We all want and need close friends. But how do we find them?
The good news is that friendships tend to develop fairly quickly and easily in college, since you’re all largely in the same life stage and have classes, activities, community bathrooms, and often all twenty-four hours of the day (Denny’s at 3 a.m., anyone?) to draw you together.
But even in college, developing true, authentic friendships takes some intentionality. Even the most extroverted among you cannot be good friends with all 45,000 students on campus (and still graduate in less than six years!). So how do you move from “I know your name” to “I know you and am known by you”?
Don’t wait for someone you’d like to get to know to call you up. And don’t listen to the excuses in your head that might keep you from initiating (e.g., they already seem like they have a lot of friends or they don’t seem like they have a lot of extra time right now). Take initiative. Ask if you can get together with them. They’re probably looking for friends too.
When I moved to Madison about a year ago, a friend gave me this advice, and it’s served me well. I’ve invited people over for dinner and suggested coffee dates and lunch get-togethers to get to know others better. And every time, I’ve been glad I did. My life was—and still is—enriched by those people (who I now call friends) and their perspectives and stories.
2. Ask questions (and then actually listen).
The best way to get to know someone is to ask them about themselves, and to listen well as they answer. Be present not just physically but also mentally. Ask follow-up questions. Express interest in their family, their passions, their likes and dislikes. Find out what you have in common and what areas of your lives are different. Our full attention is one of the most valuable gifts we can give people today. They’ll notice the effort.
3. Take a risk.
You get to choose what you share about yourself. Putting the good, the bad, and the ugly out there for someone else to see builds trust. So, while you probably won’t want to share your deepest, darkest secrets the first time you meet someone, take some risks in what you are willing to tell.
When a friend and I started a small group Bible study together a few years ago, we asked everyone to share their journey of faith. My coleader and I went first, and both shared openly and honestly about some painful pieces of our journey, even though we didn’t know most of the group very well. Our willingness to share openly set the tone for the rest of the group’s sharing and, even more, for the rest of our time together as a group. From fairly early on, people in the group were willing to share authentically and vulnerably in appropriate ways.
4. Have fun (duh).
Find out what things you each like to do—or what things you’d like to learn to do—and try them together. Go on a road trip. Take a trapeze class. Sign up for the Ultimate Frisbee club team. Those experiences then become memories like:
“Remember when we got lost in downtown New York City together?”
“Remember when our failed baking attempt set off the fire alarm at 3 a.m. in our apartment building?”
“Remember when you accidentally hit the college president in the back of the head with your frisbee?”
5. And be serious.
Talk about more than just sports, news, and classes. Try money, sex, power, and temptations. (Yes, I’m serious.)
6. Keep your word.
If you agreed to meet somewhere at 8, be there at 8 (or call or text if you’ll be late). If you promise to keep something they share confidential, keep it confidential (unless, of course, the other person is in danger and needs outside help). If you promised to bring snacks to the party, bring snacks. Period.
7. Laugh and struggle together.
Celebrate team wins, awards, and unexpected As and Bs on papers (or, as the case may be, just turning a paper in on time). Similarly, be willing to allow the other person to walk with you in times of struggle, and be willing to walk with them through theirs. Painful moments—whether it’s conflict in your friendship or grief caused by outside circumstances—are often catalytic in developing a deeper friendship. Let both your joy and your pain lead you into prayer with and for each other.
God desires for us to live in community and friendship. These guidelines can help you deepen your relationships with others this fall into life-giving—and lifelong—friendships.
Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Matt Kirk.