Best way to make new friends is to be a friend
A preteen asked me one of those "there's no easy answer to this one" questions the other day. "How do you make friends?"
I wasn't exactly an expert at making friends when I was her age. In fact, I don't think I really figured it out until I got into my mid-30s. I'm not even that sure I've figured it all out now. But since it was a serious question, it deserved a serious answer, so I thought about it a bit.
It seems to me that the best way to make friends is to be a friend. Now, I know that sounds like something our grandmothers would say (or, at least, mine would), yet I think it captures the essence of making friends.
Friends are people with whom we share experiences, interests, values, etc. They have personalities similar enough to ours that we "fit" together. They genuinely care for us, and know how to show that caring. Friends make their relationships with us a priority; they invest time and energy in our friendships; they are loyal and dependable.
That's quite a list, yet if it makes sense to you, then such a description points to certain things we can do to make friends. To be specific:
1. We can start with focusing our efforts on people we have something in common with. It can be a shared interest or hobby; a shared commitment like a job or club or class; shared beliefs and values; or, most likely, a mix of the above. Such connections are the foundation of a solid friendship.
2. We also want to make friends with people whose personalities mesh with ours. Sure, the differences between people are the spices that make relationships interesting, but too many differences can give us relational indigestion. For example, if you are a born risk taker, then someone who prefers a safe and sedentary life is not likely to be a good friendship prospect.
3. It is important to choose for our potential friends people who are also looking for friends. Not everyone is. It may be that they believe their life is already filled with enough friends. Or they may have a limited capacity for relationships in general because of emotional problems they are struggling with. Or they may just be scared to get close to anyone.
4. We want to cultivate friends who share our understanding of what it means to be friends. True friends spend time together, are loyal, dependable, demonstrate consistent caring and consideration. Not everyone brings this set of expectations to their friendships.
5. Finally, a pointer on how to get a new friendship started. The best way is to be a good listener, an interested companion, and a warm and open person. People almost always gravitate to someone who listens carefully, who asks follow-up questions to show their interest, who expresses warmth and is open to different experiences and perspectives. In other words, to get a friendship going just be an especially good friend.
Making new friends is a task that is part of every stage of our lives. No matter how big or close our families are, no matter how many friends we already have, over the course of a lifetime we will always need new friends.
Mastering the art of making such friends, then, is a job not only for preteens, but for all of us.
• Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of Samaracare Counseling Center in Naperville, Downers Grove, Geneva, and throughout the North Shore. His book "Mix Don't Blend, A Guide to Dating, Engagement and Remarriage With Children" is available online.