Reclaiming True Friendship in the Age of “Friending”

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

—C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

I’m not sure if I entirely agree with that timeworn sentiment from C.S. Lewis. I don’t know where I’d be without my friends. I have some really good friends. There’s Anna the Hospitable; her kitchen is one of my favorite places in the whole world. There’s Lara the Wise, who may know me even better than I know myself. And then there’s Amanda the Enneagram Two. When I told her it would be a whole lot of work for us to repaint my kitchen cabinets, she shot back, “Yes, but I’m a whole lot of friend.” These are just a few of the friends who give extraordinary value to my days. I am, in a word, blessed.

I am blessed—and yet I feel like I haven’t always been a great friend in return. If I am not careful, I can take friendships for granted—especially in this chapter of my life in which working and parenting is just so all-consuming. I mean, y’all read my A Day in the Life post. You know how razor-thin my margin is these days.

Still, I want to be as good a friend to my friends as they are to me. Here are a few of the ways I am practicing friendship these days.

Invest in the small ways.

Send the random check-in text. Tag her in a comment on that inspiring meme on Instagram. Don’t just post a birthday greeting on social media, but send her a card. Most importantly, take her “love language” into consideration. Connect with and care for her in a way she can really receive.

Invest in the big ways.

One of my very dearest friends lives halfway across the country. We used to let years go by between visits; after all, plane tickets aren’t cheap, and time is as scarce as money. We’ve both realized we just cannot do this anymore. While we keep the conversation going through calls and texts, our friendship needs the blessing of embodiment to fully flourish. We need to break bread, practice yoga, walk down the street arm-in-arm. A few months ago she flew out to Chicago and we camped out in an Airbnb for a few glorious days. I hereby declare to all the world I will venture to Seattle in 2020.

Multitask in meaningful ways.

I know—multitasking can lead to distracted conversations and shoddy work. But done with intention, it can also be a great way to weave in time with friends. Folding laundry is so much more enjoyable when I’m FaceTiming with a friend, and lifting weights is way more fun with a gym buddy.

Practice discretion.

Which is to say…you can’t be friends with everyone, even some folks who might be true kindred spirits. Social media allows us to connect with more people with whom we can legitimately be friends. (This is where I confess to having more than 1500 “friends” on Facebook, some of whom I wouldn’t recognize on the street.) We cannot invest in every potential relationship. Not long ago I crossed internet paths with a ridiculously cool woman who lives 500 miles away. We totally clicked. But while we are “friends” on Facebook, we are not friends. She was wonderfully honest, naming that she thought we could be great friends but admitting that she has more than enough long-distance girlfriends. It was refreshing and instructive.

Let some friendships go.

Yes, old friends can be an invaluable gift. Sometimes we do drift away from people who were once cherished companions—and sometimes we “rift” away. A couple of years ago I experienced my first friend breakup. (I ardently hope it will also be my last.) Accepting that it was finished was painful, but ultimately freeing.

Be real.

One of my all-time favorite posts from Glennon Doyle tells the story of how she found herself opening up to a friend at the park—a friend with whom she’d previously only shared superficial conversation. The thing about vulnerability is that it often begets vulnerability. The friend responded by sharing her own hard truths. Sometimes the very best thing you can do for your friends is to create space for honest sharing.

And now I’m off to the hardware store to buy some paint—Amanda wasn’t kidding!

How do you nurture the friendships in your life?

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3 Comments

  1. Seana Turner

    I so agree that vulnerability begets vulnerability. That kind of deep sharing is hard to do via digital mediums. It often doesn’t feel “safe” enough because you can’t completely read the room or the other person. I know a couple of people who make time each year for a “girls trip” with friends who live far away. If you can swing it, what a wonderful idea! It doesn’t have to be to a resort.. just a common location.

  2. Rachel Nordgren

    Yes!! Most of my friends are long distance since my husband and I just moved to a new city, so I have to rely on technology to stay in touch with my friends most of the time. I make technology work FOR me by setting recurring weekly reminders to check in with certain friends (in the reminder I also keep a note of things to ask them about or encourage them in) and having notifications on a Google calendar designated for what I call “Hard and Happy Days” for my friends, which are dates of good things (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) and not-so-good things (when a parent died, a miscarriage happened, a divorce was finalized) so that I can be intentional about reaching out or sending a card. Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts, Katherine!

    • Colleen

      This is such a great idea – adding all the days, not just birthdays, to your calendar. It’s easy to waste too much time thinking about how I should send a note or make a call when just having a reminder, and getting it done would only take a few minutes!

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