yourself. These things can be hard if you tend to be a shyer and more reserved person but it’s okay to fake some of the social amenities if they don’t come naturally to you.

 Yes, it takes some effort but the rewards of solid, meaningful friendships are so worth it. We are born for connection.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. Consider friendships you currently have. How did they form? What keeps them alive?
  2. Do you feel lonely a good deal of the time? What have you tried for cultivating friendships?
  3. What are some of the new ways you might enhance your abilities to bring others into your social Membership Circle, hoping that some will move into becoming closer, more intimate friends?