Yesterday Nay Dawson started a really helpful twitter thread about friendship and the school gate. Various others chimed in and it was a helpful discussion with various helpful resources posted. But it did remind me that whilst we live a society desperate for friendship many of us struggle to build friendships. It can be especially hard if, and when, you move to a new area, especially if you are an outsider to that area. Or if you are entering an environment where relationships seem to have been already forged and you are on the outside. So I thought I’d share some things which I’ve found helpful, whilst acknowledging that I’m not brilliant at this and have to work hard at it.
The first thing is to be in the community you are in. Too many of us are commuters, we drive in and out, in and out, in and out. We’re so busy that we don’t really have time to dwell, to abide, where we live and that inevitably has a knock on effect on the relationships we build or not. Busyness and rushing signals that we don’t have time or capacity for friendship. As does hiding behind your phone, they are brilliant friendship deflectors again signalling that I’m too busy when really we’re just scared of being vulnerable. So plan in time, put the phone in your pocket or leave it at home and look up and smile.
We also need to work hard to develop repeated community habits like using the local shops and cafes regularly. As a church you might encourage people to do that too, for example we’ve just negotiated a discount card for our toddler mums at a local cafe on the day toddlers runs and our toddler team regularly have food together there after toddlers has finished. Get to know the staff and ask how they are. Use local shops where you can and say hi to the staff when you see them around.
Identify key community gateways. Where do people meet? Where do they just hang out? Where is there opportunity to be around people? Are there existing community groups or networks that you can join? Are there local sports teams you can play in or coach? That may mean changing your diary and getting out of the Christian rabbit warren we can find ourselves sucked into or changing some other existing commitments in order to do so but long term it will pay off.
Also look for the small everyday opportunities, we’ve found the school drop off to be fruitful during our boys primary school years – so much so that I’m dreading not having a child at primary next year for the first time in 15 years. We’ve deliberately walked them to school and back again, arriving a few minutes early for each and looking to chat to people as they pick up or drop off kids. Key to this I think has been not diarising it, not having to rush off but having chance to stop and chat, and looking for opportunities to say hello to people. It has taken time to get to know people but being there and willing to talk has helped so much. It’s led to opportunities to play sport together, and even attend the wedding of friends we first met at the school gate when our now Uni Freshers were in Nursery.
Walk rather than drive if you can and be ready to say hi and smile to people. That means taking your headphones out when you walk and being aware of what’s around you. We’ve got to know some people just by walking passed them at the same time every day smiling and saying good morning and gradually building things up that way. One lady we’d only ever said ‘hi’ to even stopped us to ask if we were involved in the church that meets at the local school. One brilliant shortcut is to get a dog, its amazing how many people will chat to you while your dogs sniff each other’s butt who wouldn’t normally stop and talk!
I wonder if we suffer from friendship anxiety, we worry about it so much we make it a much bigger thing that it is, and I say that as someone who is naturally quite quiet and happy to not put myself out there. What if it was as simple as being friendly, making eye contact, signalling willingness by not rushing and not gazing at a screen? At least it’s a place we can all start.