Friendships: To Have and To Hold Dearly
By Dr. Laurie D. Johnson, LPC
ne of the wonderful things about friends is that there is always one within reach if you broaden your definition of friend. Early in life, I discovered that some of my favorite friends were pets, books, nature, and music. In this article, I offer suggestions for making and keeping friends in today’s culture. Before I do, let’s consider how a different breed of friend can fill our hearts and feed our spirits when people are busy or distant. Cultivating these internal relationships and interests make you into a better friend to others; this is just as important as the relationships to the things themselves.
For animal lovers, it is a blessing to know that wherever we find ourselves in life, health, or circumstances, we’re always in reach of the comfort and companionship of furry friends. It may be through fond memories of a beloved pet or through proximity of a pet that enriches your life today. Maybe you’ve discovered the treasury of endearing pet videos on Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube. Maybe you enjoy the pets in your neighborhood, or the grins and wiggles of pets at the local dog park, if you are not able to care for a pet these days. Animals, like human friends, make great listeners. They offer unconditional love, companionship, and even inspiration. Take time to recall the furry angel friends that have enriched your life.
What about the friend we can call upon to lift us through every mood and season, known as music? Whether you are homebound, a happy homebody, or have a hectic schedule, music is always within reach. Locate music or audible books on the radio, through tapes and CDs, or on smartphone apps like Spotify and Pandora. Music channels on TV range from Salsa and R&B to Bluegrass and Zen. Music and audible books can also be accessed by MP3 players for enjoyment during leisure, travel, and exercise. While human friends can frown upon our moods, it is nice to know that music is poised to provide anything from a drumbeat to an adagio to lift our souls.
Another friend that stands ready to feed our spirit is nature. Nature awaits us, either by stepping outside our door, or as a tonic to view through windows, YouTube videos, nature documentaries, or books. Like a good friend, nature offers us a host of memories, a challenge to undertake new adventures, and limitless opportunities to expand our love and individuality.
Pets, nature, and music enable us to approach friendship on a full tank, something appreciated by old and new friends. Longtime friends may share memories of grade school, neighborhood, and historical events. They help us recall funny adventures, difficult challenges we overcame, or even old dreams that still stir in our soul desiring dignity and manifestation. New friends give us a chance to conduct ourselves with a clean slate, in the fresh state that we find ourselves in at this moment, independent of rules or reputation that formerly encumbered us.
Have you relocated to a new town or neighborhood? Maybe you’ve entered a new stage of life. Possibly, you’re facing life with a new status: married, parent, widowed, divorced. Whatever changes have blessed your life or have caused upheaval in your world, finding friends will be a valuable pursuit. Where do you start though?
- First, consider polishing up the friendships that once provided you emotional nourishment and pleasure. Don’t forget to include family members in this category. Thanks to social media, friendship with siblings, cousins, elders, and distant relatives is easily renewed. Facebook provides wonderful options for connecting with friends from childhood, college, military years, and former careers.
- Social media and local news outlets alert people of like interests and give us the opportunity to connect over hobbies, sports, genealogy, politics, nostalgia, ecology, community service, advocacy, music, parenting, AARP, faith, military and veteran life, gardening, history, cooking, etc.
- Time may have passed since your last conversation, but that will not matter to a dear friend. If apologies need to be expressed, offer them. Don’t deprive yourself of a former friend. Perhaps present circumstances have deepened your understanding about why the two of you drifted apart or what may have competed for your friend’s energy and attention. We often personalize it when a friend drifts away. Perhaps life’s responsibilities interfered, consuming your friend’s focus or depleting you of relationship initiatives.
- That is the past though, now is what matters. Facing health issues, aging, convalescing, taking on a caregiver role, retirement, deployment, and stages of parenting often force into focus life’s greatest lessons. Realities of life, love, hardship, legacy, and mortality call us to reconnect. Never let the lapse of a friendship serve as an excuse to disclaim a friend if there is any chance to rekindle the fondness that once brought you joy or comradeship.
- Invite an acquaintance to go on a walk around the neighborhood, office complex, park, or nature trail. Ask about where they grew up and what interests them. Listen without judging them.
- Suggest going for a smoothie after a workout or 5K. Your new friend may be 23 or 73 years old, it doesn’t matter.
- If your children attend class, sports, rehearsal, or tutoring together invite those parents and potential friends to grab a coffee or tea.
- Start up a conversation with folks at the dog park, YMCA, school event, neighborhood voting facility, store, house of worship, community event, or service project. That’s where you can find like-minded folks as well as interesting new friends.
- Be sure to ask open-ended questions, as you invite the other person to talk. Conversation killers and friendship busters can result from being self-focused, negative, whiney, or coming across as a gossip or agitator. Avoid those pitfalls. This applies to interactions at the office, dorm, church, golf course, PTA, and civic organization as well. People may be drawn to drama, but the kind of people who offer the most satisfying friendships usually prefer to take a higher road than that.
- Raising children tends to put you in the community loop of sports events, fine arts, and fundraisers. Nothing says you can’t continue attending after your child graduates.
- Feed your desire to paint, fish, hike, dance, read, crochet, hunt, swap recipes, or be an advocate and you’ll find kindred spirits on site and at the stores that equip enthusiasts. Geocaching is one thing that can enable you to build muscles and friendships!
Winter is a wonderful time to reflect upon and recommit to living in community with others. Take time to nourish your soul with music, pets, and nature. Take time to share yourself with friends new and old. You deserve to embrace this life with special people in your midst and in your social media circles.
Dr. Laurie Johnson is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Coach, and Consultant. She has helped teens, adults, and over 6,000 families overcome obstacles to happiness. Author of Dr. J’s Field Guides. She can be reached at 770.655.5364. She is married and a mother of four