by Anita Lustrea
Maintaining friendships has sometimes been difficult for me. Partly it’s my personality profile and partly my upbringing. I’m an introvert who sometimes doesn’t see the need for relationships until the need is critical.
I was raised in a pastor’s home where the advice given in seminaries, back in the day, was that pastors shouldn’t form close friendships in their congregations because jealousies would occur. So I never saw my parents form close friendships. When crisis hit my life and my marriage fell apart, I realized that I had many acquaintances, but no deep experience of friendship. No one to call and talk with in the middle of my critical need.
In a moment of desperation, I knocked on my neighbor’s door. A neighbor who’s kids waited at the same bus stop with my son. When she opened the door I blurted out, “my marriage is in trouble, can I come in and talk.” That gives you a glimpse into my level of desperation. Thankfully she invited me in and my blurting began a long term wonderful friendship. Eventually my crisis was in the rear view mirror and our conversations weren’t only about me. Friendships will ebb and flow, but the rule of thumb is there does need to be mutuality there.
Fast forward 17 years. After a long career in Radio and many deep friendships formed, my husband and I made a major move from Chicago to Sarasota, Florida. Even this introvert felt lonely. All of the preparations and logistics for the move and the million attending details along with the happiness of moving from a cold weather climate in December to a paradise with sunshine and beaches, kept me from thinking about the loss that would occur with the move. Or maybe I just stuffed it as far down as I could until it couldn’t stay stuffed anymore.
I’ve come to some significant realizations that affect midlife and beyonders more than younger folks making a move. All my previous moves came with a change in employment. A built in place to belong. People coming to me and wanting to meet me and make me feel at home. Co-workers inviting me out to lunch to welcome me in. When there is a move in retirement, you’re lucky if any neighbor comes knocking to say anything to you, let alone welcome you to the neighborhood. Seems people are too busy to welcome others and often have their already established group of friends they’d rather not upset.
For years I’ve spoken to groups about how to grow deeper friendships and build community. Now I’ve got a front row seat to see if what I’ve suggested has any merit. I confess that this making friends business is harder for introverts. You have to constantly extend and reach out. My husband and I have learned that finding a church and getting established in a church community is also an avenue to developing relationships.
Here are some suggestions as it relates to making and keeping friendships. When you run into that person you feel a kinship with, get their name and number and be the one to reach out and ask them out for coffee. Loneliness is epidemic in our society and I’ve found that often the person you ask is as deeply grateful for the invitation as you are for their acceptance of it. It just might be the beginning of one of those long term friendships. If they decline your invitation, don’t get discouraged and give up trying. They truly might be very busy and can’t say yes. Keep asking until someone says, “Yes.”
I’ve also learned how to use Skype and FaceTime. It’s a great way to stay connected to those dear friends you’ve moved away from. If you struggle with hospitality and opening your home to others, moving is a good time to start exercising and strengthening that muscle. We’ve had a whole host of visitors that have kept me afloat emotionally while beginning to make friends locally. Pray for God to provide a friend. Sometimes we forget to pray for our own needs. Pray for a friend that is like minded, a kindred spirit, someone who can go to those deeper places. And I’m also trying to do what I’ve told so many to do. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Get to know someone’s story. We all have a story worth telling and worth hearing. Spend some time listening to someone’s story.
Don’t always look for someone just like you. Differences of opinion make for lively conversation. Deep down, we want relationships with those who will challenge us. We want to know those who can push us to think and grow. Lastly, don’t forget about laughter. We also need those with whom we can laugh and have a good time!
Anita Lustrea hosts the Faith Conversations podcast. She is a Spiritual Director, Author and Media Coach. (Click here to visit her website.) Anita’s most recent books include What Women Tell Me: Finding Freedom From the Secrets We Keep and Shades of Mercy, about her beloved Northern Maine.