Living Lightly

Take Time for Friendship


While most of the year I spend talking about practical stuff—how best to care for your body and your house—I always like to pause in January to talk about taking care of the intangible parts of ourselves. In years past, I’ve had a decluttering theme: decluttering identities, decluttering voices, decluttering schedules. All about removing burdensome things that are toxic to our lives in one way or the other.

But this year, my thoughts have been on something to add in. Something that will help shoulder every burden. And so I’m talking about Friendship.

The hardest thing in the world to make is old friends. I heard that somewhere. The thought reminds me of the proverb about trees: The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.

Here’s the thing. It’s great to have old friends with long histories and so many memories that you can fill hours of conversation with “remember whens”. But if you don’t have that, then the next best thing is today.

Today is a fantastic day to start a friendship.

4 a.m. friends

Perhaps you might say, “I’ve got friends! See my contact list in my phone? My Facebook followers? My Instagram followers?” (I think I just seriously dated myself with the sites I mentioned.)

Let me put those friends to the test. If you had an emergency at 4 a.m., could you call one of them? Could you call them and say, “I’m heading to the hospital, I need you to watch my kids.” And know that they would? Recently this wasn’t a hypothetical situation for me. (A combo of dog issues and dehydration – all good now.)

It was Marlene Dietrich who said, “It is the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter.” Everyone needs 4 a.m. friends.

But beyond the friends we need in a crisis, friendship brings an unquestionable richness to life. I’ve heard it said that friends multiply joy and divide sorrows. Friends make the mundane marvelous. Friends help us turn ridiculous situations into hilarious anecdotes. Friends get us out of our own heads and give us perspective. Friends certainly help us relax and laugh, which is my fifth tenet of better skin health as well as better mental, emotional, and overall physical well-being.

What does friendship take?

I will not hide from the fact that friendship has a cost. It takes some expenditure on our part, and I’m not talking about money. There’s a different kind of currency, but it’s an investment whose returns can’t be duplicated in any other way. No amount of money can purchase the benefit we get from friendship.

Friendship takes time. Perhaps it can replace some mindless activity, and the payoff is a worthwhileness added to life.

Friendship takes risk. It takes putting yourself out there. Opening yourself up. But the payoff is joy.

Friendship takes vigilance. Just like anything that you want to grow, it takes attention and cultivating. But the payoff is companionship.

Friendship takes a change of habit. Doing different things—making a call, going somewhere—instead of sticking to a routine. The payoff is a new spark to life.

Where to find friends

I’ll suggest there are three streams of people that can become today’s friends: old friends that you’ve lost touch with, acquaintances or coworkers that you haven’t yet engaged with personally, and complete strangers.

For inspiration, let me tell you about how a few of my friendships started.

First there’s Stephanie. (36 years and counting) I met Stephanie the first week of 7th grade, which for us was the first year of junior high school. At lunch, I noticed her sitting on a bench with her nose in a book. Since I like books too, I went and sat near her and tried to make conversation. She gave me monosyllables and kept reading. I told her, “You know, you’re being kind of rude.” (The irony was lost on me.) She looked up, and our friendship began.

Then there’s Heather. (28 years and counting) I first saw Heather on the campus bus at Duke at the beginning of our sophomore year. Though I remember we were travelling from East Campus to West and that she had her hair in two French braids, I can’t remember the conversation, but by the end of that year, I practically lived in her dorm room. (My dorm was one year shy from being condemned, so her floor was far preferable.) She eventually was Maid of Honor at my wedding and I just talked with her this morning.

A couple life stages later came B.B. (12 years and counting) Maybe the most unlikely beginning of all: we were set up by our moms. Or to be more accurate, by my mom and her mother-in-law. B.B. got really lost driving to my house that first time (it’s not THAT far out into the country) and then she left about 15 minutes after arriving because her kids couldn’t miss their naps. At the time that sounded like a “I need to organize my sock drawer” type brush-off, but now that I’ve known her for years, I’m well aware of how inviolate naptime was. 

