How to Re-Learn Friendship

Every debrief of my recent (fabulous) trip to Atlantic Canada has involved someone commenting on, “how friendly everyone is there.” It’s true, I experienced a seemingly inordinate friendliness in a short amount of time while in the Eastern provinces, but I’ve found myself wondering, how smiling and greeting one another have become such rare social habits as to be considered unique behaviours exhibited by only specific people groups?

When did we forget how to be friendly?

I was recently asked why single people so often struggle to find community. I think it is because, as a rule in our culture and our churches, we suck at friendship. Whether it is due to the isolationist nature of our social media, or the fruit of a self-serve society, or because we have spent so long focused on satisfying all relational needs in the context of romance, we have forgotten about the necessary art of friendship, and we are suffering from a plague of loneliness and desperation as a result. While there are lots of conferences, books, and talks about how to get along in a romantic relationship, or even how to cultivate productive relationships at work, very little energy is spent on teaching us how to do friendship beyond a grade school level. 

The idea of relationship is that life is experienced together. Perhaps the biggest answer to finding relationship is just to get with other people, to be interested in their lives, and to get our minds off of ourselves. In this way

friendship may very well start with service.

It is easy in our isolation as singles to think our lives are all about our dreams, when in reality, God may have positioned us to be a part of making someone else’s dream come true, or to get so close to another person that their dream becomes our dream. Servant-heartedness culminates in shared vision. The deeper I involve myself in community, the more I begin to see victories and losses as collective. By putting others first and investing in their stories, suddenly their wins become “our” wins, and their sorrows “our” burdens to be shared. This is how we can extend our sense of family and widen our relationship circle. 

I don’t think there is any entry point into this type of relationship that isn’t awkward. Nor do I think that success can be measured by the speed at which the awkwardness subsides.

If you’re single long enough, it is going to force you to learn how to make friends.

And there will always be time, energy, trial and error involved in finding those friendships.  

Friendship can be amazing, but finding it can be hard work. Especially when you don’t have the rose-tinted, flaw-overlooking glasses that the infatuation of romance can provide. 

You may have to go to a church for a long time, try out more than one small group, attend more than one uncomfortable young/single/career/divorced/widowed adults outing. You will likely have to endure many an awkward side-hug, survive many a sweaty handshake, fumble through several disjointed conversations, and feign amusement at many humourless jokes. You may need to take a crafting course or join a sports team or a band or a choir. You may need to volunteer, join a board, or take up part-time work. It might mean trying and getting rejected multiple times, saying hello to a stranger, or taking a small-talk conversation and boldly inviting it to turn it into a subsequent social activity. You might find some friends and later find that change, conflict, or issues of compatibility mean you have to start over again. You may need to plan events and outings to invite people to and have the resilience to withstand being stood-up, or the confidence to not feel like you’re buying friends.

It may feel inauthentic or intrusive to inject yourself into another person’s social world.

Some of these encounters will become your relationships and others will become the stories you laugh about later over glasses of wine.

In many ways making friends hasn’t evolved much since childhood. Sometimes it really is as simple as picking a kid on the playground, and asking them to be your friend. We can all do better at smiling and saying hello.

Looking for some more friends? Join the online community of singles who believe singleness is a life to be lived not a problem to be solved.