Does Your Friendship Have Legs?
Remember when you were a kid and it was easy to make and keep a friend? All you had to do was show up on the playground with a smile, a ball and an offered invitation to play and boom, instant friendship! The consistency of school made keeping the friendship effortless, you just showed up the next day in the same spot and so did the friend. Even shy kids benefited from the regularity of schooldays and the proximity of sitting at the same desk, next to the same kids, everyday.
As an adult it’s not so easy anymore. You might get away with smiling at a stranger in the park and asking them if they want to play ball…then again you could get an icy stare and some dust in your face as they beat a quick retreat. Even if you score a pick up game of hoops, chances are that person will not be at the park the next time you find an opportunity to go. Extra time is another problem in making and keeping adult friendships. Work and family commitments sweetly drain the hours from our days and we leave our friendships in the wistful bin. You know, the box under the bed with island vacation destination photos and screenplay ideas? Oh wait…that box is under my bed, but you get the idea.
It’s not impossible though. Serendipity can smile at you in your adulthood and you meet someone cool that you gel with and they seem to enjoy your company as well. Once, having just moved to California, I parked behind someone at my son’s pre-school who also had Oregon license plates. We struck up a conversation with that beginning in common and built a fun friendship that lasted years. Of course we discovered other things in common in addition to moving from the same state. Looking back however, I have to admit that many of the same proximity benefits that school kids enjoy, fueled that friendship as well. We lived in the same town, we had boys the same age that went to school together, we were both church shopping and we decided to try different churches together. Showing up in the same places consistently kept the friendship alive. As life progressed through kids growing up, moves to a new town and a messy divorce the friendship waned. Looking back I realize that I naively treated the friendship as if it existed by itself with little to no effort on my part. I regret not asking more quality questions in that relationship and in hindsight, I’ve begun to ask myself what kind of friend am I?
I’ve made many friends along my journey. Some are lifelong buddies who I can instantly re-connect with no matter how much time apart and others are like the example above; the friendship dissolved when put to the test of time and distance. Now I’m asking myself, am I a “telling” friend or an “asking” friend? Disclosing things about you is part of the bonding process but are there relationships where we do that too much? Do we go on and on about our problems or our celebrations and not spend enough time checking in with the other person? Or, do we just hang out and never ask anything that gets under the surface, leaving the friendship shallow and without legs. Given that just being a grown-up makes it difficult to even meet friends, shouldn’t we be better at fostering and holding onto those relationships?
Asking better questions at every opportunity seems like a great start. Not just, “How are you?” but “What was best thing that happened for you this week?” Or, “Let’s share something that drove us to drink this week, you go first.” I’ve decided no matter how the questions are phrased I want to be more of an asking friend. Friends are treasures; they boost our self-confidence, increase our happiness, reduce our stress levels and in the very best cases…they will bring their own shovel and scout out a good spot if we need to discard a body. Our friendships more than deserve the effort it will take to ask better questions!