By Emily Johnson
In a world filled with insta-communication and social media overkill, it’s easy to forget how to actually connect with people. For those of us who grew up with the advent of Facebook and the subsequent explosion of various other communication sites and apps, “connection” connotes more about a person’s access to the Internet than about a meaningful relationship with another. In fact, we seem to have almost lost that skill—while we’re great at garnering Facebook friends and Twitter followers, we often are at a loss for how to acquire and maintain genuine real-life friendships. In an era in which just one click can elevate someone from “that girl I small-talked with in the line to the bathroom” to a bona-fide “friend,” how in the world do we turn such “friends” into, well, actual friends?
Well, many of us have absolutely no idea, so we do what we have come to do best. We connect to the Internet, to Facebook, to technology in general—in order to connect with our friends and acquaintances and with those around us. And we convince ourselves that we are doing a good job. After all, stalking our friends’ Facebook page/Instagram pictures/Twitter updates is basically the same as getting the latest updates on their lives, and liking their pictures or status updates—or, the ultimate gold standard of friendship, wishing them HBD, preferably complete with a picture collage and a long, sappy message about how we couldn’t live without them—is more than enough to demonstrate how good of a friend we are, right?
Not so much. Even with all this technology and social media at our fingertips, we still tend to feel alone, isolated, and lonely. The connection we’ve become used to just isn’t the connection we crave. So let’s break it down: What does it actually take to create and sustain quality friendships?
So simple, and yet so complicated. In its most primitive linguistic form, listening means, essentially, STFU, put away your phone, and pay attention. Show an interest in what your friend is sharing with you—after all, she’s choosing you as the person she wants to talk with about aspects of her life—and be responsive. Bring up things she’s mentioned in earlier conversations—that work meeting she was preparing for, or that family thing she was stressing about—and ask about them. Not only does this demonstrate that yes, you were actually paying attention during your previous coffee dates, but that you care enough about your friend to be actively engaged in her life.
2. Open up to her.
Obviously this doesn’t mean just throwing open your Pandora’s box of secrets and letting them all fly out at once (sensible judgment, people: it’s a thing), but talking about things that are bothering you or about your most fervent life goals will bring you two closer. Not only will it prompt your friend to do the same, but it will also leave her feeling really great about your bond because you felt you could confide in her. Good feelings all around = stronger friendship.
3. Have her back.
If someone’s throwing shade her way, stick up for her. If she needs a shoulder to cry on, make yours available. If she’s thinking about embarking on a new adventure, cheer her on. If she’s decided to finally take that improv class she’s been on the fence about for the past couple months, be first row, front and center, for her first performance. And when she just needs to go all-out buckwild for a night—provided, of course, she’s not being stupid, unsafe, or putting herself or others at risk—throw on something cute, get the makeup game on point, and hit the town with her.
4. …But be honest, too.
One of the hardest but most necessary parts of being a truly good friend is calling your other friends out on their bullshit/crazy—in a nice, but nevertheless firm way. If you think your friend is making a bad decision, speak up. If you disagree with something she says, voice your opinion. Keep it real with her. No one wants a yes-man; that’s a henchman, not a friend. You aren’t doing anyone any favors by being fake, and it’s not going to feel that great for you either. Plus, if someone doesn’t respect your opinions, she’s not worth having around anyway.
5. Make time for her.
It’s true that we’re all super busy all of the time and that life has a really annoying habit of getting in the way, but do your best to spend time with your friend. Schedule a coffee date, hit the gym together, or catch up on the newest season of OITNB; or, if you’re not physically together, start an email chain or set aside time to Skype. If your friend feels like you are actively trying to keep up with her, she’ll understand that your friendship is important enough to be a priority in your life, which in turn will make her more eager to keep you around, too.
6. Discretion is the better part of valor.
We harp on and on about how trust is an essential part of any good and healthy romantic relationship—well, that goes for friendships, too. Be respectful of your friend’s confidences. People may love a good piece of gossip, but nobody wants to be BFFs with the town mouth.
7. Recognize that she is in the process of learning, growing, and making mistakes.
She’s definitely far from perfect, but so are you. You’ve both had your share of face-palm moments and major-league screw-ups. You’re both going through the same weird and hilariously awkward process of figuring life out, so you might as well go through it together—and have a damn good time while you’re at it.
Emily L. Johnson is a recently-graduated Atlanta native and self-described city girl who, paradoxically, is currently living and working in a 200-person village in Senegal, West Africa, as a Peace Corps volunteer. When not struggling through the daily pitfalls of navigating a foreign language and culture, she enjoys wildly out-of-date TV shows, impromptu homemade pizza parties, and exploring the rugged natural beauty of Senegal.
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