From the time you made your first new friend on the playground to that time at the local bar when you met your most recent one, it’s easy to see that times have changed.
Friends are hard to make, and they’re harder than ever to keep.
In preschool, liking purple was enough to be best friends for a few weeks, maybe even a lifetime. Maybe in middle school it was wearing certain brands, or in high school liking certain bands. Then in college, it seems to be that what you don’t like is what binds you with some and separates you from others.
But, after college, things change again….
In your mid-20s and beyond, it’s about nurturing the relationships that you have and helping each other grow and be happy.
Your worldview slowly turns from being me-focused (What am I studying? How do I feel about politics? Who am I?) to a far less-selfish take on things known as other-focused (or at least it should).
A good friend isn’t necessarily just interesting now, he or she is also supportive, active, warm, and friendly. (Or maybe some of you are ahead of the curve and you’ve been finding friends like this all along… I am jealous!).
And suddenly being interesting isn’t enough to be kept around as a friend! To adapt to the new world of friendships, one must start being warm, interested, and friendly. And that comes easier to some than to others, especially if you have developed some bad habits.
Here are two habits to break if you want to be a better friend. Try them out, and see if you don’t get some great results!
Stop Responding Naturally
After college, people are more sensitive about their life choices. Dating, married, single. Big house, small house. Dream job, hourly wage. Regardless of the highs and lows, no one wants to be criticized or told what to do, though I’ve found that for some reason we (especially females) are tuned into judgmental language and comments that aren’t supportive or helpful.
For example, what is your first reaction when a friend shares news? Is it, like me, to judge? To compliment? To criticize?
We all have hidden habits that come out in our language that are affecting our relationships, whether we like it or not. Here are a few examples of what is usually my “natural response” to comments like the following, and how I am learning to speak more kindly:
Friend: I’m moving up the street!
Natural Response: Oh, wow, this is your second move this year. Why would you move so much? That’s not a very stable way to live.
Shoulda Said…. Oh, wow! That’s such an adventure! What are you looking forward to about your new place?
Friend: I know we broke up a month ago, but I just really want to get back together with him, so we did last night!
Natural Response: But he cheated on you! You two are terrible together!
Shoulda Said…. I must admit that’s a surprise! I really hope things work out this time around, because there are things about him that make you really happy.
Friend: I think I’m going vegan.
Natural Response: Seriously? You have awful will-power and you know the town butcher by name!
Shoulda Said…. I bet that will be hard, but you are awesome for giving it a try!
Friend: I bought the new MacBook – come over and check it out!
Natural Response: You know, you still owe me $50 for last month’s cable bill. Why are you buying expensive electronics? And like @#%! I’m going to come over and watch you show me YouTube videos on it!
Shoulda Said…. Congrats! I’ve heard great things about MacBooks. I can’t come check it out now though…. Raincheck? (And then never follow up on that raincheck…)
Friend: His mom is still showing up without giving us notice! It makes me so mad, and he won’t stand up to her!
Natural Response: You need to sit him down and have a conversation right now. He needs to man up and assert your boundaries because you’re his family now! If she stops by uninvited, you should send her home on her way.
Shoulda Said…. Uggggh again!! That must be so stressful for you two. Have you talked to him about it?
At first glance it might seem like it’s about being false-faced and lying about how you really feel. But I promise it isn’t. It’s about stepping back and deciding whether or not you have a right to judge or that it’s appropriate to try and change someone’s mind. It’s about….
Prioritize Your Friend Over Your Opinion
Other people aren’t you (or me). If other people choose to do something stupid, that is their choice.
If other people choose to ignore your friendly advice, or if other people don’t ask for your friendly advice, that’s their choice, too.
And if I make them feel bad about it, then I am the one who is wrong here.
Obviously this is not the case in dangerous or scary decision-making moments – for example, what if she is getting back with an abusive ex? But you still can’t jump on someone and force them to make a different decision.
By first responding with a receptive and open response, you will have a better chance of providing another opinion without turning her off to the sound of your voice.
The key is to ask positive, leading questions, no matter how you feel about the choice. Your first reaction when you hear your friends voice should be something positive, even if your first feeling is something more like oh %@$#, not again.
The time for a quiet conversation about the pros and cons is not for the initial conversation.
If your friend is doing something that could be dangerous or improved, bring it up later and share your concerns in a friendly way, but first do your best to identify with why she might make that choice and point out one thing positive about it.
But don’t expect me to practice what I preach just yet…
This kind of conversation is definitely different than what I am used to, but the more I work it into conversations the more rewarding and responsive those conversations are. I swear!
I am used to being opinionated and argumentative and I am used to that being a good thing. In college it made me interesting and flashy.
But now it makes me a jerk!
And it’s a fast way to lose friends and lose credibility.
What do you think? Is this a good strategy, or am I just telling people not to be honest, haha?