How to build and maintain friendships

Friendship is incredibly important for our wellbeing. Numerous studies have proven the positive effects of close social relationships, including better physical and mental health, lower stress levels, better memory function as we age, and even a longer life expectancy. One study found that the positive impact of social ties on life span is twice as strong as that of exercising, and equal to that of quitting smoking.

But like most things worth having, friendship takes time and effort to build and maintain. Relocations, busy lifestyles and now, social distancing, can all take a toll on our friendships and make it difficult to stay in touch with those closest to us. It can be hard to keep adult friendships strong over time, but it’s more than worthwhile and deeply enriching to create and nurture a network of close friends.

Here are our tips on how to build and maintain friendships that can last a lifetime, as well as how social media can affect friendships and advice for making new friends in adult life.

Make quality time for your friends

It may seem obvious, but it’s remarkably easy for life to get in the way of the time we might otherwise spend with our friends. When we’re busy, it’s often the time we have booked in with our friends that’s the first thing to get postponed or cancelled, before work or romantic relationship commitments, for example.

There’s a tendency to assume that long-term friendships are a more resilient bond that can withstand unlimited time spent without contact. While this can be true to a point, it’s important to invest time in your friendships, just as would any other relationship. Try not to let too much time go by between catch ups with your friends, even if it’s only over the phone. Or, why not try taking up a new hobby or pastime with your friends that enables you to spend time together regularly?

Set and respect each other’s boundaries

One of the most beneficial aspects of friendship is the support it offers us; it’s a huge comfort to know you have friends you can rely on in difficult times and to lean on them when you need to.

At the same time, it’s also vital not to overburden your friends with your worries or to expect them to be there for you at the drop of a hat or at any hour of the day or night. Healthy and lasting friendships must be built on an understanding and respect of each other’s lives and boundaries, which means not asking too much of them. This must work both ways so that neither one of you feels taken for granted in the relationship.

Honesty is the best policy

In any relationship, true connection only comes from being open and honest. To form and maintain real friendship that lasts, it’s vital to let someone get to know the real you and to get to know them on the same level.

It can be tempting to exaggerate certain aspects of our personalities, or even our lives, when we meet new people we hope to befriend, especially if our insecurities tell us that our true selves might not be ‘impressive’ or ‘likeable’ enough. But not being honest about yourself will only mean that potential new friends won’t have a chance to get to know who you really are. These surface-level friendships rarely last.

The same goes even with friends we’ve known a long time. It’s important to allow them to be honest with you and to expect the same in return, even when this means hearing feedback we may not always like. Having friends who will tell it to you straight is invaluable and will help you to understand yourself better in the process.

How social media can affect friendships

Recent figures estimate that over 58 percent of the UK population uses social media. While social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram undoubtedly enable us to connect with people we may otherwise never have a chance to meet, their effect on friendship is complex.

Social media is known to help us build connections with others who share our interests or lifestyles, even over long distances. Many who find themselves facing life circumstances without anyone in their immediate friendship circle to relate to, can expand their social circle online to meet like-minded people and others experiencing similar things.

That said, social media can also contribute to people withdrawing from friendships, especially if they begin to compare their lives to that of their friends, based on social media profiles alone. Social media use has been linked with low self-esteem and increased risk of developing mental health issues, and the temptation to compare our own lives with a picture-perfect snapshot of others, including our friends, is thought to be a contributing factor.

Ways to build adult friendships

It’s easy to feel isolated from friends who live far away or who we struggle to see very often. Research by The British Red Cross shows that as many as one in five people often or always feels lonely, even before the pandemic. Many of us may want to make more friends in our adult lives, but it can be difficult to know where to start.

Feelings of awkwardness and embarrassment can stop us from reaching out and making new connections, but it can help to remember how universal the desire for friendship is. Try joining a group, book club or class you’re interested in, or supporting a cause you feel passionate about, as a way to meet new people who share your interests. Download a friend-finding app, such as Bumble BFF or Hey! Vina, or try the app Meetup to find like-minded groups in your local community. Taking the first steps can be daunting, but making meeting new people on your wavelength can be incredibly rewarding and enriching.