Thoughts on Building Friendships
C.S. Lewis famously said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: "What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . ."”
But, I’d like to argue with Mr. Lewis a little bit, friendship may be born when one person says to another “What! You too?” But it will quickly die if it isn’t followed by an invitation and a “Yes”.
“Will you help me with this project?” “Yes.”
“Would you like to come over for dinner this week?” “Yes.”
“Will you go to this event with me?” “Yes.”
“Would you like to go to coffee tomorrow?” “Yes.”
These are the statements that really make a friendship. Because in order for a friendship to be developed and to grow you must have more than just shared interests and common ground (as Lewis supposes), you must have time. Lots and lots of time together. In fact I would argue that spending lots of time together can often cause friendship to spring up even where there isn’t a lot of common ground, or shared interests.
I have been thinking about the importance of time to relationship for a long time now and as we begin to settle into our life in a new city I find myself again contemplating the question, “How do you make friends? What does it take for two people to become close?” I agree with Lewis that shared interest is a good starting place, but I truly think it takes more than that.
We have had seasons of our lives where we have met people who we had shared interests with, people we got along well with and wanted to get to know more, and haven’t. I blame the lack of development in those friendships entirely on time. These were people we would see maybe once every six weeks, or less. Or they were people we would only see in passing at church. That isn’t enough time for a true friendship to form.
For me our time in Seattle was filled with many of these types of relationships. And it’s no wonder that I felt isolated there.
We have also had seasons when we have seen the same people multiple times a week. Prague was like that for us.
I often compare my friendships in Prague with my friendships in Seattle. Perhaps it is an unfair comparison, but I make it none the less, because I think it’s in comparing these two very different experiences of making friends that I can hopefully learn how to make friends in the future - something I’m very interested in, but not terribly good at.
I often comment about how quickly friendships were started in Prague - it didn’t take long to find a “What! You too?” moment with a group of expats. The type of person who would pick up and move overseas often already is a bit of a kindred spirit for me just for the very fact that they would do that. When you live in a foreign country and meet someone else who knows your home town, or grew up watching the same movie as you, or understands your struggles with the foreign culture, well, “What! You too?” moments are quick to come by.
It was easier to find common ground in Prague, but it was not all that difficult to find common ground in Seattle. The big difference was really time. In Prague we often saw our friends multiple times a week. We would see them at church. We would have them over for dinner. We would go grocery shopping together. We would have community group together. We would go to their house for lunch. We would go antiquing together. And that all in one week! Perhaps that is a little bit of an exaggeration, but there were weeks like that. And even on a quieter week it was not uncommon for us to see the same couple two or three times a week at various events or gatherings.
In Seattle that was never the case. The only people we saw even one day a week (apart from Bryan’s family who we saw multiple times a week) were the people in our small group. Often in Seattle I would talk with someone and we would say, “We should get together sometime”, but these statements were always vague, and rarely a direct invitation. This meant that friendships did start there, but they developed at snail speed. That doesn’t exactly help a relationship develop. In fact it can come pretty close to killing it.
I’m starting to think that time might be even more important for the development of a deep and lasting friendship than shared ground.
But, time is a rare commodity in modern America. Especially for mothers.
Our time is already portioned out to our children and our husbands. What is left might be divided between our extended family (if they are in the area), already established friendships, church, work, and other responsibilities. Somehow this seems to be at it’s worst in our thirties, doesn’t it? Woman I know in my age group (myself included) have more responsibilities than they can safely juggle and on top of it all we often try (and rightfully so) to pursue some sort of fulfilling work, or personal goals for ourselves. All of this can be good, but it leaves little time for establishing and growing new friendships.
One of the things that made it so easy to make friends with other expats in Prague and spend large quantities of time together was that most of us didn’t have extended family in the area and we didn’t have already established friendships. Sure some of us still had husbands and kids competing for our time, but we didn’t have quite as many people competing for it.
Here, I find it harder. I may meet a woman here and share a “What? You too!” moment with her, but it is likely that she already has lots of friendships that fulfill her need for community in the area. It is likely that she already has a schedule that is full of things pushing and pulling for her attention and time. It is not likely that we will be spending large amounts of time together every single week.
And so friendships grow slowly. What may start with a shared moment of connection, might sit dormant for weeks or even months, before another shared moment occurs. Instead of multiple conversations happening in a weeks span, connections come one at a time, spread out over the course of a year. I am starting to think that in order to develop friendships as a mom in her thirties here in my own country I have to plan on it taking years before I have spent enough time with someone for my natural awkwardness to not feel so awkward anymore. Years before I am comfortable enough with someone to call them up in tears over some little inconsequential drama, or allow the goofy mischievous side of me to come out, or ask them for a favor without a tinge of guilt.
Perhaps it is just easiest to continue on with the friendships that are already established? Those that have already had time put into them. But, although I love those friendships and want to hold on tightly to them, I am also eager to build new friendships. How much would I miss out on if I don’t? What new points of view would I loose? What new experiences would I miss? What aspects of community would I lack?
If time is what it takes to develop relationships than I want to be a person who gives people my time. I don’t want my time to be eaten up by the mundane little details of life. I don’t want it to be eaten up even by appointments and errands. I want it to be spent in relationship. I want it to be spent in community.
So, if I call you up and invite you to come to the pediatrician with me or go grocery shopping with me, you now know why! Ha! Seriously, though I want to have good friendships and I want to be a good friend to others. And I believe that time is one of the (if not the most) important elements to developing friendships. So, I’m gonna put in the time. I’m not going to say “let’s get together sometime”. I’m going to invite you over and I’m going to say “yes” when you invite me. Because community is worth it. Friendship is worth it. And our time is too short and fleeting to spend it out of relationship with other people.
Rejoicing in the journey,