Friends are like these garden roses.

Friends midlife

Posted on in Friends · Health + Wellness

Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, and the other is gold. — Scout song

Over the past year, I’ve had more unspoken-for time than at any period in my adult life. Fully savouring the time, I refinished my deck, planted and maintained a garden, brushed up on my high-school Spanish, traveled, started a business and launched this blog. And for the first time as a parent, I greeted my teen and tween children daily on their return from school.

However, one of my proudest accomplishments of this past year has been friendships.

A recent Gallup pollindicates that two-thirds of working parents struggle or suffer in their social well-being. By increasing the ratio of employees who feel they have strong social connections at work, organizations could significantly reduce safety incidents. The survey also found increasing work friendships could lead to more engaged customers and higher profits.

However, as we age, and age out of an abundance readily-available school peers, parents of our children, and work colleagues, making friends can become more challenging. And how do you move a work colleague to become a friend?

As we navigate the challenges life brings us, keeping friends becomes more important as does replenishing your friends. This past year, I’ve been pleased to connect with old friends, rekindle friendships, and make new friends.

Era of Facebook friends

Ironic this day and age with the abundance of online friends, it’s interesting how few friendships evolve. Don’t get me wrong, I love to see photos of elementary and high-school chums, those that have moved, and those busy with their lives, jobs and families. I appreciate the ease and convenience social media provides for keeping up. But there’s a vast difference between seeing and liking photos of friends, and meaningfully connecting with the individuals who post them.

Last fall I committed to calling an old friend once a month. From one friend I learned how proud she was of her daughter for overcoming a drug addiction. From another, I learned of her business struggle. After leaving corporate America and following her passion in yoga-therapy, despite her hard work and determination, the clientele simply wasn’t there. And from another, I learned of her leap to move from her comfortable apartment in San Francisco and life-long friends in California to take a new job in Denver.

If I’d only watched my friends’ lives unfold on Facebook, I’d understand nothing of the challenges they’d faced and their growth. The snapshots would show only the rosy glow of their successes.

Interesting how Facebook is like watching TV — you see what’s going on and may even contribute to the entertainment, but how many friendships actually evolve beyond a like or a share? How many honest, in-depth conversations take place? Do you ever know of the challenges your Facebook friends face? Do you care?

How to make friends

Invite them.

Like a teenager with the house to myself on a Friday night, I periodically host women and wine parties. Some who attend are more acquaintances than friends. But you never know when a conversation will move an acquaintance to a friend. Some of the most poignant conversations I’ve had have been with friends who were strangers just an hour before.

Carving time for an unhurried conversation is like preparing soil to accept and support an unsprouted seed. You simply must provide a receptive environment for friendship to sprout and be open to the possibility.

Give your time to something meaningful.

I volunteer with The Shoebox Project for Shelters, an organization that collects and distributes shoeboxes filled with necessities and small luxuries for women in homeless shelters. The organization aims to remind “women experiencing homelessness…that they are special, beautiful, and worthy of a happy holiday.”

Volunteering I have met some lovely people who share similar values; people who find time to give to others.

Or try joining something you enjoy. Walking groups or fitness classes are great ways to meet people with similar interests. These acquaintances may become friends or they may not. And there’s plenty to be said for convenience friends, those who enjoy the same activities.

Being open to the possibility of friendship, inviting acquaintances to be friends, and taking the time to listen, share and care provide the elements for meaningful relationships to flourish.

Friends in unlikely places

One new friend I made this year, I call my “bed-pan buddy.” We met in the hospital recovering from hip-replacement surgery. With only the privacy of a thin blue curtain separating us, we completed our daily functions behind this translucent veil.

Oh, the embarrassment of trying to pee with a roomie. She had the pan brought in and out before I could even begin voiding. I had to ask the nurse to turn on the faucet, then the shower, and flush the toilet a few times just to coax my bladder to release. Trained so well not to pee in bed, it was really hard for me.

“Hey, shall we open the curtain and chat?” Thus, commenced our friendship. Once you’ve shared the intimacies of a bear bum and bedpanning — not to mention the pain of having your femur sawed off, prosthesis cemented in and incision stapled shut — there’s not much left to hide. Thick as thieves we were from day one.

A friend blind date

I met another new friend at a reception for a conference, which neither of us were attending. Both plus-ones, I gave her my business card, and she emailed me with the subject line, “Let’s be friends.” Isn’t that lovely for an adult to be so direct and without ulterior networking motives?

We met for dinner. Funny, very much like a first date, but lacking the sexual tension involved with a romantic interlude, we connected. An adult playdate? Hmmm… maybe not the right word, but a date nonetheless.

Cultivate friends

Friends are like flowers, beautiful flowers, friends are like flowers in the garden of life.–Carey Landry

Carefully select the people you want in your life like you would plants for your garden. What will match your conditions, your lifestyle, your needs, your available time? Do they need to be robust, hearty, and independent? Delicate, fragile, and needy? Refreshing, soothing, and calming?

The amount of effort it requires to grow, cultivate and maintain friendships is akin to sowing and harvesting a bountiful garden. Visits, calls, emails, FaceTime, Skype and texts water, fertilize, and nurture a healthy friend garden. Let’s face it, with so many demands on your time, selecting friends that you like and that will flourish around you is imperative.

Duration of friendships

I recently read a post requesting words of comfort for a separated friend. One sagaciously responded, “relationships — some last for a season, some for a reason, and some for a lifetime.”

Friendships, too, have their time in the sun. It’s okay to weed, thin and prune. And it’s important to plant and cultivate new ones.

You reap what you sow. To have friends you must be a friend and provide an environment — time, attention, availability, listening, sharing and caring — that enables friendships to grow.