I’ve been lucky in my friendships. I’m always the first to admit that there isn’t a formula or a step-by-step guide to making good friends. Sometimes, it’s pure luck.
Today is Birthday No 35 for me. In the days leading to today I’ve been almost-crying a lot. I’m not the friendliest or “nicest” of people. I don’t exude warmth and harmony at first (or second or third) glance. I look like I’m ready to beat the shit out of someone if they misstep. I have a caustic tongue. When I was in my twenties, I asked my mum why I have so many good friends and she told me it’s because I’m a good person myself. I held onto those words for a long time. But how good am I, really? What is it that I have done that makes me worthy of so much love and generosity? What exactly do they see in me? My answer is reincarnation. I must have been a saint in my past life. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.
I see tweets from people saying they want to make friends or asking how to make friends as adults. It makes sense to me that these tweets are mostly from people in their twenties. Once you’re past “similar life stages” it gets a little tougher.
The first friend I remember having was a petite girl, Chichi, who beat me up and threw one of my slippers inside a bush. Not a great start to this friendship business but we were only three years old so I forgive her. When I was six, my family moved from Lagos to Warri and I became friends with O, with whom I have maintained an on-off friendship for nearly 29 years. The history of my friendships from this point forward is shaped by proximity – primary and secondary schools, university, church, etc.
With adulthood came the splintering of friendships. I, for one, became less religious and more vocal about my politics. My friends got married and had kids and moved away. I moved away. Nature took its course and left me in a place that required effort if I wanted to be close to anyone. For an introvert with a big splash of social anxiety, it’s not the best place to be in. Enter Lady Luck again (and social media).
One thing that has worked for me is making the first move. Someone once asked, “Do you take friendship shots?” and my answer was yes. Then I thought about it and realised the intent with which I reach out to people isn’t always friendship. Except in one case where I was determined to be friends with this person come rain or hell water. On Twitter, for example, when someone I interact with (and share similar values with) tweets/questions something I relate to, I DM them about it. Sometimes these conversations lead to other conversations and several “omg me too” moments. If I like them, I become deliberate about having a relationship. So, I check on them often and get their phone number. If we live in the same town, I ask them out to some place we’ll both enjoy going. It doesn’t always turn into a friendship and that’s fine. You can have a good time, albeit brief, and keep it moving.
The upside of adult friendships is that you know what you want in a friend. You have a fair idea what kind of people complement you. I personally don’t make friends based on specific interests anymore because I choose to have just one category of friends – people I’m comfortable with (I can write a book on this alone). But if interest-based friendships work for you then friendship groups are a way to go. In every town there’s always groups of people who do things together – yoga, sports, arts/culture, sex, religion, etc – or places where these activities take place. You can find these groups by asking. Volunteering is also a good way to find people with similar interests.
Not having a set number in your head is another thing. I’ve heard people say “you shouldn’t have more than x number of friends.” It’s hogwash. I think this mindset is born of “the fewer people you’re close to, the fewer people can betray you”. If you have this mindset, you can’t have even one honest friendship. Open yourself up to as many friendships as you can manage. Life is always moving people around. In 2019, four of my closest friends (including my best friend) moved away. Thank God for technology but there is something about having the people you care for physically close to you; knowing that a hug is just a taxi ride away.
Friends of friends can become your friends too. I have “stolen” friends and had friends “stolen”. The chances that your friend is friends with someone you can vibe with is pretty high. Currently, I don’t think I have any isolated friendships. Even if they started out that way, somewhere along the line a mix happens.
Love and communication are key ingredients in making friends. By the time you’re in your twenties you’ve most likely lost that openness that kids have. The truth is, you need a little of that – being able to jump in with two feet and navigate from there. I have been fortunate not to have landed on nails in my adult friendships. I know it’ll be harder for people who have. It’s a risk and you have to decide if it’s worth it for you.
A bit of wisdom from a new 35-year-old: have expectations of your friendships. I don’t buy into “don’t expect anything from anyone”. If we’re investing time and affection into a relationship, there better be pay-offs. I don’t want to be friends with anyone who lets me move mad or doesn’t call me out on my BS or watches me be stupid. And vice-versa.
Making friends requires you to put yourself out. There’s no way around it. And as you get older, friendships become sweeter and totally worth it.