26 Dec On the Joy of Making New Friends
First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – cover date 26 December
At family gatherings, my adorable Great-Uncle Frank – a wise and witty raconteur in a family not short of them – was fond of saying at the end of a story, “Oh, well… You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family”.
This was a potentially disastrous thing to say in a room full of relatives but we all knew what Frank meant. The story would have been about some daft cousin or irritating in-law who was – happily – not currently in the room. Instead, we were the ones celebrating together largely because we all liked each other, not just because we shared a fair bit of DNA.
We are terrifically lucky if we enjoy the company of our wider family. It is certainly not a given – all around the motu there are people who gird their loins and hope for the best each Christmas, while also putting an escape plan in place. “Would love to stay longer but we promised a fictional person we’d drop by with a non-existent gift and my partner has just given me the secret signal that it’s time – must dash!”
And while there is definitely something magical about being in the company of older relatives who have known you your whole life, these days I also relish spending time with relatively new friends.
I don’t know where I picked up the idea that, as you get older, is gets harder to make friends but this is definitely a load of nonsense. I suspect I might have heard it from those ghastly people who say your school and/or university years will be The Best Years of Your Life and it is all downhill from there. This was a terrifying prospect when I was all angst-riddled in my teens and twenties – this is the highlight?! – and I am happy to say that later life was much improved.
In fact, what I think really happens is that, as you get to know yourself better, you get better at making friends.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week – after a wild run of work and travel I have finally found time for myself and so have been meeting people for lunch for several days in a row. It feels wildly indulgent and also entirely necessary – to take an hour or two to catch up on news and celebrate the things that have been good.
People who know about the psychology of relationships – the platonic kind as well as the romantic ones – say there are key things to bear in mind. That it helps if you actively go looking for friendships (rather than assuming you will meet people by accident); that you should assume people will like you (this is an attractive vibe); and that it helps if you make yourself vulnerable – it draws us to each other and helps us connect.
This last one is harder for men, apparently, and easier for women who share universal experiences.
I am, it is fair to say, a chronic over-sharer. You tell me about your latest work project or that you’ve bought a new lounge suite, and I’ll blurt out some epiphany I just had with my therapist.
Even so, I just had lunch with four women and we swapped stories about parenting and periods and “what our mothers told us about sex when we were kids” and honestly, none of us knew each other even two years ago, and I don’t know what Uncle Frank would say about it, but we are properly bonded now.