I grew up on O’Neill Lane in Osage County, Oklahoma — my last name and the last name of everyone living on that lane. And other than a touch-and-go period in middle school, I never had to work to make friends. They were simply always there. My family had lived in the area for generations, so I enjoyed all the familiarity and comfort that comes with that kind of blessing too.
I went to college at Oklahoma State University (Go Cowboys!) an hour from home, and there I met a tall, dark, and ridiculously handsome man named David Strong. At the time he was in the USAF Reserves, but he later transitioned to the ROTC college program to commission as an officer. David was smart, kind, and employed a hardworking ethic I admired. It didn’t hurt that he looked dang good in a uniform too. When he asked me to marry him on a warm fall day, I took .02 seconds to say yes.
What I didn’t know then but would later discover was that marrying him also meant saying yes to building a community of friends from scratch — and doing so over and over again.
When we moved from Oklahoma to Ohio, I learned lickety-split that friends aren’t just always there. They don’t simply apparate onto your front porch like in a Harry Potter film. Most of the time, you and I have to find them.
With a lot of time and practice, I did find them. I learned the imperfect art of making friends. That doesn’t mean I made friends quickly, mind you. Usually I didn’t. It just meant I learned a few things that more likely ensured its success.
Of course, moving isn’t the only thing that can wipe away your community. Your heart — and the hearts of others — can change locations even as your feet stay put. At forty-seven, I’ve reached the point of life where new changes of different life stages pile up quickly. Kids graduating high school. Health crises. Kids moving away. Friends moving away, literally or figuratively.
All this and more can find you and I in the territory of needing to find new friends once again.
Making friends at any age is a tough endeavor. But as I get older, I also have to stare a few realities in the face: I can be my own worst roadblock to potentially meaningful friendships. Here are some things to keep in mind as you and I keep our hearts open to new or deeper friendships in mid-life and later:
Accept that in the beginning, you’ll have to invest more time and effort than it seems you’re receiving in return. This is true no matter how old you are, but I find it to be more applicable today than in my twenties and thirties. When my kids were young, I found myself more regularly in contact with other women because my kids’ friends showed up with grown-ups. If you’re like me and no longer have wee-watts running around, you can’t necessarily rely on the kids’ needs to put you in contact with other gals.
But in the places you do find yourself — church, the neighborhood, the book club — you can intentionally keep your eyes open for potential friends whom you can invite over for dinner, coffee, or just to chat on the front steps. Keep at it, and don’t wait for someone to invite you. Be willing to extend an invite first, and be willing to do it over and over.
Be approachable and be a good listener. The older I get, the less concerned I am with how others perceive me. While this is a glorious blessing, it’s also something to keep in check. Namely, I must exercise wisdom in sharing my opinions judiciously and respectfully. And while I certainly appreciate the value of open and honest communication, there’s a time and a place for bluntness. Remember, keeping an opinion to yourself doesn’t invalidate it. It shows a measure of maturity and self-awareness to know when it’s worth sharing, especially when you’re at the start of a new friendship.
Don’t assume that a potential friend already has her people. If you feel the Holy Spirit moving you toward a possible friend but are afraid she already has her people, reach out to her anyway. Rejection in any form isn’t fun, I know, but don’t make the decision for her. Whether or not she has the bandwidth for more people, let her make the decision for herself.
Look for friends outside your usual circles. Older folks (sometimes fairly) get accused of being set in their ways, and this can translate into us keeping our potential friend pool too shallow or narrow. There is value in a richly diverse friend group, including folks from different backgrounds, life stages, ethnicities, and ages.
My wise business and life coach, Retha, often repeats a quote of Andy Stanley’s, “Be the person you’re looking for is looking for.” Yes, not every person or friendship we invest in will work out. But let’s not cheat others from the gifts we share by giving up on forming friendships too soon. Perseverance is key — as is heeding instructions found in the book of James that advises we be not hearers who forget but doers who act.
And then, as Scripture promises, we will be blessed in our doing.Leave a Comment