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Loneliness.

Sometimes you feel it in the pit of your stomach, other times it creeps up like an ache in your soul. It can sometimes feel too much like a part of you – a pain that has no cure.

But pain is merely symptomatic. I believe it reveals a longing for friendship.

Adulthood seems to be the grave where friendships come to die. 

It depends how we look at it. With less free time on our hands, it’s natural for us to be more selective about the people we spend our time with. 

But if we understand why we’re investing in friendships, then adulthood doesn’t have to be a grave for the friendships we do care about.

Friendships becomes more important to our health and happiness as we age, concluded William Chopik, Assistant Professor of psychology at Michigan State University, after conducting two studies involving 278,534 people, on relational values, social support and wellbeing.

Friendship is a function of love. Besides wondering who’ll care about us, we also need to ask ourselves who will we care for? Who will we remember to cheer on when they are starting a new job? Who will we check in on to see if they are doing okay? Who will we love so they know they are loved?

Friendship is a garden we need to tend to

Friendship is also a function of space and time. For friendship to be real and to flourish, we have to create space and make time for it. It starts with asking ourselves this question: What kind of friend do I want to be?

We make space for the people we treasure by remembering them and giving them access to our lives.

A friendship takes up space because it is a shared universe made up of memories, conversations, laughter, and the remembering of each other’s fears and dreams. Support is the glue that holds it all together.

But friendship is also a space where mistakes and misunderstandings arise. I don’t suppose there are perfect friends – who never say a wrong word – but friends who forgive are the next closest thing.

“All friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness. Without tolerance and mercy all friendships die.” – David Whyte

Forgiveness allows a friendship to continue to grow.

A “spacious” friendship, one that gives room for each other to change and grow, is a balm for the soul and creates a safe place for people to be understood, loved and held.

Friendship is a garden we need to tend to – bring flowers, sunshine, and healing words as often as possible. We might be able to survive on our own, but we would do well with others around us.

Dr Andrea Bonior, author of The Friendship Fix says, “We don’t have to go out and spend every minute of every day with a rotating cast of friends.”

We don’t have to launch into an overdrive.

If you feel like you’ve been missing out on people that you care about, start somewhere. Think of one, two or three people who you care about – initiate conversation, and get to know how they are doing.

I’ve found that the practice of “checking in” on my friends once in a while works for me.

It could be as simple as sending someone a funny gif or a cute sticker to let them know you thought of them. It could be as simple as asking a honest question like, “How has life been for you?”

If we really mean to catch up with someone, we’ll make it happen.

Take photos if you see something that reminds you of a friend, send a link to a story you think they might enjoy – ask them out for a meal when you can.

A good way to ensure “let’s catch up” happens is to whip out your phones and look at your calendars immediately when you say that to a friend – a thought becomes real when you put it into your calendar.

If we really mean to catch up with someone, we’ll make it happen. As our friendships grows, put some effort into understanding how our friends feel supported. Some of us have friends that are more “low maintenance” than others, but don’t take it for granted.

Take time to listen to one another speak about the things on their hearts.

That’s what really grows a friendship.
Time tests all friendships.

Some friendships don’t last quite as long as others, or follow the trajectory we expect.

David Whyte says that friendship is the privilege to have walked with someone, and “sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.”

Some friends are seasonal while others last the distance. Being a friend is first a matter of identity before it is responsibility. If we don’t first see ourselves as a friend, we’ll weigh ourselves down by the “work” that we have to do to service friendships and maintain relationships.

“Friendships help us stave off loneliness but are often harder to maintain across the lifespan,” says Chopik. “If a friendship has survived the test of time, you know it must be a good one — a person you turn to for help and advice often and a person you wanted in your life.”

Some friends are seasonal while others last the distance.

Apart from just being an antidote to loneliness, learning to be a friend teaches us to ask an important life question: How can I be a blessing to this person?

I ask myself this question when I catch myself wondering if a friendship is “worth it” or if someone doesn’t seem to care very much about the friendship. When I begin with this question, I find the friendship terrain easier to navigate, and disappointment doesn’t seem to find me that easily.

We can’t invest our time and energy in everyone, but we can always ask ourselves: How can I be a blessing to this person?

It’s wonderful when people reciprocate and precious friendships are developed in the process.

But when that doesn’t happen, we can take comfort in knowing that at least we’ve been a blessing to someone.

About the author

Fiona Teh

Fiona is low-key hilarious, a dog person, and she loves a good chat with strangers – particularly at Yakun. She also believes that everyone should know that they are absolutely worthy of love.