No sane person would say, “I do not want any friends,” but plenty of people who say they have lots of friends have none.

I know; I was such a one.

You may have many acquaintances and tons of family members, neighbors, co-workers, fellow church members (or if you’re a pastor, parishioners), but who are your friends?

And then comes the harder question: “Whom, among my friends, have I chosen for my life, vis-à-vis just processing whoever happened to show up in my life?”

The approach you develop for friendmaking may differ from mine (I hope it is) but for your own sake be thoughtful and make a plan. As food for thought, here are three ideas that have worked for me in six words: Make Room; Act Locally; Science, Art.

  1. Make Room

Consider “firing” some of your present “friends,” even if it means hurting someone’s feelings or making an enemy – and yes, I include relatives in that prescription.

We each get 168 hours per week. How much of that is truly discretionary time?

Taking care of home and family responsibilities, working for a living, eating, sleeping, bathing and whatever else you must do takes two-thirds of that time, right? That’s 112 hours each week!

If the remaining 56 hours is frequently filled with people you hang with by default, not because you want to, do something. Make room.

  1. Act Locally

Commit yourself to trying to satisfy your inner yearning for intimacy with friendship and then act.

Get intentional. Assertive. If you’re a list-maker, make a list of prospects. Woo and win the most desirable friend you can find, someone at least as grown-up as you – one you think might enrich your life and you theirs.

“Act locally” implies that while long distance friends are fine, in one’s time of need one needs a local friend, like I needed Terry in the story with which I opened Part 1 of this series of articles.

When I made a thousand-mile move from Arizona to California, I bid a teary goodbye to the closest friends I’d ever had – men and women who had helped me weather a stormy divorce and tenderly but firmly challenged me to become whole as a single adult, well-married to myself.

I settled into my new home and job – and into abject loneliness. I used phone calls back to Arizona and a couple of brief romances to cope, but I needed a friend nearby.

After several false starts, I found someone I truly wanted – a wise, deep, thoughtful man, a leader, a professional peer, but a private person with many commitments and a marriage to tend.

I just knew he’d be too busy to take me on, but mustering all my courage, I asked him out to lunch. He accepted.

As the small talk played out and lunch was served, we both fell into silence. It was my move.

Looking more at my plate than at him (not good technique at all, but I was embarrassed and afraid of rejection), I said softly, “I’ve been watching you from afar for some time. I like what I see. I am seeking a friend, and the reason for this lunch is to ask you to consider becoming my friend. I don’t know how close we’d want to get or what form our friendship would take, but we could start now and see where it wants to go. If you can make time for an occasional meeting like this and are willing to try …”

As my voice trailed off, I looked up to see him crying. He was lonely too. No one had ever approached him this way. He was touched. We became fast friends. We still are.

  1. Science + Art

Studies have repeatedly shown that people rarely lose a job due to technical incompetence. Most of the time, it’s due to social incompetence.

Remember that it is impossible not to communicate, that communication is “louder” nonverbally than verbally (body language, tone of voice and so on), and that the message sent is not necessarily the message received.

Studying interviewing techniques, principles of human communication and assertiveness training all can be worthwhile. But also remember that friendship is more art than science. At the risk of being misunderstood, lead with your heart.

Finally, I have found it helpful to make at least one friend of the same sex but also at least one friend of the opposite sex.

So, have friends whose passions or careers or spiritual pursuits differ from your own, sometimes wildly.

The big questions for me are three: “Which way flows the nourishment?” “Can I trust this friend implicitly?” And perhaps most of all, “When I’m with my friend, do we have so much fun that time stands still?”

Editor’s note: This is the final article in a three-part series. Part one is available here. Part two is available here.

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