I was overwhelmed by the love and support for my last article, It’s Time to Stop being Friendly and start being a Friend. My heart broke for a number of people who told me about their loneliness and how starved for friendship they feel. I was equally surprised and impressed with the many people who said they were willing to be better and had resolved to change. I had so many private messages, comments, questions, and emails about this topic, I thought I would share a few more thoughts.
Q: It isn’t realistic to think that I can be best friends with everyone, but I want to be better. Do you have any suggestions?
A: It’s true. Even if our hearts are in the right place, none of us have the emotional energy or time to be everything to everyone, but I do believe we can all be better. My deep regret, that I wrote about in the article, was that I had been prompted on several occasions to be a better friend to this woman, and I was too late. If we feel like we “should” do something, we need to look for ways to make it happen instead of excuses to not follow through.
I also think we can all be better about opening our circles more than we do. If you go to lunch with a few ladies on a regular basis, what about inviting someone new to join you each time? Making a carpool for an activity with the kids? Make sure everyone attending is included. Meeting at the park with the kids? Let as many people know about it as you can. Try to be inclusive every time you do something instead of exclusive. It might change someone’s day or even their life.
Q: I have those feelings all the time to go and help or get to know someone, but I am barely keeping my own life together right now with little kids and pretty much feel like a mess all the time. What can I do about it?
A: I think we need to remember that we don’t need to DO or BRING or BAKE anything to be a friend. When I was lonely, I would have much preferred someone stopping by to say hello than rush in with a dinner and no conversation. When I had little kids, someone joining me outside on my driveway and chatting to help me pass the time meant a lot more than a plate of cookies dropped off on my doorstep. Finding ways to connect with each other doesn’t need to involve a physical offering. If it makes you more comfortable to have something in your hand when you ring a doorbell, buy something inexpensive in bulk (soaps, sanitizers, frozen meals, chocolate) that you can drop off to let someone know you are thinking about them or care. Stop on your way home and pick up lunch for a new mom if making dinner for a family feels like too much. It really doesn’t have to be a big thing. The other day I was feeling a bit down, and I got a text from a neighbor telling me how grateful she was for our friendship. It completely turned my day around.
Q: The neighborhood I moved into is so cliquey. It doesn’t seem like anyone really wants to be friends with me at all. What can I do?
A: First of all, I am so sorry. It is the worst to feel unwanted where you live. I have been there and it is such a lonely feeling. Before you blame everyone else, I want you to consider how much effort you put into BEING a friend. Have you invited anyone to your home for dinner? Have you invited the ladies you think you would enjoy to lunch? Do you participate in neighborhood events? When someone invites you somewhere, do you go? Do you open up when you are with others and share things that will help people feel close to you? Have you volunteered to help them? Are you interested in their lives and their families? Have you found people you have things in common with? It is easy to feel entitled when you are new, like other people should be making the effort, and they should, but they often don’t, so most of your friendships will happen because of your own effort.
If you feel like you really have done all you can to be a friend, then maybe re-evaluate who you are trying to befriend. Maybe you have picked people who truly are too busy right now (caring for an elderly parent, new baby, full-time employment, PTA president, etc.) or maybe you want to be friends with people who truly don’t have any interest in adding you to their circle. But, I know there is someone else who could use and would love your friendship. Look a little harder. Try to be the friend you are looking for to someone else who needs a friend. Go outside your neighborhood, get involved in something that matters to you and try to build friendships there. If none of that works, hold on. Sometimes it really does just take time. The first year in every place I lived was a tough one. Things do change.
Q: Is Utah a harder place to make friends? We have lived a bunch of different places, but it has been so much harder for us to make friends here.
A: This one made me smile because I saw this sentiment over and over again in emails and comments. We spent 13 years outside of Utah and moved back three years ago so I do have experience on both ends. I don’t want to generalize, so I will say sometimes, if you are LDS, Utah can be a harder place to make close friends. I would attribute it to a few different things. Outside of Utah, there are a relatively small number of LDS people, so they tend to band together. It doesn’t matter if you have much in common, are similar ages, or even if you particularly like each other, it is just so nice to have someone who “gets” you that you are fast and close friends.
Most LDS people outside of Utah are there without extended family, so church people become family. They attend baptisms and blessings and host holidays together. For those in Utah, most have “real” family that take up most of their life events and celebrations so friends become less central.
Outside of Utah, without extended family, ward members need each other. If you go into labor at midnight, your mom won’t be there but your neighbor will. If you get sick, your ward members rally around you with meals and childcare. If you are in a bind, you call a friend instead of a sister. Needing each other bonds us like nothing else can. In Utah, most people prefer to rely on family instead of friends, so that closeness takes longer to develop.
And finally, if you move to Utah with older children, life for everyone (including you) is busy and especially busy in Utah because people are often juggling their own children (and a lot of them) plus both sides of extended families, church callings, sports, volunteer opportunities, work, etc. Meshing schedules and finding time to socialize becomes very difficult and sometimes even a hassle. Those who are close have often lived by each other forever and have all kinds of history to draw upon.
So, yes, it can be harder in Utah to find those close friendships, but it is not impossible. However, it will take more time and a little more effort to make it happen.
Q: I want to be better at this, but I am an introvert, content in my own family, and pretty shy. Any suggestions?
A: Being a friend is definitely harder for some than it is for others, but I love that you have the desire. You can start small. If you are at an event, find the person who looks uncomfortable and get to know her. Pop by with a birthday gift and take a few minutes on the porch to get to know someone new. Comment on someone’s social media post or send a text message with a compliment. If you start feeling more comfortable, meet at a park or for lunch and invite a few extra people if you know you might have a hard time keeping the conversation going. Offer to share your talents or teach someone something. On the flip side, ask someone for help with something you are trying to learn like gardening, baking, or home improvement. Sharing an experience or an interest is a great way to start a friendship.
We can all turn over a new leaf. We can all be better, even when it is hard or inconvenient. We can open our circles and our hearts, and make our neighborhoods better, more welcoming places.