I’m as guilty as the next girl for dropping the sisterhood the minute life gets busy. I have introvert qualities as well, needing the comforts of home and routine and introspection and books to ground me instead of a whole heap of social engagements. I love my friends but I love my own company, too – striking a balance between the two is a continually evolving process.
Perhaps historically, the red tent catered for this – one week out of four designated to checking out of daily life, heading to the tent and spending time with other women. Kind of like our modern-day girls weekend away, but scheduled in regularly, as a no-exception monthly tradition.
The point is: friendship, like all other good and beautiful things, doesn’t just happen. It requires effort to sustain, like a box you put things into you can draw on at a later date. And when we’re busy, overwhelmed or a little intro-verty, the friendship ball drops way off a cliff because we don’t think we need it — but the truth? We do.
While males respond to stress and threat with a fight-or-flight reaction (aggression or withdrawal), females characteristically respond with tend-and-befriend. They combat threat and stress by tending to offspring or nurturing others, seeking out a social group for support. It is a detailed phenomenon and I won’t go into too much more, but it seems women are innately built for social connection – biologically, we actually need it for survival, and our hormonal make-up drives these natural, instinctual behaviors.
So, 10 Ways To Better Friendships, here we go.
1. Make friendship a priority. This is first and foremost. Without putting it up in lights, you are already setting out to fail. Good female friendships lower stress, lengthen life and boost happiness. But you can’t enjoy the benefits of them unless you see how important they are in your life and take the time and space out of your days to water them.
2. Survival Kits or Just Because presents. When I was heavily pregnant with Ella, a friend came over with a Rachel’s Survival Kit full of nail polish, got down on her hands and knees and painted my toes. It was a small thing but it meant the world to me (small thing = big thing). A little while back, a friend of mine was going through some really shitty stuff and I posted her a survival kit full of trashy mags and chocolate – and another friend I bought a small gift of gorgeous room spray and yummy soap to make her feel better after a really bad patch in life. These gifts were unexpected for the receiver – a spontaneous message of “I am here for you”, which – though not taking their pain away – alerts our friends to the fact that they are not alone in their pain. Sometimes, this is all they need to better cope with their shitty circumstances. Do you have a friend going through a hard time? Or maybe you just passed something at the shops that you thought a friend would love? Sometimes “just because” gifts are powerful, too – a message of thank you for being in my life and I think you are rad.
3. The Text. For the time-poor woman, text messages are your greatest ally for keeping friendship connections going in between real-time catch ups. Text a friend a random photo of something that reminds you of them, something they would love. Send a little text to check in on that thing they had on. The other week my friend Renae sent me a text saying “hey, wanna play a photo scavenger hunt?” and because she knows I speak fluent Game, I responded all Holy-sweet-mother-mary-is-it-Christmas-eve-how-quickly-can-I-say-yes and we started scouring our minds for random photos we could send each other and check off our checklist. I.e. A stranger’s coffee. You can imagine how funny it would be picturing your friend trying to snap a pic of someone’s coffee, right? My point: random texts. They’re great for friendship building.
4. Time Designation. Can’t keep up with returning texts/calls/emails? Set aside an hour or two every week to send out texts and emails and calls and do it all at once. I often do this. Someone will call or message me when my son is stuck in a cupboard or my daughter is hysterical that she can’t find her gumboots. I’ve got dinner on the stove and a load of washing on the go and someone at my front door trying to sell me something and replying to a friend completely slips my mind until I check my phone days later and wonder if I ever did follow that up.
5. Schedule. Make it a priority to block out a regular coffee catch up or girls night or breakfast date with your friends. Maybe it’s a once-a-month Mexican night, or a fortnightly Sunday drinks-and-movie, or a Wednesday morning coffee-and-donut. Whatever it is, lock it in so it becomes part of your life.
6. Pop Arounds. Not everyone loves the unexpected drop-in, so perhaps text ahead, but if you have a free hour, send a little “hey, are you home?” text and then pop by for a spontaneous cuppa, or cupcake, depending on the day. Glass of wine may also work. Not everything has to be ‘scheduled’. The flow of daily life works, too, and it keeps things casual – it allows our friends to see our messy houses and unkept children and this realness makes our friendships stronger.
7. Put important dates in your calendar. We can thank Facebook for the remembering of birthdays, but there are many other dates in your friends’ lives that are important to them, and which strengthen friendship bonds when you are thoughtful enough to acknowledge them, too. Friends’ kids’ birthdays, anniversaries of friend’s parent’s deaths, wedding anniversaries, etc. A text, a call, a photo message – these are all easy ways to say “I am thinking of you today”.
8. Pay attention to what’s going on in their lives. Ask more thoughtful questions. Instead of how are you, ask: how are things going with your mother-in-law now? Instead of what’s been happening, ask: so where are things at in your marriage? Show your friends you remember what’s going on in their lives and ask leading, open questions that pave the way for more connection, understanding and exploration, and a closer bond as a result.
8. Plan in advance. Maybe there’s a show or concert coming up. A long weekend. Someone’s birthday. A festival on. Plan ahead, organise joint family holidays or special nights out just with your friends doing something different. Letting your hair down and stepping out of routine is so good for the soul. But plan for it. Organise it in advance. Otherwise time just slips by and you’ll never think to do it.
9. Start friend traditions. I’m a lover of traditions – rituals that feel special and that mark occasions as unique. We often savour our traditions for family life, but there are plenty of traditions you can start with friends to strengthen bonds and keep your relationship special and unique. Maybe you could have an Oscars party each year where you go to someone’s house, dress up in cheap plastic jewellery, eat cheese and score the red carpet fashions. Or maybe you could host annual red tent nights. Or maybe you could start a December tradition of inviting friends over for popcorn and the grand screening of Love Actually, marking the beginning of Christmas.
10. Be vulnerable. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Be real. Let your friends see you. Let them help you when times are hard and let them into the inner workings of your life. Give them the gift of truth – telling them what you really think, and let them be truthful to you. Stay open. And learn. Female friendships – like all relationships – can be tricky at times. But for what they are worth, take the tricky and run with it.