Making new friends as an adult is a lot more difficult than it was as a kid. I remember walking up to kids on the playground and saying, “Wanna be my friend?” and hearing “Sure” then the following conversation required no words, just pure, uninhibited play. Over time, meals were shared, sleepovers were had, notes were passed, and giggles were muffled in the back of the classroom. The process of making and becoming a friend was pretty simple then. The only people who didn’t have friends were the bullies, or the people who just were not nice. (I am looking at you, girl-who-shall-remain-nameless who stabbed me in the shin with a pencil in 6th grade and yes, the lead is still in there.)
We still carry on like this as adults in some ways, but the stakes are higher. On the playground, no one was afraid of having their identity stolen or their child abducted or being catfished or running the risk of having yet another one night stand. As adults, we realize that we only have so much capacity for work and health and relationships, and really good friendships require time and energy and emotional capital. There are microwave relationships – fast, cheap, and easy – which are no less valuable but they come and go quickly, and rarely last more than a year or through a move. Then there are crockpot relationships – slow, simmering, full of flavor, and difficult to rush – and these are the real deals. They take time to find and grow, and they tend to last through many life transitions, heartaches, joys, and circumstances.
I have lived in four cities in the same number of states over the last 10 years, which means I have met a lot of people and experienced the gifts and curses of both microwave and crockpot relationships. There are friendships that I thought would last, and have sadly fizzled out. There are friendships that seemed odd at first and are now still very much in tact and growing. Then there are the truer, more difficult friendships that have weathered conflict and hurt and betrayal, yet the ties still bind.
A few years ago, when I started working at Summit Church in Orlando, I spotted a gal around my age on the other side of the room who intrigued me. I didn’t know her name for the longest time, but I found myself being drawn to her and wanting to know her more. In some ways, she seemed to be a lot like me, but in other ways I found myself wondering how she could be so beautiful, engaging, non-threatening, and kind all at the same time. Over the course of a few months, I found out her name was Ashley and that she worked for the church, just at a different campus location. I learned that she was a wife and a mom and that she was really good at her job overseeing the strategic leadership of youth ministries. From afar I ascertained that she had a killer sense of personal style, that her hair always looked amazing, and that she rocked her womanly curves with the fierceness of Queen Bey.
I wanted to get to know this person better. But how do you do that as an adult? “Hey, um, I am Lindsey and I think you’re cool. Wanna get a glass of wine and be friends maybe?” That may sound fine in my head, but spoken out loud it just seems creepy. It wasn’t until Ashley and I showed up to a staff Christmas party both completely decked out in ridiculously festive attire that I knew I could risk the first step of becoming friends.
Over the next several months, Ashley proceeded to pursue me and get to know me, but I failed to follow through on our plans for one reason or another. I started to feel the guilt and shame of letting yet another person down because I just didn’t know how to say, “No”, and I was, once again, completely burned out and working too much. At the point where some people just move on, which is totally understandable, Ashley gently persisted and just said to let her know when I wanted to spend time together. Most of our conversations occurred at work or in between meetings, but over time I found myself drawn to her kindness and wisdom, and wanted to know her more.
Ashley doesn’t work on Fridays, so she has extended an open invitation to me to join her and her beautiful daughter on Friday mornings for coffee and conversation. I missed our first date, and then became wrapped up in all the chaos of our wedding, but this past Friday I finally made it over to her house with nothing in my hands but a desire to get to know someone and her family.
I am so glad I followed through. We are still getting to know each other, but my time with Ashley is a great example of what it looks like to make friends as adults. It is messy, and non-linear, and awkward, and difficult but it is so worth it. Over the course of two hours, Ashley and I shared coffee and stories and heartaches and joys and Mary Poppins lyrics and so much more. If you had been watching from the kitchen window (which would be very questionable), you would just see two women chatting while a German Shepherd and a three-year-old danced around the kitchen.
What was actually happening though, was life. We were made for times like the one I am sharing with you now. We were all made for relationship. And this isn’t a counselor thing. This is a human thing. Several years ago, researchers conducted a study called “Rat Park” where two groups of rats were placed in different settings and their behaviors were studied over time. The first group lived in “Rat Park”, an enclosed space filled with other rats, water and food, toys, wheels, and plenty of space for rats to just be rats. They made rat friends, went on rat dates, made rat babies, and ate and drank well. The rats in the second group were placed in isolation. They weren’t able to play with other rats. Both groups of rats were given free access to water laced with heroin as well. The rats in Rat Park tasted the drug-laced water, but chose the clean water for regular consumption as they lived their little rat lives. The isolated rats returned to the heroin water so often that they became addicted.
Now, I have read the studies debunking the Rat Park research and I get it. There are MANY gaps between rat addicts and human addicts. The real world is messy and unpredictable and at the end of the day, we are not rats.
But I still think there is something to be learned and gained from Rat Park, and decades of research when it comes to mental health issues, addiction, and self harm or suicide. People who are in healthy relationships live healthier lives. People who live in isolation struggle with life. Now, there are people who are constantly surrounded by people who still live in isolation. And there are people who only have one or two close friends who are actually in really healthy relationships. This is not about quantity.
You and I were made to relate. Pick up any mental or physical health study and you will find that our brains are wired to relate to other brains. Our bodies our wired to interact with other bodies. We were made for this, for relationship.
So what do healthy relationships look like? Ashley has painted a pretty good picture of this for me. No two relationships look the same, first of all. The good ones are usually odd and unpredictable and happen unexpectedly. Good relationships involved conflict and healing and honesty and vulnerability and joy and pain and laughter and tears. According to Cornelius Plantinga, author of Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, healthy people in relationships “enjoy the freedom that is born in contentment, which is in turn, owed to a sturdy and persistent discipline of desire. Healthy people deliberately note, for instance, how many material goods they can do without and then take extra pleasure in the simple and enduring ones they possess. They make it their goal, most of the time, to eat and drink only enough to relieve hunger and thirst, not to sate themselves. They integrate their sexual desire into a committed relationship, bonded by vows and trust.”
So how do these qualities apply to friendship? A good friend will celebrate with you when you are making healthy choices, and hold you accountable when you are not, and remind you that you were made for something more when you are living like you are less-than. I am very thankful to have a handful of people in my life to do this for me, and the healthier I become, the faster these healthy relationships tend to grow and flourish.
I encourage you to do this hard thing; to make a friend and be a friend. It isn’t easy, but you and I were made for this.