Several weeks ago, my son came home devastated because one of his close friends told him that his parents didn’t want him to be friends with my son anymore. To the little boy’s credit, he told my son he didn’t care what his parents said, he still wanted to be friends. But the damage was done. My son, who has been diagnosed with OCD and anxiety disorders, could not get it out of his mind that there was an adult out there who thought he was not worthy of friendship with their son. That he was so terrible to be around they preferred their child end a two-year friendship. And he kept saying, “But I don’t understand why.”
Honestly, I don’t either, although I have guesses. My son has had a very rough school year as we have processed new diagnoses, struggled to find the right medication, gone through testing and therapy, and experienced all the joy of pre-teen hormones that seem to throw out any predictability of the aforementioned treatments and wreak total havoc on his emotions. He has had multiple incidents at school which resulted in total meltdowns and fits as he struggled with obsessive worry and anxiety. His poor impulse control has resulted in unacceptable displays of disrespect with teachers and conflict with peers.
While I don’t know of any incidents that personally involve this boy (and I’m pretty certain I would since my son’s school is very good at communicating these things), I can only imagine this friend has gone home and relayed stories of my son’s outbursts and meltdowns to his parents and that was enough for them to decide he was not the kind of kid they wanted their son to associate with.
And that certainly is their choice. While my initial reaction when my son told me was heartache mixed with a healthy dose of anger, time has softened my heart and I am left with just sadness. Sadness that my son has so much he is struggling to overcome and how aware he is that he is different from the other kids. Sadness that he feels ashamed of his differences and worries what other people think of him. Gut-wrenching sadness that in the hardest moments he has cried out to us and to God saying he wished he was no longer here on this earth. It’s really more than a mother’s heart can bear some days.
I recall walking into the kitchen and seeing the giant pot simmering on the stove as the hearty aroma filled the house.
“Whatcha making?” I asked my step-mom.
“It’s chicken soup. My friend Sue is having surgery tomorrow and I wanted to bring her some soup,” she replied.
This was a common occurrence in our house. Whether it was making soup, dog-sitting, sharing lawnmowers, an evening out, or simply talking on the phone, I watched how these relationships developed and evolved over the years and realized what my step-mom had was more than just friendships. While I didn’t have any sort of label for it then, I saw this closely-knit group of people made up of neighbors, colleagues, sisters, and other friends support each other through raising children, changing jobs, moving homes, battling illness, surviving divorce, losing loved ones, and celebrating life’s milestones; and whatever it was called, I hoped one day I’d know it, too.
I wanted a group of friends who became an extension of my family.
Friends who frequented my kitchen often enough to help themselves.
Friends who knew my children so well they could kiss a boo-boo and scold them for climbing on the sofa in the same breath.
Friends who called when they needed help, support, or prayers. And who, in return, were there at the drop-of-a-hat when we needed the same.
I wanted a tribe of people to “do life” with.
After graduating college and getting married, I thought finding my tribe would be easy. While at college I met some of the sweetest, best friends anyone could have, and I’m so thankful these girls continue to be a big part of my life today. But after graduation we all scattered to different states and cities, and I felt lonely. I longed for friends that were closer to our new home.
My husband and I joined a church, and I found a great job. There were lots of young couples and I thought surely this was where we’d find our tribe. But somehow, it didn’t happen. People were busy. They had previous engagements with other friends. We didn’t click. We had different values. Whatever the reasons, I suddenly realized making adult friends — the kind of close, family-like friends I wanted — was not going to be as easy as I thought.
It’s been 16 years since officially entering the “adult world” and today I am blessed with the most amazing group of friends. Many of these friends I consider my family. We support each other, pray for each other, raise our kids together, and laugh together — a lot of laughter.
They are my tribe.
But it was definitely a journey to get here, one that took the better-part of a decade and is still going. I’ve learned a lot along the way. Conventional advice like “find people with similar interests” or “join a club/committee/gym/church” is definitely good advice. However, I’ve found a few bits of unconventional wisdom that have worked for me.
So for every 20-something trying to navigate the road of “friendship-after-college”; for every 30-something wondering where are all of the “couple friends” you thought you’d have by now; for every 40-something longing for a support system, here are my five (unconventional) tips for finding your tribe.
