Ask Petal: Do you have any advice about how to keep friends?
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Question: Do you have any advice about how to keep friends?
If you’re asking this question or even reading this right now, it shows you want to invest in your friendships as the wonderful and important bonds that they are. And that is a sign of an awesome, committed friend. :)
While there’s so much information and advice available for maintaining romantic and familial relationships, there’s not as much attention when it comes to nurturing platonic friendships. And interestingly, when I was googling around to write this blog, I found tons of articles about how to “let go” of friends and even “declutter” friendships - both of which are equally valid posts, but it made me wonder why more isn’t written about the opposite, your very question: how to keep friends.
Is it because we want our friendships to be easy and simple - relationships to enjoy but not put real effort in? Do we view challenges as a sign a friendship is about to expire, and therefore, isn’t worth saving? Admittedly, I’m guilty of feeling all of those things at one time or another. But like you, I’ve come to the realization that keeping friendships strong is not only worth the effort, but it also deeply enriches every part of life.
(PS, if any of this speaks to you, I highly recommend reading Big Friendship by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman.)
“We can learn so much about someone by the way they talk about their friends.” Big Friendship
On a personal note, my best friends are from middle school. We met, sheesh, about sixteen years ago! Our get-togethers are now much different - sleepovers and school dances are swapped with happy hours and weddings- but the friendships are rooted in love and respect that have allowed our bonds to survive new schools, changing job titles and partners, and big moves.
But those relationships didn’t happen automatically. They took, and continue to take, deliberate attention through each stage and phase of life. And while my friendships very likely look different from your own, here are are some pieces of advice I've been given and picked up along the way that I hope resonate with you:
1. Show Up
Make *and keep* plans. This may sound obvious, but it’s so important. It doesn’t matter what age you are, making time for friends is key to staying connected.
This can look like having a pizza night or monthly book club, like Gloria, Page Petal founder! Or maybe it involves meeting up annually for a friend trip or texting about a TV show you both watch. (Full disclosure: I started watching The Bachelor because I wanted to be included in a group text.)
I can say with confidence that in nearly all of the cases I have “lost” friends, it was because we stopped making time for each other. One person moved, another got busy with work, priorities changed. And before we knew it, those annual “happy birthday” texts became the entire communication, at best. Usually, there was no big fight or reason; it wasn’t intentional - and that’s exactly the point.
But here’s the good news: I’m a firm believer that friendships can be brought back to life - if both of you are interested in doing so. (Perhaps, this deserves a whole other post!) In fact, one of my closest friends and I didn’t talk for almost five years and she ended up introducing me to my husband! Life is funny that way.
Of course, showing up isn’t always easy. But often when spending time together isn’t convenient, that’s exactly when it’s needed the most. If a friend moves, is going through something hard personally, or is swamped with school or work, those get-togethers can be the memories that you both still talk about years later because they were bright spots in an otherwise tough time.
And then be sure to show up when things are going well in their life. Cheer them on, lift them up, and show that their happiness is your happiness. Who doesn’t want a friend like this?
2. Get To Know Each Other’s Love Languages
Chances are you’ve heard of love languages. The topic typically comes up when talking about romantic relationships. But I find them incredibly useful with my platonic friendships, too.
For example, if your friend is a quality time person, make an effort to plan in-person hangs or routine Face-Time get togethers. If they’re more fulfilled by words of affirmation, long phone chats, the occasional “pick me up” text, and random check-ins may be more important. Got a gift lover in your life? Don’t forget about their birthday and maybe give them their favorite candy every once in a while, just because.
It’s also helpful for you to get to know your own love language so you can better communicate what’s important to you with your friends. (Not sure what your love language is? Take the free test here!)
3. Give and Receive Forgiveness
Mistakes are bound to happen. On both sides. Particularly with friends who you feel very comfortable with things can be said or done that are hurtful. And I find that when I really care about someone I tend to be more critical and sensitive. Something a stranger or acquaintance says is often easy to bounce off. But a BFF? That’ll be a lot harder.
Sometimes it takes breathing space into your relationships to gather your thoughts (and maybe tears), but if you can move forward - and want to - your friendship may grow even stronger and more resilient.
For me, forgiveness in friendships almost always requires communication. Sure, some things can be brushed off, but acknowledging that something is off or a mistake was made is usually necessary, even though it’s hard. But I think most anyone would say that letting resentment fester is a lot more detrimental to a relationship (and exhausting) than speaking up and talking through things.
4. Ask Questions
This may sound silly, but I once brought conversation cards to a Friendsgiving. But hear me out! I learned so much about my friends who I thought I knew inside and out. Learning more about your friends is fun and it’ll give you new things to laugh about and connect over.
Plus, we probably all have (or had) a friend who talks without ever asking questions in return. It's not a great feeling, right? While there are times when one friend is going through something and needs to vent - asking questions about your friend’s life is a sign you care. Listening is love.
5. Prioritize Trust
There’s the saying, “trust takes years to build, seconds to break.” We can all probably think of a time when we lived this quote.
In other words, keep each other’s secrets. Sharing something that was told in confidence is a sure way to betray a friend’s trust and deteriorate the foundation of a friendship.
And opening up in return is a beautiful way to show someone that you value them enough to share pieces of yourself with them.
6. Be Open to Your Friendship Evolving (But Make Room For Tradition)
It’s inevitable. As people change, so will the friendship. Sometimes this change happens because you don’t have classes together anymore or someone gets a new romantic partner or different job. But knowing that change is coming can help better prepare us to get through all the ups, downs, and dormant in-betweens.
However, even though change is a part of life, so can fun traditions! For example, one of my best friends and I used to get dinner together every week at this restaurant in New York. When I moved to a new city, she took pictures of the restaurant whenever she passed it and sent them to me with a sweet note. And now, this restaurant is the first place we go when I visit. It’s become “our thing.” So try to find your version of “our thing” with your person. It can serve as an anchor in the changing tides of friendship.
7. Give Verbal Validation
When’s the last time you took time out of your day to tell a friend how much they mean to you? If your answer is “last night” or “five minutes ago” - major kudos to you. If not, here’s your sign to do it!
But seriously, don’t forget to tell your friends how important they are to you. Send a text message or a funny meme or TikTok that reminds you of them- hey, even an Instagram DM! There are so many ways to connect, take advantage of them.
8. Remember, Friendships are “Home”
In A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman writes about how loving someone is similar to moving into a house.
“.... over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there, and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfection, but rather for its imperfections. You get to know all the nooks and crannies.”
I think of friendship in a very similar way. But perhaps it’s more of a “second home” - one you don’t necessarily live in every single day, but you know you can visit any time and it will accept you as you are (just as you’d do in return). That said, even if you know it’s there, you still need to check in on it! You can’t just ignore it for months on end or things stop working... or get a little too dusty.
For me, that’s friendship. A balance of knowing when to give space, when to check in, and when to just show up at the front door with takeout and ice cream for a movie night. After all, it's not too hard to brush off a little dust every once in a while. 💛
Do you have any tips for keeping your friendships strong through the years? Please share them in the comments below!