We all have the habit of falling into the cycle of work and sleep and forgetting to respond to a friend’s text or missing an important date in their lives. But it’s important to maintain the friendships we have; after all, there’s no shortage of studies that suggest that friendship is good for our well-being and might even extend our life expectancy.
Given just how hard it is to make new friends as an adult, here’s how to strengthen the friendships you already have.
If you’re flaky, the kind of person who is constantly unwilling to commit to things, it’s time you change that. For one, it’s easy for a friend to interpret that unwillingness to make plans as “I’m not interested in seeing you”, even if that’s untrue. (If it is true, well, that’s another story.)
Obviously, the easiest way to combat this attitude is to accept any invitations from friends. The other solution is to initiate plans more often, so your friend doesn’t get the impression you’re avoiding them.
You should initiate specific plans — a time, a date and a place — so you’re not just sending vague smoke signals that you want to meet up. Better yet, make it a regular weekly or monthly hangout if you can, so you’ll it becomes part of your regular routine.
And if you cancel the plans for whatever reason, you’ll need to be the one to initiate plans next time; barring any emergency, it’s never cool to cancel last-minute. Regardless, staying in touch is important, even if it’s just a casual text, too.
Make plans on their terms
This brings us to another important tip: Be willing to make plans that don’t accommodate your needs only. When you meet a friend, decide on a time and a place that’s convenient for them (and not around the block from your apartment). It’s a simple gesture that shows you care for their needs, too.
For this reason, I try to make plans that are convenient for my friends, whether it’s trekking a 45-minute train ride or choosing a restaurant close to their work.
Remember important dates
Are you the kind of friend who doesn’t wish another friend happy birthday until a week after it’s passed? It happens, though that’s an especially criminal example. As C8H10N4O2xlife suggests on a recent Reddit thread (and we’ve written about before), don’t forget those important dates, such as birthdays or other important events in your friends’ lives.
“Often times I actually make calendar reminders for any of the big things those 4-6 people mention — family trips, concerts they’re looking forward to, deadlines they’re worried about,” they wrote. “It might be weird to do for people you’re not super close with… but it helps me remember to be involved with those 4-6 and they seem to really appreciate it.”
When the date comes up, send them a simple text and ask how it’s going — these little gestures are actually meaningful. You show you’re thinking of your friend, that when they’re not around, they’re still on your mind.
Put down the phone
If you want to be a better friend, you’ll have to learn how to listen better, too. (For most of us, this might be easier said than done.) As Fast Company writes, sometimes, we might have a tendency to listen because we’re being polite, not because we’re genuinely curious.
“If we ever finish a conversation and learned nothing surprising, we weren’t really listening,” Hal Gregersen, executive director of the MIT Leadership Center, told Fast Company.
Engaging without having an agenda is key; listen without judgement and interruption. Wait until they’ve finished a story and ask questions (genuine ones, of course).
Give up the bad friends
In order to be a good friend, you should have friends who are good to you, too. I have a number of flakier friends who change plans several times before we meet up or show up an hour late.
Over time, I learned it wasn’t always worth it to end up in a week-long exchange via text when I knew they would inevitably alter or cancel plans altogether. And since my early 20s, I’ve whittled down my friendships to three good friends I can count on.
In other words, part of being a good friend is learning when to say no to some friends and devoting your time and effort to others. You don’t have to keep in touch with absolutely every friend from university or colleague you liked — that’s what Facebook’s for, after all — so recognise those who matter to you most.