My third grade daughter has been experiencing her first bout of friend drama this school year. One of her closest friends since kindergarten now has a new close friend in her class, and as a result my daughter has been left behind or left out on several occasions. As a woman, I have had my fair share of changing friendship dynamics and “girl drama” over the years, so it’s hard to see my child go through it, because it brings to mind the pain of similar situations in my own childhood.
As my daughter and I strategized ways to address the issue, one of the main things I encouraged her to do was to branch out and make at least one new friend in her class this year. Her reaction surprised me, though. “Mom, I don’t know how to do that! It’ll be weird if I just walk up to someone and say, ‘Will you be my friend?’”
Friendship is a skill we’re all just supposed to be naturally good at, a relationship that we figure out by trial and error. No one really teaches you how to make and be a good friend at any age, it turns out. For example, I remember when I became a new mother, and my childless and single friends evaporated. I know they still cared about me, but they no longer knew how to connect with me in that new season.
Similarly, when I moved to a new town, site unseen, it wasn’t immediately evident how I would find or create a network of friendships as I figured out life far away from everyone I’d known and loved. And now, as we’re all in this strange purgatory of the pandemic, it’s hard to know exactly how to approach the friendships that weren’t close enough to stay close during the lockdowns, but we’d still like to be in community with.
I made a new friend recently, and we clicked instantly. It was a bit like a lightning strike, the way we mutually and immediately knew that we’d be close friends in no time, our similar brains catching the same wavelength. Making a new close friend in your mid-30s seems like a ridiculous luxury, as we juggle the complexities of schedules and the fact that everyone in our immediate lives needs us constantly.
Great friendships are built on the foundation of real presence, I believe. When we enter into a new or a deepening relationship fully present, we’re able to enjoy the energy they bring and the person that they are. When we’re fully present, we don’t require anything from the other person, instead we’re able to engage with curiosity about who and how they are, what they think and feel and dream and want in life, sharing our related stories and experiences, our vulnerabilities and our victories.
“You’re right, it would be weird for you to walk up to someone and ask them to be your friend. Instead, keep your eyes open for another person who looks like they could use a friend, too. I know you’re not the only one. And then, just ask them about themselves, and find things you have in common, and share about yourself, too. Invite them to do something small, like playing a game at recess, or sitting together at lunch. Then, if that goes well, ask if they’d like to come over to play at our house sometime,” I told my daughter.
A week later, she came home with the most wonderful news: “It worked! I have a new friend, and she’s amazing!”