How To Be A Better Friend

how to be a better friend

When I was in ninth grade, I was fairly convinced that I was experiencing the most socially challenging time in my life. My friends and I filled entire books with notes, spent hours monopolizing the landline with our conversations about outfits and boys, and would fall in and out of love with each other approximately every 20 minutes.

It was all very emotional and very, very dramatic.

These days my friendships are rarely dramatic or emotional. And while adult friendships are easier in a lot of ways (less note passing and boyfriend filching) they can be hard, too.

How do you make friends once you’re out of college?

And once you’ve befriended your co-workers and your partner’s friends … then what?

And how do you move from being friendly acquaintances to friends who hang out in sweats together?

While I’m not sure I’d call myself a friendship expert I do have a full social life filled with people I love + admire.

Here are seven things that would make most of us a better friend

Think about what you need in a friend + what you want more of in your life

Are you an introvert who wants a friend who will get you out of the house? Do you need someone you can share deepnmeaningfuls with? Are you a super driven Career Woman who wants to swap war stories about the latest account you landed and how to deal with a sexist boss?

Chances are you’ve probably already got some pretty great friends, but you might have some social needs that aren’t quite being met. You might have openings in the Up For Anything friend department or the Also Single friend department. Think about what you need in a friend before you jump into the pool.

2. Go places filled with people who are like that + talk to them

Once you’ve figured out what you need/want in a friend go places where people like that hangout. And then talk to them. IT’S THAT SIMPLE. If you want to make friends with fun, outgoing, dance-all-night types go to Tuesday Night Music Club or take a Hip Hop Dance Class. If you want to meet fellow writers, check out a Meetup.

3. Take initiative! Do things! Invite people to do stuff!

So now you’ve found some awesome humans you’d like to befriend. So do something about it. Because I’m a weirdo, when I find someone I’d like to befriend, I literally announce to them “We’re going to be friends, I hope you know.” 99% of the time this is met with a high five and a new friendship.

Other things that work: friending someone on Facebook with a note about how you enjoyed chatting with them/sharing resources/whatever. And when an event comes up that you think they’d enjoy (cough internet cat film festival cough) invite them to join you and your other friends.

4. Don’t expect one person to meet all your needs

Just like you can’t expect your romantic partner to meet every single need you’ll ever have, you can’t expect that from your friends, either.

You’ll have friends who are great for a night out on the town but not so great for heart to hearts. You’ll have friends who totally understand your wanderlust but not your professional ambitions. You’ll have buddies who can help you work through relationship struggles but don’t really get single girl life.

And that’s totally okay.

3. L-I-S-T-E-N

Have you ever left a happy hour and belatedly realized that you have no idea what your friend has been up to in the last few weeks? Because you spent the entire time talking about your job/that bad date/your landlord woes?

Don’t be that friend.

Resist the urge to interrupt and share your story on the same topic. Resist the urge to ‘solve’ your friends’ problems when they really just want to vent. (ahem, note to self). Make sure you ask them about what’s going on in their lives and follow up on things they told you about the last time you saw them.

6. Put effort into maintaining your friendships + showing your friends you love ’em

I don’t know about you, but I put a lot of work into my romantic partnership – daily texts or calls, big surprises, little gifts I know he’ll like. And while I do some of that for my friends, I don’t do nearly as much. What if we made a collective effort to be better at that? What if we were better about sending ‘thinking about you!’ text to our friends and telling them what we loved about them?

To paraphrase Gandhi, you need to be the change you want to see in your relationships.

7. Get out of friendships that are toxic or bring you down

Does That One Friend constantly bring you down? Is she making choices and living in a way you don’t respect? Do they make snarky comments about your job/partner/clothes/weight? You get to choose the people you surround yourself with and if someone hurts you or doesn’t respect you, you don’t need to have them in your life.

If someone isn’t hurtful – just draining – you can limit your interactions with them by reaching out less, only seeing them in group settings, or only seeing them when you have somewhere else to be at a specific time.

But if a friendship is truly toxic and you don’t want that person in your life at all, you might have to be a bit more direct. In a perfect world, you’d have this conversation in person, in a private space but I’m sure lots of us are too nervous for that and more inclined towards email.

Here’s a little script I wrote up for you:

Name,

There’s not really an easy way to say this. For the last while, I’ve really been struggling with our friendship. I’m not sure that it’s necessary or beneficial to dig into the who/how/why of this but I think we need to give each other space for a bit.

