You're Busy. Here's How to (Really) Make Time for Friendships

Having friends boosts your ability to roll with life's punches and achieve your dreams. (Photo: Imaake/Shutterstock)

Friendships are important — not just because it's nice to know someone's in your corner, but because forging and maintaining friendships with people who are outside your biological family can give you fresh perspective and remind you that there are people in the world who you choose to be with — and that they feel the same way about you. That's powerful.

To reap the benefits of friendship — which include greater longevity, better overall mental health and lower anxiety — doesn't require a huge gaggle of people. Most studies have found that two or three good, trusted friends give the same advantages as a greater number. Even one good friend is a beautiful thing, and depending on whether you're an introvert or an extrovert, those one or two people may be more than enough.

But if you move, or your friends' lives change, it can be easy to lose touch. It's pretty common for it to feel tough to maintain friendships as we get older. To deal with that challenge, you have to first deal with the psychological challenges, and then you can get a handle on the logistical challenges.

Be OK with change

As the video points out, it's easy for friends to grow apart. One or both of you changes, and it feels like you're not as close as you once were. Then you feel awkward during a call, and every conversation feels like a catch-up session instead of a friendship. You drift apart, and all of a sudden, it's been months since you've spoken. It feels uncomfortable, and sad, and frankly it's just easier to avoid it. Sometimes, this is a natural process; but if you really want to maintain that friendship, you can.

Whether one of you moves away, starts a new job, or makes different choices in life, you can consciously choose to remain friends. It's important to recognize that the things that originally brought you together (living next door to each other as kids, both playing a certain sport, or having the same major in college) aren't enough to keep you friends over the long haul. Rather than relying on the random factors that initially brought you together, you'll have to be more purposeful about friendship.

You will have to evolve the friendship. You can do that by accepting, acknowledging and celebrating your differences. Talk about them! Recognize that your friends can give you insights into a life you may not have or may not want. But hearing about their lives can be a wonderful way to expand your own world, via their experiences. Adult friendships don't have to be about being in the same place in life anymore.

Respect your friends' differences

I don't have kids and many of my friends do. This could be something that keeps us apart, and I have lost some friends due to this difference. But I still have plenty of friends with kids because I think it's fun hearing about their perspectives and experiences. I've learned a lot about my friends from the way they've chosen to parent. I approach their lives with curiosity, knowing I've chosen to live differently, but gaining perspective from their chosen paths.

Importantly, their kids are certainly not the only topic we discuss; they're interested in my extensive travels, and the various places I've moved, and my writing. We also talk about all the things we have in common. (Politics, food and books seem to be through-lines in all my friend relationships irrespective of kids!) I respect their lives and how they are different, and they respect my more unusual choices. That's what it's all about — again, no need for your lives to mirror your friend's lives as when you were kids.

5 simple ways to make it work

Now, when it comes to practical ways to maintain your connection to friends, what are the nuts and bolts of making that happen?

Have a phone date: Obviously, this one is only for those who enjoy a good phone chat, which is something you will already know if your friend likes to do (and not everyone does). But the old phone can work wonders for connecting, especially over time zones or long distances. You can set a weekly time to call or send a quick text to set up a conversation, or you can just be spontaneous about it.

I've been able to maintain my relationship with my best friend that I've known since I was 5 years old this way. Sometimes we miss each other — we're in different time zones, and she can talk when she's commuting home, which is my mid-afternoon. I might be in the middle of a work project. But if I'm free, I always pick up her calls, and take a walk so I get a break from my sitting-while-working. When I call her, sometimes she's busy with her own job or in the midst of making dinner, but if she can, she'll take a break or pass along dinner-making to her husband. Both of us just do our best to answer when the other calls, trusting that the other person is doing the same. It's worked for the five years we've now lived cross-country from each other.

Group of people take a group selfie at a pizzeria
Documenting those times you get together with friends can help you motivate to do it more often. (Photo: VGstockstudio/Shutterstock)

Workout: Friends who exercise together are more likely to keep up a regular exercise routine, and it's just a great way to catch up. I schedule regular hiking dates with a fellow journalist friend, and we hash out our latest story ideas and talk industry gossip while we're getting our heart rates up. The bonus is that we tend to hike for longer than we might on our own — caught up in conversation, we end up going for miles because we're having a fun. The time flies.

Run errands together: One of my close friends is a mother to a recently adopted little girl as well as three older kids. She's a newly tenured sociology professor, busy journalist, and she almost never misses a workout — that last one keeps her sane, she says. (As a child-free person with one job, don't ask me how she does it, because I have no idea.) A relaxed dinner out happens occasionally, but more often, I tag along with her while she picks up and drops off one of the kids, and goes to the grocery store. We catch up in the car, while walking behind shopping carts, and unpacking grocery bags in her kitchen. Sometimes I get my groceries at the same time, saving me a trip and gas. It makes the errands more fun for everyone involved. One day, my friend's kids will be grown up and her work will be less frenetic. I'm looking forward to more art-opening or coffee dates when that happens. But importantly, we'll still have a relationship when she gets there.

Group time counts: One-on-one time with friends is important to really connect, but group activities can be a fun, low-pressure way to keep in contact in between. And while it can be easy to dismiss a larger gathering where you'll see a number of friends, just having that face-time can be meaningful in itself. So do your best to show up for that brunch or wedding shower. You can also think about meeting up beforehand for a one-on-one with someone you are missing — even a half-hour of time alone with a friend before you see the group can be meaningful.

People just off a sailboat with the sun behind them
Renting a boat with a group of friends is a fun idea and can make a trip like that much more affordable too. (Photo: DisobeyArt/Shutterstock)

Take a vacation together: I'm dying to do this one, which hasn't happened for me yet. But this is how my partner stays connected to his friends; once or twice a year, these friends, who live all over the United States, meet somewhere in the American West (usually during winter so the northerners can get some sun). They hang out for three or four days straight, and while the first day is catch-up mode, after that, they still have plenty of time for deeper conversation and bonding. I'm pretty jealous of the idea and consider it a goal to reach with my own friends . But group vacations are a growing trend, and lots of people are realizing that getting away with friends can be fun, not to mention a way to keep up valued connections.

As adults, most of us are busy — all in our unique ways. You can respect your own "busy-ness" — and your friend's — while still making time to connect. It might look a little different than it used to; I never imagined going grocery shopping with the same friend I used to sprawl on the floor with for hours post-soccer game in college, but honestly, whatever works. Different things will work at different ages, but one thing always remains the same: Friendship is about making time for your friends (and them doing the same for you).

However you make that work will keep you connected.