How to Friend, Part Two

If you didn’t read Part One, go do that now, otherwise you’re gonna be like, “Who is this Staun and why do I care about what she is saying.” OK thanks.

Me: So, Staun, let’s start with the big picture. Do you have a strategy or a philosophy of friendship?

Staun: I don’t know if you’d call it that, but there were two turning points in my life where others taught me about friendship. The first was watching my Grandpa’s example. When I started watching him with his friends, I noticed that he let people be who they were. People were not projects to him, he didn’t have an agenda. Fixing them was not his responsibility. He just took joy in others. That was so different from how I had been raised in an evangelical context where there is always an agenda, and every person is a project.

The second turning point was getting to know my sister’s friend Kathalee. She taught me to be less self-conscious around others because people aren’t focused on you. Nobody cares what you look like or what you do or say really. They care about being heard and seen.

Me: That reminds me of that Maya Angelou quote, People don’t remember what you said or did, they remember how you made them feel.

Staun: Exactly.

Me: I find as I get older, I just know more and more people, and I have a hard time deciding who to spend time with. How do you decide?

Staun: Well, there’s different levels of friendship, but with people who are more acquaintances, I try to notice who needs attention, people who maybe are not flourishing, and I invite them to do something. I try to notice what people need. On a deeper level, I think you have to just go along in life beside people. Watch for opportunities to do ordinary things with people, involve people in your every day life. Like go to the grocery store. Everyone needs to do that. That way you are being productive with time, but also spending it with someone you enjoy. I think here in America, we think everything has to be a big event or production, and we end up doing nothing at all with friends.

Me and Staun being silly in a laundromat. Don’t ask what the magazine is about, I can’t tell you.

Me: So true. What are some other ways you have developed deeper friendships?

Staun: I try to notice and take advantage of (in a positive way) other people’s gifts and talents. This accomplishes a few different things–it affirms others, it engages them in an activity, and it helps me too! For example, I have a friend who’s really good a decorating, so I asked her if she could help me redecorate the lunch room at work. We had a great time doing that! I have another friend who loves to garden. Now, it might be exploitative to ask her to come do a bunch of manual labor, but she could come to the store with me and advise me on plants.

[Holly side note that I did not think of at the time–I think we go into a lot of relationships with a mindset of wanting to show off our gifts and impress the other person/people. What Staun is talking about is flipping that on its head–notice what is impressive in others and affirming that in them. People love being around people like that]

Another thing that is key in building deeper friendships is coming through conflict. Not that you’d want to pick fights…But if conflict happens, not hastily discarding the relationship. All my friendships have been stronger post-conflict.

Me: OK, now you’re given me some guilt about some friendships I’ve let go. Maybe I should have worked harder to make them work?

Staun: Not necessarily. I have definitely “broken up” with some friends before. If a friendship is fundamentally unhealthy and unbalanced–if one person is taking more, not for a season but for pretty much the duration–that’s not healthy. That’s not bringing out the best in anyone. That person might be acquaintance material. But you’re not going to have a deep friendship with someone like that. On the other hand, sometimes you have a friend who goes through a season where they just can’t give as much as they take and things get unbalanced for a time. That’s different. I have a friend like that now. She’s not fundamentally a taker, she’s just struggling right now. I try to help her, but I also try to find opportunities for her to give by affirming what she is doing well, where she is gifted and asking her to teach me.

Me: One thing that’s running through a lot of what you’re saying–and what I think holds a lot of people back in friendships–is being willing to be vulnerable.

Staun: Absolutely! I think people struggle with that. But you can practice it in small ways. Asking people to do stuff with you is being vulnerable. With deeper friends, it’s asking for what you need up front. Calling someone up and saying, “I’m lonely, can I come by for a little bit?” It’s also being curious, that takes vulnerability too. To ask people to teach you what they know, to admit you don’t have all the wisdom and the answers.

Me: As Ted Lasso says, “Be curious not judgmental.”

Staun: Well you know I can be judgmental (laughs).

Me: But that’s not really your posture. We can all be judgmental at times, but is that the overall posture with which we approach others?

Staun: Right. Generally, I don’t judge people unless they are choosing to be hateful, destructive, or abusive.

Me: I think that’s fair.

Me: OK, here’s a question for you. What do you do about people who never reciprocate? You like them, you think they like you, but you’re always the one inviting them, making the plans, etc. Kind of drives me crazy.

Staun: I think that depends. Some people are just really disorganized. But you can tell in other ways that they value you and want to spend time with you. Those folks, you keep initiating. I really don’t mind. But if someone isn’t otherwise showing interest in you, just let them go. Not worth it.

There’s a line in the movie Charade where Audrey Hepburn says, “I don’t want to meet anyone new, I already know too many people.” There’s some truth in that. You certainly can’t have really good friends if you have too many friends.

Me: I found COVID really focused my social circle. I’m spending time with fewer people. And it’s not that I don’t like the others I no longer hang out with, and if they want to hang out with me, I would welcome that. But if they don’t show an interest–there’s no loss there.

Me: OK, let’s get practical for folks. If someone doesn’t have any friends, let’s say they move to a new place where they know no one. Where do they start?

Staun: Work can be OK, but sometimes hanging out with co-workers can be a little fraught. So I like to meet people in my same profession with whom I don’t work directly with. I’ve had a lot of luck at professional associations. Hobbies are great–I’m thinking of joining a quilting group. Used to be church but… it’s complicated these days.

Me: Uh…yeah. For a lot of people.

Staun: Maybe community gatherings, like the Kiwanis Club or something, charity work, things like that. But when you do meet new people–then you want to be curious, ask their advice, recognize their talents.

Me: You’re so good at that. OK, another tough question. How can we make friends with people who may be in a different station in life in a way that is not condescending?

Staun: I think the same things apply. No matter who someone is or what their circumstances are, remember everyone has something to contribute. Find out what that is. As them for their input, listen to what they have to say. Affirm their interests and gifts.

Me: You are so right about that. Everyone DOES have something to contribute!

####

Thanks Staun for a great conversation! If you have any burning questions about friendship or friendship conundrums, let me know! I’ll just ask my own personal expert 🙂

Sometimes we accidentally coordinate our outfits. That’s not one of Staun’s recommended friendship moves but it can’t hurt.

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