How To Nurture Existing Friendships and Create New Ones

When we are at school, college, university it’s easy to stay in touch with friends as we see them almost daily and have time on our hands to connect via social media when we don’t. We tend to all be in the same boat with common influences and lifestyle goals but what happens to those friendships when we move on from education and follow different paths. Often we neglect those friendships due to geographical distances, time constraints, different lifestyles and work pressures. Our friends are more likely to be scattered across different cities even different countries so meeting up happens less frequently and takes more time to arrange. When we do meet up, if we don’t fall back immediately into our previous easy relationship, or struggle to connect properly, it leads to disappointment and the friendship that was once so strong can whither on the vine.

In no time we can find ourselves being less sociable. We convince ourselves that with our busy work schedules and stressful lives we need time to ourselves for ‘self-care’ but if we are not careful we can find ourselves lonely, feeling anxious and avoiding social situations that are not work or family related and its not healthy for us.

Some people find it easy to make new friends and socialise with apparent ease but for most of us making new friends and introducing ourselves to new people makes us feel anxious and vulnerable. Clinical psychologist Dr Ellen Hendriksen refers to social anxiety as The Reveal. What makes us anxious in social situations is that perceived flaw - something we dislike about our appearance, lack of social skills or some bigger part of our personality - will be obvious to others unless we work hard to hide it. Ironically the less we socialise and the lonelier we feel, the more pronounced this fear may become” says Dr Hendriksen.

Being sociable and making an effort to start new friendships require us to step outside our comfort zone but the payback is always worth it. We are by nature social animals who have evolved to live and work in teams and we grow in confidence when we feel valued and respected by others.

It is important to keep our social skills active and improve on them if we think our social circle is shrinking.

We need to make a conscious effort to keep our valued existing friendships healthy by not leaving contact to a just the group ‘Whatsapp’. We need to take the time to pick up the phone and talk and listen to what is really going on in our friends lives - we need to stay connected. We need to plan ‘get-togethers’ without blowing them up out of proportion and we need to remember to laugh with them over ‘old times’. Laughter can bridge gaps, break the ice and remind us of the friendship we share faster than anything else.

We also need to remember when meeting new people, not to get too hung up on coming across as self-possessed and together. 

“We often focus on impressing people in social situations but in always trying to come across as confident and competent we can actually shoot ourselves in the foot” says Dr Hendriksen “Its fine to get tongue tied or for a joke to fall flat. People appreciate imperfection far more than perfection. Its much more human and likeable” 

When making new acquaintances we can find ourselves concentrating on finding out what we might have in common, this technique can backfire if we find we share little common ground and we quickly run out of things to say. Far better to focus on more universal experiences - love, travel, anxieties, difficult family relationships, embarrassing moments - we all share at least some of those.

And most importantly, with old friends and new, really invest in the person we are talking to, listen to what they are saying, our curiosity will take over and we will automatically become more natural and engaged.

The more relaxed we are in social situations, the more we enjoy them and life isn’t half as much fun without friends, so don’t lose the art of socialising - stay in touch with old friends, make new ones, stay curious - it’s in our DNA.