1. Seek out those who are in need of a friend.
Whether they are the new family down the block, the co-worker going through a divorce, or the newly widowed woman at church, seek out the people who need a friend. Nothing forms a bond faster than offering your friendship to someone who really needs it.
That doesn’t mean you can’t become great friends with that outgoing couple that knows everyone in town. But, it may take longer to develop a close friendship with someone who is already nurturing a lot of relationships. Plus, when we approach friendship with the mind-set of what we can give, rather than focusing on what we will get, it usually blesses us ten-fold.
2. Invite people in to your life and home — mess and all!
It used to be that when I first befriended someone new I would put on that “new friend” veneer — you know, always with a smile on my face, agreeable demeanor, clean the house for hours before inviting them over, pretend everything my children did in front of them was precious, etc. Not only does this get exhausting, but it’s not real!
I don’t know about you, but my life is messy! There are usually dirty dishes in the sink, and dirty clothes on my children. I have bad days. I have days I don’t get out of my pajamas because I just never got around to it. And sometimes my children drive me crazy and I want to sell them to gypsies. That’s the real me. And I have found the sooner I let my guard down and let people see the authentic me — mess and all — the sooner the friendship gets real. Because most of my tribe? Their life is kinda messy, too. So we get it and we love each other not in spite of our mess, but because of it.
3. Host/join a small group Bible/book study
Here it is, plain and simple: most of the close friends my husband and I have — our tribe — we either met or got to know better through a small group study. Whether it’s a book club, Bible study, prayer group, etc, there is something powerful in coming together with other people on a regular basis to study and discuss a similar topic. The focused nature and smaller numbers usually creates meaningful conversation, which can accelerate a friendship like little else I’ve seen.
I’m partial to Bible study groups because I believe coming together under the blanket of God’s word is second-to-none. But if you are not ready for that, then seek out a book club or parenting group. Just as long as it’s relatively small in number (15 people or less), meets regularly, and has a formula for guided discussion that will get people talking and opening up.
4. Channel your inner nine-year-old
Have you ever seen an 8 or 9 year old on a playground? The moment they arrive they seek out other kids to play with. Usually it takes my kids no longer than 15 minutes to come over and introduce me to their new friend(s).
The best part is they have no criteria, check-list, or pre-conceived notions that must be met. My kids don’t approach the playground and say, “hmm, let me find other girls who look like me,” or “I only want to play with boys who like the slide the best.” And at this age they don’t suffer from the insecurities that start to inflict us right around those icky pre-teen years. I assure you it doesn’t even occur to my 9-year-olds that the other kids on the playground won’t want to play because to them everyone is a potential friend.
Wouldn’t it be great if we adults approached meeting new people in the same way? If we looked at every person we met as a potential friend, without going through some mental pre-qualification check-list? Or what if we never let apprehension or a lack of confidence convince us we’re not worthy of approaching someone else? It could be pretty darn amazing.
I can’t say that I’m very good at this myself. However, there have been a few instances that I let my guard down and embraced my inner nine-year-old-on-the-playground, and you know what? Almost every time I was rewarded.
5. Pray about it.
About four years ago I really started to feel frustrated that my husband and I just couldn’t seem to develop close friendships with any of the couples we’d met at our new church. We had joined a young couple’s Bible study and, while everyone was nice, most of them had known each other for a while and we didn’t feel like we were connecting. After some hurtful things were said we left the group and I even considered looking for a different church. But before making a decision I went to God and prayed. I asked Him to bring some godly friends into our lives and help us find where we belonged.
The next week I found out the new minister at our church had moved to our neighborhood and, along with his wife, was going to start a small group that met around the corner from us. Two weeks later we went to the first meeting. I didn’t know it at the time, but the people we met that night would quickly become part of our extended family and some of our best friends. They are the people we “do life with” and ultimately that small group evolved into a new church plant.
I prayed for friends and God brought us into a new family, one that has supported us, loved us, and worshiped with us for four years now. God’s plans are so much greater than our own and when we are willing to ask, He faithfully meets us where we are.
If you are struggling to find your tribe or make adult friends, I encourage you to try some of these ideas and see how they work for you. Most of all, take heart: deep, meaningful relationships aren’t made overnight. They take time to cultivate and develop, but God called us to be in relationship with others and He will bring the right people into your life.
I’d also love to hear what has worked for you in finding close friends as an adult. Any other (unconventional) tips you want to share?