We LOVE the NAS community, but creating a real-life community is essential to our lives! What have been your struggles in making friends as a young adult? Do you have any advice for those struggling to build community post-college?
“Make new friends,
but keep the old.
One is silver
and the other’s gold.
A circle’s round:
it has no end.
That’s how long I want to be
I believe friends are the first loves you choose. Unlike affectionate love forged by bonds of the family or romantic love aroused by hormones and emotions, friend love is an act of the will (charity/self-sacrifice is the other, if going by C.S. Lewis’s definition of the four kinds). As we get older, the social structures that helped us choose start falling away—no more school, maybe a lackluster or older parish community, no longer living with roommates— so both maintaining the friendships of yesterday and making new friends really becomes a willful action.
As women, we are also built to seek and succeed at emotional and relational bonds with each other, which is why if we’re out of school, but not married and possibly with children, it can be a real challenge (hopefully a joyous one) to feel we’re “not alone” because we are solid in friendship with others.
It’s been five years since I’ve graduated from grad school, and I’ve found three areas of advice for those about to leave a defined community of friendships for the larger community of the real world, where it can be hard to forge new bonds and keep the old ones strong. Of course, I’m no expert, and I don’t always practice what I preach, but in the past, the following advice is what I’d give to my past self if I had the chance:
Making New Friends
- For faith-following friends, seek out parishes with young adult groups or local universities’ grad student/young professional groups for those of your creed.
- Volunteer. Some organizations may let you do a la carte projects, which means you’ll start to meet new people ach time. Or signing up for a regular commitment means you can get to know your co-volunteers in depth.
- Join a MeetUp group based on favorite hobbies, and if interested in foreign languages, find a conversation partner.
- Join a group to hone your skills or take a class to learn a new one. As a writer, I’ve made friends of various stripes through our monthly meetings.
- Interact online: obviously, physical presence is awesome (hello, Eucharist).But that seems harder these days, especially if school, work, or other obligations have you isolated from your “people.” Even though emails, social media, and maybe even Skype visits are not as high quality as in-person get-togethers could be, you can foster real relationships with the people you met online, like posting on forums. What’s really great is if you take that act of the will and plan to meet in person at least once a year (why, like the NAS weekend in July! So bummed to miss out on that).
- If a possible new acquaintance is male, really, really discern making a deliberate decision to befriend a new guy in your life. Yes, some beautiful and holy marriages arise from “We were friends first,” BUT if you know you could never marry the guy, strongly consider how you will interact with him. If he wants to befriend you, be clear about his intentions. My singular knowledge of some types of men tells me if guys want to date you, they won’t befriend you; they’ll simply ask you out. If they want to befriend you as a possible opening to a potential relationship down the road, have some kind of emotional timeframe, and know if you’ll be okay that you’ll never end up together, or that he’ll be okay if you find you aren’t that into him, or one day he reduces the friendship because he’s chosen a different girlfriend.
- Be open—while it’s great when your friends are in the same state/vocational discernment as you, it’s also pretty enriching to develop relationships with people of different ages, different experiences, and different perspectives (NB: of course, don’t pursue friendships that are not good for your soul).
- Prepare your heart for when a friend’s state of life/vocational discernment path becomes different from yours.
- Do try to mutually plan a way to stay connected when exterior factors like a husband, a novitiate, a baby, a move, etc. will necessarily (but not negatively) separate you from old friends or new acquaintances. I really regret not keeping up with a letter-writing friendship with a lovely woman I’d known a couple months before she entered the Nashville Dominicans.
- Pray for a spirit of acceptance when changes mean you must shift how you relate: maybe you’re sporadic about social media updates, but your newly faraway friend hates the phone. Love is sacrifice, and if you are important to each other, you will naturally make them.
- Understand friendships with guys will definitely change: either one of you may get into a new relationship or develop unrequited feelings or have different relational needs (he doesn’t want to hear about how your biological clock just got turned on or you’re sick of hearing about his conquests, ie). While yes, you can still be friends, how you are friends is very different from how you are friends with your gal pals.
- Be aware that even in their twenties, friends can change their philosophies or behaviors (or they don’t change from their old ways and you have) and you may not have the same things in common anymore—is Jane partying just as hard as college days while now you’d like to be home by 11? Or has your spiritual sister from high school suddenly reneged on Church teaching while now you’ve upped your religious Facebook posts from every now and then to daily? Discern your limits and assess the quality of the bond. C.S. Lewis also writes that friend love is when two people stand side by side and see the same world together. Ask yourself how you feel if now your old friends don’t see the same world—what else can hold you together?
- Know that sometimes friends are in your life for only a season. Know that it’s okay if for appropriate reasons they’re not around for the next. Friendships are not marriages. While it is very sad when friendships end, you are not bound to do whatever it takes to stay friends or to hang around if it is too hard and the relationship becomes a detriment to your emotional and/or spiritual life.
- But if you find that too many friendships seem to come and go, perhaps do an Examen to see if you’re really giving what you’re capable of in the relationship and in what ways you might improve.
- Your season may end and change into a new one. Suddenly your core group may become all married women when you marry; and when you’re a mom, the most women you talk to regularly are moms. This article the Orthogals posted todescribes in a great way how friendships shift from a married woman’s perspective. Witnessing the changes in my sister’s friendships over the years as she went from single to married to mom of 3, I’ve gathered I should have an inner understanding of not just how others may change, but how I should expect that I will, too.
Like the song above, friends old and new are precious, and the idealistic hope is that soul-satisfying relationships will last a lifetime. But the last bit of advice I have for making new friends is this: pursue friendship with the Trinity. God is our friend; Jesus is our friend; the Holy Spirit is our friend. if we don’t treat Him as our friend now, but relate to him in some other way, try seeing Him in this new light.