Thoughts on Maintaining Friendships

I’ve recently moved to an offshore island. My relationships are really important to me. How can I lovingly maintain them? I’ve done some reading on the subject, and formulated the following game-plan …

In an ideal scenario:

1. I return my friends’ calls – because in a study of 8 million phonecalls, this was the leading cause of a lasting relationship.) [1]

2. I have contact with my friends at least once every 15 days. (Research says this is the golden numba to keep a pal.)[2]

3. I remember big life events, e.g. birthdays.[3]

4. I attend milestone events, even if it’s challenging – I drive out of my way to visit their new home, I make an effort to see my friend before the new baby arrives, I book that flight to attend their wedding.[4]

5. If a pal with a young kid rings me, I make a special effort to take their call there-and-then (fuller schedules, higher need!).

I have the following strategies for getting more ‘friend-time’:

6. I identify a habit, and if possible, associate a communication with it – e.g. for the last fortnight, I’ve done my daily run and rang my Dad afterwards. Today I ‘ran, then rang’ automatically. Less conscious effort + more communication = good!

7. I combine a task / activity with friend-time: e.g. I call Sarah on a walk; chatted to my my uncle Maurice while cooking; I’m attending an online history course with Claire.

8. I think outside the phonebox. I really enjoy emails, postcards, & letters; if I don’t have time for that today, voicemails & video messages are a nice runner-up.

9. I haven’t tried it yet, but I dream of making regular dates with friends: e.g. every second Monday at 11am I call Valerie? If possible within the two schedules, I suspect this strategy could be really effective.[5]

But inevitably there are certain days or weeks / a period where I am less available.

How to minimise the impact of this? Well, I can give my peeps a ‘heads-up’ to so that they don’t feel unimportant or abandoned.[6] I can include the following:

a) how long I expect to be off the radar (“I’m pedal-to-the-metal to get a grant in for the next few days…” )

b) what’s the best way to reach me during this time (“So I’m really sorry, I haven’t even got the time to pee, not-a-mind listen to a voicemail; wil ya send me a text?!”), and

c) when my schedule is expected to go back to normal (But the deadline is due on Tuesday at 5pm. Gimme Wed to sleep and I’ll ring ya Thu! 🙂 )[7] and …

d) and I then make a conscious effort to connect with my friend, after I emerge from the work-vortex. [8]

I try to never say “I’m too busy”. The receiver doesn’t know if that’s my temporary reality, or if I am trying to brush them off. Instead, I

a) qualify the busyness: “I’m busy for the next 10 days,” or “I’m tied up until the end of the school year.” and then

b) make a counter offer. If I can’t meet face-to-face in the near future, I suggest a phone call, video call, or another way to connect so the pal doesn’t feel abandoned.[9]

And if I have the headspace, I try to send short, but thoughtful, texts. I try to …

– make the text as personal as possible to show the cara I’m thinking about them, e.g. remember small things like a doctor’s appointment / stressful workday that I know they have coming up, and check in with them to see how it went

– ask questions that invite reveals (“How was the holliers? How did the gig go?? How’s the new job?”)

– give information about my day that my friend couldn’t glean from mutual acquaintances / the online world

– avoid statements (“I hope you’re having a great day!” or “You’re in my thoughts”), as they don’t prompt meaningful back-and-forth exchanges. (But if desperate, I think a one-liner statement like ‘you popped into my head today – hope you’re doin’ OK!!’ is better than nothing.)

Remember that regular date idea I aspire to but have not yet succeeded in setting up? Current opinion is that a regular friend date as rare as once a year – e.g. an annual festival / Christmas party – is more powerful than one might think, and, once again, better than nada.[10] This concurs with my experience; I have a good pal living abroad whom I only meet once a year (at a music festival), but that one meeting suffices to keep us so connected that I feel I can pick up the phone and ring him anytime.

WHEN IT’S UNEQUAL

Because we’re human, and, ya know, life – sometimes in a friendship, the communicational balance is unequal.

If my friend is making more effort than me for a while, I acknowledge that. I know how much mental and emotional effort it can sometimes take to stay in touch, and I am mindful of the attempts my friends make to connect.[11]

If I am making more effort to stay in contact for a little while, I give my pal the benefit of the doubt.

But if I’m beginning to notice resentment on my part, or if the communication is not balanced in either side for a prolonged amount of time, I examine if I and the other are OK with the imbalance. If it’s not, can we try to come up with a solution that suits both of us? For conversations like this, intentional dialogue can be useful…

If the other person is initiating far more and the balance feels off, I agree with Dr. Miriam Kirmayer: “Addressing friends’ bids for attention can mean the difference between having a dear friendship flourish or fade during a frantic time.”[12] In my experience, it’s really important to give validation and affirmation in that situation, rather than just dismissing and saying we’re too busy.

And it’s important to keep dear friendships, coz they make life worth living[13].

Plus, on a practical note… as we grow older, it’s rare that we make new friends[14]. So let’s hang on to the ones we got!


[1] Zyga, L., 2020. Physicists Investigate ‘Best Friends Forever’. [online] Phys.org. Available at: <https://phys.org/news/2008-04-physicists-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[2] Zyga, L., 2020. Physicists Investigate ‘Best Friends Forever’. [online] Phys.org. Available at: <https://phys.org/news/2008-04-physicists-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[3] Miriam Kirmayer quoted in Goldfarb, A., 2020. How To Maintain Friendships (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/smarter-living/how-to-maintain-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[4] Carlin Flora, quoted in Goldfarb, A., 2020. How To Maintain Friendships (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/smarter-living/how-to-maintain-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[5] Carlin Flora, quoted in Goldfarb, A., 2020. How To Maintain Friendships (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/smarter-living/how-to-maintain-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[6] Miriam Kirmayer quoted in Goldfarb, A., 2020. How To Maintain Friendships (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/smarter-living/how-to-maintain-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[7] Miriam Kirmayer quoted in Goldfarb, A., 2020. How To Maintain Friendships (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/smarter-living/how-to-maintain-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[8] my addition to Miriam Kirmayer’s recommendations quoted in Goldfarb, A., 2020. How To Maintain Friendships (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/smarter-living/how-to-maintain-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[9] Shasta Nelson quoted in Goldfarb, A., 2020. How To Maintain Friendships (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/smarter-living/how-to-maintain-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[10] Carlin Flora, quoted in Goldfarb, A., 2020. How To Maintain Friendships (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/smarter-living/how-to-maintain-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[11] Miriam Kirmayer quoted in Goldfarb, A., 2020. How To Maintain Friendships (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/smarter-living/how-to-maintain-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[12] Miriam Kirmayer quoted in Goldfarb, A., 2020. How To Maintain Friendships (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/smarter-living/how-to-maintain-friends.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[13] Barker, E., 2020. This Is What Your Relationships Are Worth In Dollars: – Barking Up The Wrong Tree. [online] Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Available at: <https://www.bakadesuyo.com/2012/01/what-are-your-relationships-worth-in-dollars/> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

[14] Gordon, S., 2020. 5 Easy Ways To Be A Good Friend Right Now. [online] Woman’s Day. Available at: <https://www.womansday.com/relationships/family-friends/a31981452/how-to-be-a-good-friend/> [Accessed 27 October 2020]

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