Practical Guide to Building Community (aka: Making Adult Friends)
We were having dinner with friends who just moved to the city next to us. We were really still getting to know each other as couple friends. Imagine being on a fourth date with someone—you really like them but you're still trying to make a good impression. There we were in their house, at their table, eating dinner, everything was going great. We had so much in common! Phew! So much in common that they used the same glass water bottles we did at the table. You should know this wasn’t an individual water bottle situation, this was the water for everyone to pour from situation. In my relaxed state, without even thinking, I did something entirely out of habit: I grabbed the bottle, popped off the lid, and started to drink out of it. Mid-drink, I suddenly became aware of what I was doing. I was so shocked at my own behaviour that I suddenly spat the water out EVERYWHERE and turned beet red while choking back laughter and water. When everyone realized what had just happened, the table erupted into laughter and the host said to me, “The fact that you felt so comfortable with us that you just did that without thinking makes us feel so special as your friends.” They are, to this day, our weekly hang out friends, and every once in a while we still giggle about the “water bottle incident.”
Here’s hoping these practical guidelines help you cultivate meaningful community around yourself.
Find people at a similar stage in life. You should have friends of all ages, types, and sizes because that’s just healthy and it gives you different perspectives on life. However, when it comes to finding close friends, find ones who understand what you’re going through—you’re single and love cheese, they’re single and love cheese 😜 Or they have kids, you have kids, you all have to crash at someone’s house, dinner is a bit of a gong show, and trying to put the kids to bed is a bit of a circus, but it’s something all of you are going through together. You get it, they get. Suddenly, a Friday night hang out is a little more crazy, but also a lot more fun. And trust me, you’ll still find enough differences to keep things interesting. Ever notice how everyone parents their children the exact same way? Oh, wait…
FOOOOOOD! Glorious food. Eating with people to build community is as old as time. IT WORKS. Food gives you something to do, something to enjoy together. Every Friday we eat with our friends, we ask them to bring something so it always feels shared. For example: We are making burgers tonight, someone bring a salad and someone bring a desert! We all make an effort, we all feel a part. And there’s something about a home-cooked meal that takes connection to the next level. Inviting someone into your home, apartment, or condo invites them into a more intimate part of you. And if you can’t cook, all the more reason to learn and ask your friends to join in! So pop open a bottle of wine or sparkling juice if you prefer!
Make memories. Be intentional and put yourself out there. Plan to make memories—better yet, make ones that put you out of your comfort zone. We go camping with our friends, including ALL THE KIDS. We plan beach days, family sleep overs, all day outings, and more. Whether the memories turn out just as you imagined or take their own shape, you have just made a moment that bonds you together. These moments become anchor points (thank you, Jon Puddle) in your relationship with them.
Let it be awkward. People are funny and messy and weird. There are times (especially in the beginning) when there will be awkward moments of silence. Don’t rush to fill the void. When we become comfortable in the silence, we become deeper, more relaxed friends.
Vulnerability. OK, vulnerability does not mean crying all the time or being a “Debbie downer.” It also doesn’t mean airing out all your dirty laundry the first time you hang out. BUT as you build trust, your heart should also open up. Trust and vulnerability are what true relationships are built on. As you open up a little more, trust is built. And as trust is built, the more you can open up. You see what’s happening here? I don’t want shallow, “nice” community. I want deep connection, friends who will lift me up when I am low, pray for me when I need strength, cry with me when I need to mourn, and laugh with me when I need to celebrate.
Be inconvenienced. Here’s another trust builder. At the heart of true community is self sacrifice. Laying down your own life for others. Your friend is sick? You go out of your way, and make them a meal. Your friend’s babysitter fell through? You’ll take their kids for the night. You see, as you allow yourself to be inconvenienced for others, the bonds of friendship grow. You have each other’s backs. You are actually, practically there for each other. You might not have family near by to help you out when you’re in need, but you can build family.
May you find friendships that will last a lifetime, and may the friendships you already have grow deeper. May you find that you are not alone in this walk called life.