Shortly after that was Vicki. (11 years and counting) I was called in for a parent conference by my oldest’s second grade teacher. My son would not stop trying to pick up (literally, not relationally) a classmate. No idea why. A few weeks later I was hosting a playdate for moms in my MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group and B.B. invited another mom from her daughter’s preschool class. Turned out B.B. couldn’t make it to the playdate (perhaps her kids were napping?), but this other mom showed up anyway. I still remember opening my front door and seeing Vicki and hearing her last name as she introduced herself, a name you wouldn’t miss. I knew exactly where I’d heard it before and whose mom she was. And our friendship went from there.

And then one of my most recent friendships with La-Rene. (Starting and counting) La-Rene is a co-worker at Dr. Bronner’s. The first meeting we sat in together was about Sal Suds. There have been many others over several years. Our interactions were cordial and amiable, but nothing beyond the workplace. To be clear, that’s an acquaintanceship, albeit a pleasant one, but that’s not a friendship. And then she asked me out for coffee.

A junior high lunch bench. A bus. A set up by our moms. Elementary school discipline. A mundane work meeting.

You never know where your friends-to-be are lurking. And the first contact is not nearly so important as what comes next. Responding to a text, reaching out to set up a coffee or agreeing to their suggestion to meet up. Saying yes.

Too busy for friendship?

When I write for you here, I write for myself. I’ve been prone to think that I don’t have time to be social. I don’t have time to hang out with friends. Life is too busy. Friendship is a luxury. I’ll get around to that later when things slow down. Ha! Like that ever happens.

I recently was head over heels in a professional project that took just about everything I had to give. (More on that in a couple months.) I prided myself that I still maintained family dinner time and attended all family activities and my children’s events.

But what I was not around for was the down time, what my family calls Zero Time. The empty unscheduled time. I didn’t have any Zero Time. Evenings, weekends, I kept working. And I thought since there was nothing scheduled going on, what did it matter if I was off buried in my computer?

Now that I’ve emerged, I can see the cost. It’s in those down times, those empty unscheduled times that a lot of connecting happens. There certainly was some disconnection that needed repair.

Now this was with my family, the people I live with, the people that I don’t need to make extensive arrangements to see. If it was this hard to find time to connect with the people under my roof, you can imagine how much I wasn’t connecting with people who lived elsewhere. For nearly a year, I shoved time with friends into the category of Unnecessary Luxury. This was a mistake and I felt precarious afterwards—like life had lost its flavor and its levity and it might always stay that way.

Fortunately, my friends have waited for me, but it is taking intentional effort on my part to change the habits I built over the past year plus, to reincorporate time with friends back into my life.

Say yes to friendship! This pic (clearly before phone cameras got good) was when I said yes to heading out to a Paint & Sip class with friends from a Mom group. I am not a painter, but I definitely made fun memories with my friends.

How to make friends

So here’s a different “How To” than what I usually provide. Instead of getting out your measuring cups and spray bottles, I want you to get out your phones. Yep, right now.

Issue an invitation to coffee, to a walk, to attending an event.

Nothing big. No need to impress anyone. Don’t overwhelm yourself. If you’re getting together for dinner, soup and toast will do. (I love soup and toast.)

Open up your contacts. Tap the number. Write the message, “Hey, do you want to grab coffee?” “It’s been a while – how about dinner?” “I’ve been meaning to reconnect, but don’t have a lot of free time. Want to join me for a walk/run/surf/yoga class?” There’s a fair chance they’ve been feeling the same disconnection. Your text will make their day.

What if you don’t have any prospects amongst your contacts? You’ll need to stick your nose in a bunch of places. Think of it as a treasure hunt. You might not look in the right places at first. After all, the best treasure hunts aren’t easy.

Take a risk. Go somewhere new. Be willing to be the newbie. You’ll need to if you’re not finding friends in your current hang outs. See a flyer tacked on the board of your local coffee shop about a dog walking party or a running group? Go join it. An art show? Check it out. A vintage car show? A beekeeping group? An auto repair or glass blowing or dance class? See what it’s all about.

