I’m not telling you anything new when I say that making time for friends – let alone making new ones – takes effort as an adult. Without some of the built-in opportunities for togetherness we enjoy when we’re younger, plus all of the time-consuming responsibilities of being an adult, making and keeping plans with the people I care about can feel like a part-time job.
And that’s just the logistics! If you’re an introvert like me, there can be a whole other level of fatigue from the vulnerability of putting yourself out there over and over again. Despite this, I’m always a bit shocked when I look around and realize (with much gratitude!) that I actually do have thriving friendships in my life. And one thing has been a game changer: systematizing them. Incredibly unromantic, incredibly helpful :)
Basically, I realized that my most consistent friendships – in many cases, the ones that feel the closest – have an automatic cadence. We’ve figured out the best and easiest way to spend time together and now we replicate it over and over. Here’s what that looks like for me, and how you might try this in your life if it sounds like something you need…
1. Name the friendships that matter most in this season. Get out a piece of paper and literally write down all of the friendships in your life right now – close by and far away, old and new, couple friends and college friends and church friends and mom friends and work friends and neighborhood friends and parents-of-your-kid’s-friends friends. Mark the ones you’d most like to nurture in this season of life.
2. For each priority relationship, brainstorm the best way to enjoy each other’s company. In some cases, this might simply be naming something that’s already in place. If not, maybe you can build off a rhythm that already exists, or replicate something you’ve enjoyed in the past. (An important point: the goal is not necessarily to have more social engagements, though that may end up happening. The goal is to make it easier to see the people who matter most.)
Another small aside: do you ever struggle with feeling like you’re the one who always extends the invitation? Does that feel unfair? Even though it is factually not true in my case (and probably not in yours!), the perception can leave me feeling vulnerable and resentful.
In recent years, though, I’ve successfully turned this feeling on its head. I GET to choose the activities that sound fun to me and work with my season of life! I GET to be the one to delight my friends! Instead of waiting for other people to ask, I can extend the invite with joy in my own time.
3. Implement the routine and make it sticky. No need to call up each friend and have a formal conversation, but if you’re suggesting a new rhythm, it might be helpful to broach the subject directly (“what do you think about meeting up for a walk on Thursday mornings?”). Once you’ve agreed to a rhythm (with the understanding that you can always adjust as life requires!), find a way to automate the planning. Usually, this looks like choosing a standing date (the first Friday of the month, every Monday morning) or putting the next date on the calendar before you part ways.
Of course, it goes without saying that even if you have a way you usually spend time with someone, that doesn’t mean you can’t ever do anything different. Of course you can! This is just an easy way to remove the burden of feeling like you need to reinvent the wheel every time you want to hang with a friend.
My friendships in adulthood have evolved alongside my life stage. They looked one way when we were engaged and newly married, another when we had just one baby, and now another when we have multiple school-age kids. Here are a few of the current friendship rhythms that are giving me life:
— Articles Club, of course! We meet on a certain day each month, and our gathering for discussion and dinner is a delightful way to spend time with ten wonderful friends. Several years in, we all know to keep “our” Tuesday evening clear on the calendar.
— Many of you may remember that I worked with Kristin and Lisa for several years at Southern Weddings. Lisa and I literally sat next to each other five days a week, so we didn’t really need an excuse to spend time together outside of work. When SW retired, though, we went several years only seeing each other sporadically. Then, a few months into the pandemic, we cautiously met up on Lisa’s porch for Prosecco and snacks after kiddo bedtime one evening. We set a date to meet up the next month before we left, and I don’t think we’ve missed a month in the last year and a half.
— Our annual camping trip with the Rays is a guaranteed weekend of late-night fireside chats and kiddo bonding.
— Making Fridays even sweeter: we do preschool pick-up at the same time as two other dear families, walk to a nearby bakery together for after-dinner treats, and let the kids run around while the grown-ups swap work-week updates and weekend plans for an hour.
— New babies have us a little out of our routine, but a neighborhood friend and I were in a great rhythm of early-morning walks every other week or so.
— Pandemic notwithstanding, I stumbled into a pattern of hosting a larger party once a year for my best gals (like the garden party or book swap party). This is a great catchall opportunity to be with those friends I might not see on a regular basis and a fun chance to flex my party-planning-loving heart! Fingers crossed I can make the potluck party I’ve been dreaming up for two years happen this spring…
There are more examples I could give, and more rhythms I have ideas for but have yet to implement, but I hope this gives you something to consider as you think through your own friendships! Like many of the best ideas, this is a very simple concept – but one that has paid dividends in my life in recent years.
If you have a friendship rhythm that’s working for you, I’d love to hear about it!