At first glance, the answer to this question seems obvious. From the time we are very young, we connect with others in social situations. As young children, our instincts guide us in seeking compatible playmates. Many people consider their best friends to be those that they made in early childhood, or during their formative school years.
Ideally, true friendships should be unconditional—a space to feel safe and loved. This means we listen without judgment and offer each other advice with compassionate understanding and honesty. Unfortunately, this kind of friendship is very rare, a precious gem. I am lucky to have had at least three of these friendships in my lifetime.
Even relationships that may not live up to this ideal serve a purpose. The pandemic has reminded us that humans need to interact with each other. We need our sports friends, our dance friends, our game night friends, our work friends, our meet-through-the-kids friends. Time moves on and these people go in and out of our lives. Whatever happens, each of those connections has made an impact in the moment. We can look back on some fond and lasting memories.
I have discovered that people seem to be much more settled in their friendship groups when they have lived in one place for a very long time. My husband and I moved an average of every two years in the first part of our marriage. While we were still in our twenties, one small town proved particularly challenging for making friends. My husband had been hired to an executive director position and all the people with this status were old enough to be our parents and grandparents. We didn’t fit in with the young baseball crowd either. Small towns tend to be places where generations of families have grown up in tight friendship circles. It was a good thing that I had a new baby to occupy most of my time during those years.
Some of my deepest friendships were made in the 14 years we lived in a beautiful suburb where we raised our children. I had time to search out people with shared interests and values. I learned a lot about unconditional friendship during those years. These people are still with me, even if we don’t see each other for long periods.
However, the next chapter in our lives, moving overseas, presented new complications in making friends. We were surrounded by people from all over the world with whom we had very little in common, sometimes not even language. As well, in the beginning, we were told that many ex-pats didn’t care to form close friendships due to the transient nature of foreign postings. Saying goodbye was just too hard. Our first posting in Pakistan disproved these predictions. We found the cultural tapestry intriguing and made some strong and lasting friendships with both ex-pats and locals. The internet has helped us to stay in touch.
On the other hand, our second posting in Bangkok was the polar opposite. Good friendships were hard to come by. We found out that a city of ten million people diffused the art of friendship, even at the level of office or school. Our best friendships were made in quiet settings away from the din of traffic, the rowdiness of nightlife, and the pressures of work.
I have never shied away from cultivating friendships even under difficult circumstances. Sure, over the years I have been hurt and betrayed at times. But the positives far outweigh the negatives. Beautiful friendships are a priceless gift. How do you make friends?