A few weeks ago, our family flew back east so that we might visit with relatives while I was a bridesmaid in my best friend’s wedding. She and I have been friends since we were ten years old, and along with her other best friends (one she’s had since infancy and one from college), I was asked to give a joint toast – no small feat with just a few weeks notice and a brain that felt like it was composed of rice pudding.
It wasn’t until I was firmly ensconced at my parents’ house and they were able to take the baby for a few hours that I was able to even get started. I’d had a number of false starts back home in the evenings when my husband was available, but what I really needed was to hide away in my childhood bedroom and reflect. That sort of proposition required the kind of doting only accomplished by new grandparents. Once I’d managed to arrange that, I had only three or four more (very badly written) opening paragraphs before I pulled out a book that I read earlier this summer and began to look at sections I’d highlighted. This passage jumped out at me, and I was on a roll:
We all know women who are friend magnets. People are drawn to them like hummingbirds to nectar. They make new friends with a silky ease and hang on to old ones forever. We may envy their magic, but we can cast the same spell ourselves. It’s simple. Be an intentional friend, one that pays careful attention to a pal’s life and needs. Treat a friendship like the gift that it is. (loc 2415)
This section described my friend to a T, and after reflecting on it for a few minutes, I was able to write the toast I really wanted for her. When I got together with my co-bridesmaids and read their drafts, I realized this section really had been the perfect inspiration – if I hadn’t known better, I would have thought we’d all read it and based our speeches on the very same idea.
Unfortunately, not all of us are friend magnets. Most of us have to work incredibly hard at making and maintaining friendships as adults. It takes a lot of work, and when combined with family, professional obligations, and hobbies, it can be difficult to find the time. I found that after I quit my job and started working from home, it became a hundred percent more important to me to do this. The energy it took was completely worthwhile because without the friends I was making (and keeping) my life would have been very lonely indeed.
Now that I’ve entered the ranks of parenthood, it’s become even more crucial that I have friends both with children and without, and that I have time with those friends both with children present and without. I love my family very much, but it would be cruel to ask them to be everything for me. I crave the confidences of the women who have become my dear friends. I love the laughter of a rowdy dinner party. I get excited to go on a hike (even when accompanied by tiny-legged people who make for a long time walking a very short distance). Healthy friendships make me a more clear-headed person, and I say that as an introvert who also dearly values time alone.
The wonderful thing about Paul’s book is that she not only discusses the importance of such friendships, she also offers a roadmap to finding the kind of people her readers might want as friends. She provides resources for networking (whether professionally, personally, as a parent, via a hobby, etc) and techniques for approaching new people. She also discusses the challenges that may arise both in starting new friendships and maintaining older ones and is open about the potential for failure. Not every person is meant to be a best friend, and some may never be more than a casual acquaintance – or nothing at all – but she assures us that it’s okay. Sure, not everyone is right for us, but some people are, and those people are just waiting to connect if we’re willing to work at it.