How to Cultivate Lifelong Friendships

While I wasn’t a military kid, every 4 years, I switched school systems, districts, and churches. The result? I never had friends with history. I never grew up with a friend next door and shared childhoods. Rather, my friends shifted with every change.

When I arrived to a smaller college, I realized I was in the minority. I would attend weddings of new friends and discover that their maid of honor or best man had been a best friend since they were 3. I immediately felt the void. My heart would sink and voices of comparison would creep in. “What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I keep friends? Why could I only cultivate friendships based upon circumstances?”

After my Freshman year in college, I knew I wanted things to be different. No longer content with the continual rebuilding of friendships, I wanted relationships that stood the test of time. I decided to be intentional and choose the people in my life. When I met people I loved, I would pursue friendship, and invite them into greater level of trust and vulnerability. Friendships and acquaintances were no longer the same thing. There were levels of intimacy. Not everyone had the same access point to me and that was perfectly okay. The result? I’ve been able to cultivate lifelong friendships, the very thing I longed for as an 18 year old.

While I’m not decades past college, I’ve found 12 years later essentials that have served me well. I can happily say that I have friends with decades of history and they have grown through the seasons. No longer looking back to a shared circumstance of college days and dorm stories, history and life has been shared across country.

Making friends can be hard. Here are 5 of our tips to create lifelong friendships:

Run after vulnerability and authenticity.
True connection is made here. Every human in the world has a core and central desire- to be loved and be known. The challenge? Due to fear, rejection, and past hurts, we often wall ourselves off from the very things  we desire. To be honest, most millennials don’t have plans for next year, much less social plans for the next two weeks. Life is focused on instant gratification and transactions from someone else. However, when you choose someone in relationship, you’re not afraid of commitment. By expressing needs and sharing truth, you’re inviting someone to reciprocate. People are invited into intimacy and are given the opportunity to love. They get to look past the feeds and highlight reels and connect to the truest essence of someone else. Many of my college friends received a simple promise from me, “As long as you desire me in your life, I will be there.” When people are relationally healthy, this is simple. In my college community, few of us were fearful about expressing value to someone else, regardless of what the next year held. We cultivated intentionality as a discipline. Birthdays, family meal, camping weekends, friendsgivings, and and road trips were normal. (Also read, if a relationship is unhealthy, it’s okay to distance yourself, break ties, and move on.)

Give yourself grace in friendship. 
As years go on, your friendship will naturally evolve. Let’s say for example you have a male friend from college. When he marries someone else, his now partner is fulfilling the role once filled. This is natural in relationships as time goes on. Based on your relationship with his partner, your friendship can evolve and grow in the next life season. Give yourself and your friendships grace as you figure it out.

Grow with life seasons.
As much as we don’t like change, it is an inevitable reality of life. How do you maintain relationships as you might no longer live in the same room, state, timezone, or city? Choose to pick up where you left off. Don’t assume silence means offense. Assume you share a place in a friend’s life until one of you communicates otherwise.

Let’s be honest. As someone who is single and in her 30s, it’s easy to assume that your friends must be in the same season of life to relate. The subsequent result? I would have to let go of every friendship that doesn’t mirror my life stage. It feels exhausting and never allows for friendship to grow past certain decades. Do your friends have kids? Become auntie. Do you have friends who are walking through challenges of pregnancy and growing their family? Support them, encourage them, and be a listening ear. Know when to say, “I’m so sorry. What do you need?” Be willing to hold people when they cry and act as a support when things are difficult. When the seasons shift and there’s change in their life, learn to celebrate the new season with them! As you learn to embrace each life season with one another, you’ll quickly discover they can’t wait to celebrate with you as well.

Encourage and remember the special holidays.
There’s nothing like a Milk Bar cake or piece of Crack Pie on your doorstep when it’s your birthday. The text messages, emojis, and congrats calls when it’s a launch day are priceless. Choose to be the friend that remembers and celebrates occasions (and celebrating accomplishments other than weddings or babies). You know how great it feels when people remember your anniversary, birthday, and celebrate your promotions? For your friends, it’s exactly the same.

Pro tip: During a cozy day in, set aside one hour and write  your friend’s important dates in your calendar. Know of something they would love? Add notes with an alert for their gift + the ordering link. You’ll never miss a holiday again.

Build relationships and commonality past shared circumstances.
As time goes on, find new things to share. It will force your friendship to grow past shared experiences and circumstances. There’s no longer a need to relish in the glory days of college and living in the past. Your friendship has roots past a shared experience- there’s fresh highs and lows, celebrations, and victories moments to enjoy together.

Pro tip in intentionality: Don’t allow distance to rob you of intimacy. Schedule times to FaceTime or talk on the phone to catch up with one another. My favorite? Coffee dates over FaceTime. I make my coffee or tea and a friend does the same and it’s like sitting across from them in a shop. Sweet and simple without much additional effort.

How do you cultivate lifelong friendships?

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