Of course, it could be beneficial to actually tell your friend what they’re doing that’s causing this distance if you’re interested in working through the issues – but that’s another post entirely.

How have you navigated friendships as an adult? Share your tips or questions in the comments!

15 Comments

Sky

Love this – especially #6. That's something I work hard at, especially now that most of my girlfriends live hours away. Relationships, of whatever nature, take effort. I think a lot of people forget that.

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Allie

Maintaining friendships is definitely something that I have to be very deliberate about, and it took me a while to realize that! It takes effort, and I know I need to remember that.

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Mallory

I need the "other post entirely." I have been struggling with a friendship for awhile now. I thought things were on the up and… They're not.

It's been easy to say I don't need this person in my life, but I can't stop thinking about her and how sad it is that we're not friends anymore. Maybe I want to still be friends, maybe I just want closure.

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Sarah Von Bargen

Oooh, I'm sorry to hear that Mallory. That ish is HARD. I really am working on a 'how to break up with a friend/have hard conversations' post – I hope you'll find it useful. <3

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Laura

I had to have a difficult conversation with a friend about a year ago. I wrote her a long email- only because I knew I'd miss saying some important parts in person. I didn't expect it to go well, but to my surprise, it did! Things were cleared up and our friendship is better than ever.

It definitely wasn't easy writing that letter, and upon reflection I see that part of why I did it were some personal issues I was having at the time. But if I hadn't I would probably still have some resentment towards her, and it wouldn't be a healthy friendship. I really hope it goes well for you. If not, at least you'll know. I find that even it's bad, it's better than uncertainty.

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Gaby

Try CaptainAwkward, she has definitely discussed this on her amazing advice blog before.

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Shireen

I really appreciate how you pointed out that we more often (esp as we get older) put more effort and thought into our romantic relationship–but we don't put that same effort into our relationships with our best girlfriends. Or even our family members! I think every *type* of relationship takes work, effort, and care, and it's a great reminder for us to extend those efforts and positive thoughts to more than just our manfriend relationsihps. Thanks for these useful tips, as usual, Sarah!

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Kyla

Thank you for this list! It really is surprising how difficult it can be to make (and keep!) friends as you get older, move away, make changes, etc. I'm fortunate to have maintained a really good connection with my best friend from high school, even though we now live on opposite coasts, but I continue to struggle with establishing good relationships with people I've just met in my city. One of the more difficult things I've had to deal with relates to No. 7 — it's not easy to let go of toxic or draining friendships, but I know it's really important for my wellbeing. I actually found myself in a situation recently where I randomly met a girl who seemed like she could become a great friend, but after spending some time with her, I realized that I didn't agree with her lifestyle and being around her was actually really draining. I felt bad when I stopped responding to her texts and invitations to hang out, but I couldn't bring myself to spend any more time with her. Part of me feels guilty, but I still feel like I'm lacking good friendships in my life, but I have to remind myself that some relationships aren't worth it if it's going to make me feel terrible.

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Cat at OddlyLovely.com

I think you have a great point about taking initiative. When you're in school, you just kind of fall into friendships. As an adult, you have to reach out to people. Ask the girl you hit it off with at yoga of she wants to grab a coffee. It may feel a little force, but it's so necessary.

Cat
http://oddlylovely.com

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Chrystina Noel

I make an effort to stay in touch with my current friends through Facebook and event-planning. If I have to run an errand I see if a friend wants to come with me. No trip is too small. Also, meeting friends of friends has turned out to be very useful.

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Sydney

How is it possible that all of your advice is so wonderfully fantastic?? Seriously. You have cracked the code! 10 points for Gryffindor!

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Sarah Greesonbach

This post is so, so timely. I just sent one of those emails and it didn't go over well… but now I feel so free and grown up that I know it was the right decision.

We only get so much time to be alive. Spend it on people who appreciate it!

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Laura

What a great guide! I think new friendships are pretty hard to make and keep in your late 20s/30s. I think #1 is particularly important. It never occurred to me to be so deliberate in seeking out friendships, but it makes perfect sense!

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Channing

My issue whenever I try to make new friends is everyone being married or they’re in a relationship or they have kids, which makes it kind of hard to “hang out” when you’re the single one in the equation. Any suggestions for a single person in their late twenties trying to make new friends when their other ones aren’t able to relate to your lifestyle anymore?

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