I was talking with my mom the other day when she told me there was something she had been meaning to ask me.
She went on to say that several years ago I had said something that struck a chord in her, and she had been carrying it around ever since. She said that I had once told her that I cultivate my friendships and she didn’t quite understand what that meant. “People cultivate gardens,” she said. “What does it look like to cultivate friendships?”
She told me that she had always respected the way that I maintain my friendships and asked me to share more about how I do that. It means a lot to me that she trusts me enough to ask me this question. So I took some time to meditate and take inventory of my personal friendships.
Through that process I came up with a list of my 10 habits of mindfully cultivating friendships.
1. Be loyal.
Being a life coach, the first thing I did was turn the question back on my mom and ask what she thought it meant to cultivate friendships? She said that she thought it meant being loyal. I love that answer.
It is true, the first step to cultivating friendships is loyalty. In thinking about cultivating friendships in the same way that one would cultivate a garden, loyalty is paramount. In friendships, as with gardens, I must be consistent, and I must show up and tend to them. A garden that goes without watering will wither up and fade away, the same goes for a friendship that does not receive attention.
The most powerful experiences that I have had in friendships are the ones where my friends have had my back. When I am feeling beaten down by the world, nothing means more to me than my friends. Loyalty doesn’t have to be grand gestures. It simply means being willing to stand by your friends through both the bad and the good.
2. Cultivate trust.
I grew up being a trusting person. I used to trust people from the word go. This served me well for a while, until I got burned. I didn’t understand that trust is something that needs to be earned.
Now, I work hard to cultivate trust in my friendships. I expect my friends to do the same. I work to build trust through proving my loyalty.
I answer the phone when friends call; show up for them to celebrate the big (and small) events in their lives; cry with them when they face tough times; cheer them on when they face challenges; show up to toast their successes; and keep their confidence by holding their secrets.
By showing up for my friends in both large and small ways, I build trust.
3. Be vulnerable.
The process of writing this article has been pretty intense for me. I have found myself thinking that I am not qualified to write on the topic. I have felt insecure and wanted to quit. In these moments, I’ve reached out to my friends and asked for help and support.
Through this process I came to understand how important vulnerability is to friendships. When I am willing to show my friends my soft underbelly and admit that I do not know all the answers, I allow them to show up for me. I give my friends a great gift when I allow them to see my vulnerability. I am showing them that it is safe for them to trust me with their weaknesses. They know that they are safe and I won’t judge them for making mistakes.
True friends allow one another to relax and let down their guards. By dropping my veil, and asking for help, I show my friends that it is ok for them to do so as well.
4. Be curious and appreciate your friend’s individuality.
I have felt the sting of losing friendships because I have been stubborn and haven’t allowed my friends the space to be themselves. This was a very painful experience for me, and I vowed that I would do my best to not put myself, or my friends, through that again.
My mistake was not being curious. I have learned the hard way to never assume that I know my friends. People are always changing, and I can never fully know someone. In cultivating strong, healthy friendships, I must be willing to allow my friends to grow and expand and not pigeonhole them into being the person they were when the friendship began.
I find this to be the most challenging aspect of friendship by far. I sometimes find myself falling into the trap of assuming that I know my friends, and forgetting to ask the important questions about their experiences and perceptions.
My most meaningful friendships are the ones where I am willing to allow my friends to teach me something new every time we are together. In being open to this process, I am also open to them teaching me something that I might have never known about myself as well.
My friends are amazing people. They have their own set of life experiences, tastes, and opinions. This is what makes them so fascinating to me. I can’t expect them to always see the world the same way I do. In fact, it would be quite boring if we always agreed. I actually find that I benefit from their different points of view. It is an adventure to allow them to introduce me to new things and new ways of thinking.
5. Allow your Friends to be angry, hurt, sad or scared.
Bad things happen in life. People die, get divorced, have miscarriages, go through break ups, get laid off from work, lose pets, struggle with addiction and the list goes on.
Life can be downright scary. It can knock us down and leave us breathless. It can scare the wits out of us and make us want to hide in the corner and bawl our eyes out. It can be unfair and piss us off to no end. The best gift that my friends have given to me when I am struggling is the space to experience my emotions fully.
