I don’t know about you, but keeping up with my friends was a lot easier when I could see them every day. It’s definitely true that the older we get, the harder it is to keep up with the people we care about. And with coronavirus limiting in-person interactions, maintaining friendships has been particularly challenging recently.
Still, friendships are important for our well-being and there are countless studies that prove maintaining positive social connections helps us lead happier and healthier lives. Below are some strategies you can use that will hopefully encourage you to do just that.
Examine your own life
This might sound harsh, but it’s important to normalize the fact that not all friendships are meant to last forever (and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing).
Maybe you no longer have much in common with your childhood friends or you recently moved several hours away from your hometown. Or maybe you’ve experienced that, over time, you just gradually drifted apart from someone you used to be close with. This happens to everyone and it’s a natural part of life.
Robin Dunbar is a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford, and his research is focused on the mechanisms that uphold social bonding.
Dunbar argues that, despite being able to have hundreds of friends on Facebook, people typically have 150 people in their social network and an average inner core of five intimate friends. Our brains can only hold so many friends at once! He also notes that if we are not intentional with those intimate friendships through conversation, they will decay.
Since we cannot maintain as many intimate friendships as we might think, examine which friends in your life are truly important to you and be intentional about working on those connections through face-to-face conversation. If an in-person conversation is impossible, use apps like FaceTime or HouseParty to feel like you’re in the room with them.
Learn how they best feel cared for
You may have heard of the book The 5 Love Languages. It was written by Gary Chapman as a resource to better understand how someone prefers to express and receive love. The five love languages are: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch.
This idea can be applied to friendships, but keep in mind it works best when both people understand each other’s love language and puts it into practice. Text them and let them know how proud you are of them (words of affirmation). Make them a coffee (acts of service). Send them a care package for no particular reason (receiving gifts). Spend all Saturday watching their favorite new show (quality time). Give them a big hug whenever you see them (physical touch).
Take the free quiz so you each know how to best make the other person feel cared for and appreciated.
Set aside time every single week to have a meaningful conversation
Sometimes it can feel like our lives are too busy to set aside time for our friends. But you likely have time to have one meaningful conversation (at least 30 minutes) with one friend every week.
How much time do you spend scrolling social media or watching television? Even putting your friend on speaker while you make your bed or do your hair in the morning is better than nothing! Meaningful conversation helps keep those good friendships close.
As reported in this New York Times story, Psychologist Matthias Mehl from the University of Arizona conducted a study on the correlation between happiness and deep conversation.
The study involved 79 college students (men and women) who agreed to keep a recording device on them throughout the course of a day.
Researchers then examined the tapes and classified each conversation into small or practical talk, like chatting about the weather or asking when an assignment is due, and more meaningful discussions.
What they found was that the self-reported happiest person in the study had twice as many deep conversations and only one-third of the amount of small talk as the self-reported unhappiest person.
If you have five best friends and you have a meaningful conversation with one of them every week, you’ll be speaking to them on average once a month—that’s definitely doable!
Be honest and communicate expectations
You might not be able to hang out with your friend as much as they want. Or maybe you can’t afford to take that girls’ graduation trip. If you’re going through a particularly difficult or stressful time, leaning on a friend for support may help—that’s what friends are for—but don’t feel bad if some weeks you just need to focus on yourself.
Be honest with your friends and communicate where you’re at and what they can expect from you. Make realistic plans and follow through. Offer to host everyone at your place for a movie night if you can’t make the girls’ trip. If it’s a long-distance friendship, set a date for the next time you’ll catch up or see each other in person.
Once you figure out which friends are the most important to you and work hard to show how much they mean to you through small gestures, communication, and honesty, the right people will stay in your life to love and support you. And that’s something to be grateful for.