“Make friendship a fine art.” John Wooden
If something is important, you need to be intentional about nurturing it. Good friendships are worthy of your best efforts. Any investment you make in a relationship will pay you back over the course of your lifetime.
Here are five ways I’ve found to nurture a friendship:
- Stay in touch. There are those we can consider lifelong friends despite not seeing each other. In general, though, if you want to support someone, you need to be involved in each other’s lives. On a daily basis, check in about the things that matter most — their children, their job, their goals — all the things that occupy your friend’s heart.
- Similarly, everyone wants to be known; it’s an important human need. To be known, you need to ask, in a gentle way, about the deeper parts of someone’s life. I had a friend in high school with whom I lost touch for many years. When we got back together, I realized that for whatever reason, he needed to keep everything pretty light. This was fine for an afternoon. For a lifetime friend, though, you need to be able to open the door to your heart when needed.
- Don’t be afraid to imitate the qualities you most admire in your friend. This is how we make each other better. Warren Buffet said, “Just pick out the person you admire the most and sit down and write out the reasons why you admire them.” And then, he suggested, take on those qualities. “It’s not complicated. Hang out with people better than you. Pick people whose behavior is somewhat better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.”
- Appreciate the differences. One of my best friends is different from me. While I’m an open book, she’s somewhat private. I don’t like to spend time alone and she needs that. She is neat and I’m a bit sloppy. But these differences teach me that we don’t have to be alike to enjoy each other.
- And the most important part of friendship: don’t let small things turn into big ones. Maybe you’ll make a mistake. Maybe your friend will say something dumb. Maybe one of you will be late for something important. Don’t let these things affect your relationship. One of the important accomplishments of infants is learning object permanence. Babies learn that things have a lasting quality even when they aren’t visible. (One of the reasons babies love playing peek-a-boo is that they are so surprised when something disappears and then appears again.) You need to nurture your friendship in a way such that bumps in the road will not cause a rupture in your relationship. Knowing that you can be human and make mistakes and still be loved is one of life’s greatest feelings.
Simply by being aware of the importance of your relationship with your friend, you will begin to think of large and small ways to honor that person and honor what you have together.