I am currently working on finishing up my undergrad degree. I find this process to be incredibly rewarding and also majorly frustrating. I get scared that I can’t do it. I get angry with myself for not making the grades I feel I am capable of. In these moments, I am grateful that I have a handful of friends who will sit on the phone with me and allow me to cry without being threatened by my feelings. By simply listening and allowing, they are showing up for me in a very powerful way.
6. Be honest, but be kind.
My friends piss me off all the time. They do things that I feel are not healthy or productive for them. They don’t make the choices in life that I would make if I were in their shoes. And often they hurt my feelings.
I have not always been the best at offering feedback. I have struggled to find my voice. It has been a long journey for me to gain the type of confidence in myself to be able to speak my mind in a way that honors both my process and my friendships. I have found that the best way to do this is by being honest, and by being kind.
My friends are human, and thus not perfect. They are going to make mistakes and ruffle my feathers. Honesty is one of the best gifts that I can give a friend.
My friends are going to screw up every once in a while. They are bound to make mistakes in life. It happens to us all. A true friend never says, “I told you so.” Sometimes being kind means biting my tongue and allowing the pieces to fall where they may, I will be there to help pick them up when they do.
7. Experience the world.
In order for me to show up in all of these ways, I must also be willing to stretch myself and expand my perceptions. By challenging myself to grow and learn, I am giving my friendships the gift of fluidity. Nothing is ever set in stone, least of all friendships. By taking the time to get to know myself better and engaging in hobbies that I enjoy, I have much more to offer.
This also requires me to expand my friendship base and maintain more than one friendship. It is too much to expect one person to be there for me in all ways. One person can’t possibly possess all of the qualities that I need to fulfill me emotionally, or otherwise.
I love to camp. I have friends who hate to camp. I can’t expect them to drag themselves out to the wilderness and pitch a tent just for my sake. So I go camping with my friends who like to camp, and participate in other activities with the others. Having other friends is a way to celebrate that my friends are individuals, and allow them to have their own tastes and hobbies that they can explore with their other friends.
Life is hard sometimes…really really hard. We all need someone who we can cut loose with and laugh until we cry. Laughter is good for the body and good for the soul. It helps to clear the air and lighten the mood. The friendships that I cherish most are the ones where I can make bad jokes and know that my friends are going to laugh along with me.
9. State your needs and own your shit.
My friends aren’t mind readers. They need for me to communicate my needs. It is much easier to state my needs up front than to deal with the strained emotions that come along with not doing so. On the same token, I must respect my friends’ boundaries and personal space. Sometimes they might need more room or time to themselves. It is a practice to accept that it is not always all about me and take a step back. They will come around when they’re ready.
I have a hard time stating my needs; often I come across as demanding. I am clumsy and awkward in my wording and I can hurt feelings in the process. It is also difficult for me to step back and allow my friends the space to set boundaries with me. I get scared when they state their needs, and I can take it personally. I can get clingy and push them away.
It happens, we all mess up. We all make mistakes. When I do mess up, I say I am sorry. It is not always easy to own my shit and admit that I was wrong, but it is an important practice for me.
10. Be Generous and Be Grateful.
I do my best to show my friends that I appreciate them by giving the gift of myself, my time, and small tokens of my love. I treat my friends to dinner every once in a while and allow them to do the same for me. When they say that they love me, I take it in and feel the warmth. And then tell them that I love them too.
I have been extremely fortunate in my life to be surrounded by many amazing, vulnerable, talented, hilarious, kind-hearted, courageous, creative, messy, and brilliant friends. I am not a perfect friend by far, but I am willing to show up for my friends. I am willing to push myself to continue to explore what friendship means.
My mother’s question sparked a beautiful conversation. I learned a lot from taking the time to step back and evaluate what it means to cultivate friendships. I am grateful for the courage that she exhibited in asking, and I am grateful for the opportunity for us to get to know one another better. I learned a lot of these skills from how she raised my brother and me. So, this is my M gift to her. I dedicate this article to her as she and I learn more about cultivating our own friendship.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Sarah Qureshi/Editor: Rachel Nussbaum