Finding Friends Who Aren’t Afraid of Your Mess

My family moved to a new town a couple nights before starting high school. I knew no one and spent the majority of my 9th grade year eating lunch alone. I’ve never been someone that’s been able to make myself fit in so it was really challenging to find the people I vibed with.

No matter how old you are, making friends can be really, really difficult.

Based on the conversations I’ve had with many of you, we all thought that it would get easier as we grew up. And maybe if adult friends were like childhood friends it would feel more natural. Not that kids and teenagers don’t have stress or aren’t facing challenging life circumstances, or that adult friendships have to be serious and avoid all things fun, but there’s something about adult friendships that have the potential to be…messier.

We have more demands on our energy and time. Some of us have kids, some have challenging jobs, others are caring for ailing family members, living with chronic illness, or dealing with any number of other kinds of loss, trauma, or stress. And so making new friends is scary, because what if they aren’t willing to handle our biggest challenges with care? What if they’re too bogged down by their own stuff or believe they’re too perfect to even have their own stuff?

(psst…EVERYBODY has stuff that feels too heavy even if they’re really good at pretending.)

But the question remains: how do you find true, deep, adult friends you can trust with your mess and they can trust you back?

When my husband was in the Air Force I had a lot of practice and here’s what I learned: your gut knows who your friends will be. There was a group of people we really wanted to be friends with. We tried to join their ranks, ignoring every instinct that told us it was never going to be a good fit, until there was eventually a massive fallout that included them telling us we’d never be part of their inner circle. Ouch. But it taught me to listen to that little voice because I could’ve avoided that whole situation. 

And there were times when I listened to the voice. When we were in Las Vegas for my husband’s residency, I saw another spouse with an infant who was incredibly pregnant. She looked really kind and really overwhelmed and I thought to myself, she probably could use some help, we should be friends. She is still one of my closest friends over a decade later.  When we were stationed in Maryland I started a book club through our church and, while standing in the produce aisle, got a phone call from a new mom who giggled and said, “I just really need friends.” She’s the one I called right away after Keith died and the one who took my oldest when the second kid was born. 

I take it back, it’s about more than just listening to your gut (your gut is still the right place to start, though). Making those lifelong friendships is as much about being intentional and open about what you’re looking for and what you need. Since we aren’t in school or after school activities like we were as kids, we have to grab on to opportunities to make friends wherever we meet them. 

When you feel that gut feeling that you’d get along well with someone, jump on it. Tell them you’d like to get to know them better, that you think you could be great friends. And model what you need. Ask them questions. Follow up. Create opportunities for quality time since quantity isn’t always an option. Share your dreams and your fears and your losses and joys, slowly if you need to, and observe how they respond. Anyone who responds with equal vulnerability (without either of you trauma dumping – even the best of friends deserve healthy boundaries) is showing you they understand what it means to be a trustworthy, caring friend who isn’t afraid to traverse the mountains and valleys of adulthood together.

Here are to books to help you work on listening to your gut and being vulnerable in your friendships:
Discernment by Henri Nouwen
Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

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