Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Make Real Friends?
JEFF felt that making friends was simple. After all, while in school, he had as many as anyone could want. But fresh out of school he moved to a new city. Then an unusual thing happened—he discovered how difficult it was for him to make new friends.
“I was absolutely lonely,” said Jeff. “The skills that I needed to be relaxed and comfortable to meet new people were skills that I simply didn’t have. I stayed for six months—and it was the toughest time of my life.”
This young man’s experience is common. As a young person, you too may realize that you don’t need to go to a new city to feel friendless. Making friends can be hard. Why is this?
You Cannot Rush It
Some feel that a real friendship* can blossom and become full grown overnight. We live in an age where we have come to expect “instant service”—everything from instant foods to instant friendship. But real intimacy comes about by the sharing of experiences and feelings over a period of time.
However, certain skills can help you to get the process started and make progress smoother. These skills were exemplified by a man who built friendships so binding that his friends willingly died for him. He also suffered and died because of his deep love for his friends. What did this man, Jesus Christ, do to create such deep friendships? How can we imitate him and have similar success?
“An Active Interest in Others”
Jesus cared for people. He reached out and actively helped others. His interest in others was not merely a wishful notion, but he got involved because he ‘wanted to.’ (Matthew 8:3) This built deep friendships then and will do the same today.
For example, a modern-day young man who was especially successful in making friends was asked how he did it. He imitated Jesus’ interest in others. “It’s having a real love for people and taking an active interest in others,” said David. “One of the biggest things is to know the person’s name. Others are often impressed that you cared enough to remember their name. Because of this they may share some experience or problem with you and the friendship starts to build.”
‘Does this mean I have to be a hand-pumping extrovert? That’s just not me!’ may be the reaction of some. Care for people is not always shown in this way. Jesus was “lowly in heart,” so he was not flamboyant or showy. (Matthew 11:28, 29) It is the sincere interest in others that ‘reaches’ them. For instance, there was an obscure grower and seller of plants, who was described by a fellow townsman as the “shyest man I ever met.” However, when this nurseryman died, his funeral was the largest in the history of his little hometown. Why?
“Hubert knew how to make friends,” recalled Alan Loy McGinnis in his book The Friendship Factor. “He had mastered the principles of caring, and for more than 60 years he had put people first.” Is that what you do? By placing more emphasis on people and doing things together, rather than on material possessions, you will develop many lasting friendships. Often the simplest settings, such as sharing a meal together or assisting a friend with some task, can serve to deepen a friendship.
“The Road to the Heart”
“Pay attention to how you listen,” recommended Jesus. He knew the value of his words to those who would listen and heed his message. (Luke 8:18) But being a good listener is also vital to building a friendship. “Sometimes you need somebody who will just listen,” said 22-year-old Guy. “This willingness to listen is what brings the closeness.” Yes, it is just as Voltaire wrote: “The road to the heart is the ear.”
If we are genuinely interested in what others are saying, they usually are drawn to us. But this requires your “keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters [perhaps on just what you want to say], but also in personal interest upon those of the others.”—Philippians 2:4.
So ask yourself, When others talk do I really listen or am I thinking of what to say next? Do I ask questions to draw others out? By my gestures or facial expressions, do I show I’m involved in the conversation?
Jesus stuck with his friends. He “loved them to the end.” (John 13:1) Realizing this, 22-year-old Gordon, after acquiring a close friendship with his companion, said: “The main quality of a friend is his loyalty. Will he really stick with you when times get rough? My friend and I would defend each other when others would say some belittling remarks. We really stuck up for each other—but only if we were in the right.”
Such loyalty is indeed appreciated since today there is so much hypocrisy and backbiting. “There exist companions disposed to break one another to pieces [or, to “break” that one’s reputation by gossip], but there exists a friend sticking closer than a brother.”—Proverbs 18:24.
Share Your Feelings
Jesus’ willingness to reveal his most tender feelings endeared his friends to him. At times he revealed that he “felt pity,” “felt love,” and was “deeply grieved.” He at least on one occasion “gave way to tears.” Jesus was not embarrassed to lay bare his heart to those whom he trusted.—Matthew 9:36; Mark 10:21; Matthew 26:38; John 11:35.
Quite naturally, you can’t wear your emotions like an open book and flood a casual acquaintance with all your apprehensions. “You have to be yourself,” stated 14-year-old Felicia. Be honest with others. When people wear emotional “masks,” they become distant. Learning to have empathy, “fellow feeling,” for others, and to ‘suffer’ with them is essential if you would build meaningful friendships.—1 Peter 3:8.
However, note a word of caution. When you choose as a close friend someone of the opposite sex, there is always the danger of becoming romantically involved. It is easy to become emotionally dependent on that one. Therefore, if either of you is not in a position to marry, untold heartaches can follow. Far better to look for a close friend from among those of your own sex until you are ready to seek out a marriage partner.
Do Not Expect Perfection
There are going to be some awkward moments in making friends. “We all make mistakes in all kinds of ways, but the man who can claim that he never says a wrong thing can consider himself perfect.” (James 3:2, Phillips) Many persons can testify that by working hard at cultivating friends, they have enjoyed many lasting friendships.
Even when a friendship has been made, don’t expect perfection. One young man raised in the countryside, an only child, developed a strong friendship with a young man who had known only big-city life and was one of five children. How did they manage with such different backgrounds? “You have to be willing to give,” said Presley. “That’s a large part of friendship. You have your own feelings about things but you’re willing to give in to make room for your friend’s feelings and opinions.”
Yes, all of this costs time and emotional involvement. But not loving will cost you much more. You will pay with a life of empty loneliness. However, be assured that by imitating Jesus in showing genuine concern for people you will be able to say to some, as did Jesus, “You are my friends.”—John 15:14.
A discussion of what actually is a real friend and the need to be selective in choosing such appeared in the March 8, 1982, Awake!
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Do you have trouble in making friends?
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Do you really listen when others speak?