Even in my little country town, there are far more groups that interest me than I have time for. There’s a gardening club and a hiking club and a stargazing club and a friends of the library group and a general women’s group. I bet in your community there is this, too. You might have friends-to-be there just waiting to be met.

When you go, be available. Look available. Yes, that means what you think it means. Put down the invisible force shield otherwise known as your phone. Look up. If you have kids that you’re dropping off for an activity, stick around to be sociable with the other parents. Don’t rush off in the name of efficiency to squeeze in an errand or two. I value efficiency as much as the next person, but many of the best things in life are not efficient.

And it’s ok to try people out and it’s ok to decide they’re not going to be a close friend. Not every float in the parade is your favorite, but you can still smile and wave and be glad for atmosphere. Also, I’m not talking about racking up a giant group of friends. I’m a “few and deep” sort of friend person, but it does not matter whether you thrive on big or small groups. Just make them happen.

But Lisa, I really don’t have time

If you have “too much to do” then plan your time with friends together to do them – grocery shopping, cooking a bunch of freezer meals, going to the hardware store for that toilet seat you’ve been needing. (Oh I have tons of great ideas like this, but I really have done all of these things with friends.) Even the most mundane of tasks, like cleaning your house, can be done together. I realize showing your mess to someone takes a lot of trust, but maybe planting a garden or exercising together or decorating for a holiday is a good place to start.

Prior to friendship, there’s friendliness

Here’s a funny thing. I’ll proffer that random positive interactions with strangers can do more to make us think positively about humanity than the interactions we have with those we know. I don’t have any statistics on this, but it seems to me that positive interactions with strangers who have no stake in being kind or friendly, no relationship to maintain or other obligation, can be more authentic and in their way, more cheering.

David Sax, writing in The New York Times said, “Engagement with strangers is at the core of our social contract. . . strangers connect us to the community, teach us empathy, build civility and are full of surprise and potentially wonder.”

Even if nothing more comes of the interaction, no future friendship or crossing of paths, there is value in friendly encounters with complete strangers. You have the ability to restore someone’s faith in humanity. You might even restore your own.

I was recently in New York City for the first time as a tourist. My family spent three full days traipsing up and down Manhattan trying to take it all in. Among many memories I took away, I was struck by how friendly everyone was. I’ve travelled a good bit, and I don’t think I’ve ever particularly noticed that before. All sorts of people whose names I will never know and likely will never see again and wouldn’t recognize if I did had a friendly greeting. It cast such a lovely veneer over our days. I came away with such a positive view of humanity in general and New York City in particular. I don’t want to live in New York—I like my country skies and silences too much—but I think fondly of the people there. If you are one of them, or could have been, thank you. 

And you never know—that smile and greeting as you pass, that shared chuckle over some silly happenstance on the subway, that small talk in the line at the store, that compliment to the dog owner waiting to cross the street—could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Many a good friendship has begun at odd moments.

In closing

Here’s one of my most favorite quotes: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’” C.S. Lewis

We’re all a little odd, but in this big and beautiful world, there’s bound to be someone out there who’s the same kind of odd and that’s a wonderful thing. This year, I am being intentional about reaching out to friends and saying yes.  

I would so love to hear stories of friendships. Long friendships, new friendships, friendships begun in unexpected ways. Would you share a story in the comments below?

Further reading

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Ute says:

I like walking in the early morning in a park next to a lake. I regularly meet strangers, who have the same habit. Sometimes we stop for some minutes to chat. The cooking recipe I got from an Italian immigrant is delicious. I admire the elderly lady, who goes swimming during the whole year, even in freezing cold water. After a while, some of these strangers started sharing stories of happiness, grief and hope. And two of them have become my friends. Life is a miracle :-)

Lisa Bronner says:

Beautiful, Ute! Thank you for sharing. People are infinitely interesting and everyone has a story worth hearing.

JS says:

What a great reminder about maintaining life in friendships! Thank you and you are so right that when life gets hectic, friendships suffer on a list of priorities. I will also make connecting with others one to watchin 2023

About Lisa Bronner

My grandfather was Dr. Bronner, my family makes soap, and I share ways to use it plus tips on greener living.

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