Lifelong friendships: Surprising secrets to making lasting friends

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Lifelong friends and good social connections can give us a sense of belonging, make us feel healthier and nourished. But as we grow older, we often become more selective about who we allow within our inner circle. Those fleeting, fair-weather pals are traded for those with genuine staying power, as we prioritize making lasting friendships over temporary ones. 

This so-called “social pruning” goes hand-in-hand with the litany of adulting pressures that tend to kick in at the onset of our thirties. It’s surprising how the vaulting bar to friendship shifts up a notch when you’re not mainlining tequila in a dorm at 3am. Even if you are, you’ve learnt life lessons by now on what you need to feel enriched in a friendship. 

When it comes to making lifelong friends, the key lies in creating strong and simple connections. Here, we explore how to make lasting friendships – and why it’s always best to seek out low-maintenance friendships along the way.

Cultivating lasting friendships will change your life

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Cultivating lasting friendships can have an incredibly grounding influence. During the course of our lifetime, most of us will encounter at least one person we form an instant connection with. Over time, this connection will develop and become characterized by mutual respect, understanding, and acceptance. While lifelong friendships may be rare, it is this rarity that makes them so special.

How to make lasting friendships

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As we get older and build up more responsibilities, making lasting friendships can become more challenging. To help shed some light on this, we’ve explored some expert advice on nurturing lifelong friendships below, touching on the reasons why low-maintenance friendships hold the key.

Understand that friendships wax and wane

Just like many things in life, friendships change, and it’s crucial to acknowledge this when building lifelong friendships. Science points to a host of qualities that are integral to keeping lasting friendships alive, such as proximity, shared memories and even similar brainwaves. On the flip side, researchers also argue that failure to adapt to the current state of a friendship can threaten its longevity.

“Friendships are always susceptible to circumstances,” William Rawlins, Professor of Interpersonal Communication at Ohio University, tells The Atlantic. He adds, “If you think of all the things we have to do – we have to work, we have to take care of our kids, or our parents – friends choose to do things for each other, so we can put them off. They fall through the cracks,”.

As we get older, our lives naturally get busier and more complicated. And while many friendships stall or even fracture at this juncture, the strongest  ones are flexible enough to survive these choppy waters. Being a lifelong friend extends beyond the traits we like to place on a pedestal – loyalty, kindness or a similar sense of humour.  Instead, it’s about adaptation and understanding that your expectations and approach within your friendship might need to change during certain phases. 

Demonstrating compassion and flexibility during challenging times can make a big difference in making (and keeping) lifelong friends.

Cherish those low-maintenance friendships

A low-maintenance friend should not be mistaken for someone who’s not committed. Rather, they don’t expect the friendship you share to conform to a given set of conditions. The bond you share doesn’t have to look a certain way – or equate to time spent together – in order to be considered genuine.

When you think about your friends, you may think about the people who you are always in contact with. But a lifelong friend doesn’t need to be someone who you regularly see and speak with. In fact, low-maintenance friendships are some of the most valuable relationships you can have. This is because while you don’t speak to one another everyday, they are there when you need them.

Rawlins’ research shows that many middle-aged Americans define real friendship as “being there” for one another, even when they rarely spend time together. A low-maintenance friend will relax their expectations of how the friendship is maintained, with the understanding that you’ll be as close as ever when you do meet and without any sense of resentment.

Of course, this unwritten approach has to be mutual in order to work; one person cannot expect more than the other without creating dissonance. When the fine line is achieved, it sets the stage for a lifelong friendship that endures, no matter what circumstances you both face.

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Ditch high-maintenance friendships

When we’re young, we tend to fall into relationships that feel exciting and risky. However, these relationships may involve manipulative characters; people who subtly undermine you, who judge you or who are unable to support or accept your successes.

Such dynamics can toy with ambivalence and make you feel lonely. They can ask a lot of you but are unavailable in return. They’re uber competitive, or seem to relish playing games. Even if they feel fun 90% of the time, these high-maintenance friendships are an emotional drain and are incompatible with a lifelong friendship.

Low-maintenance friends on the other hand, cultivate a relaxed dynamic and encourage personal growth. This is because in low-maintenance friendships, both individuals are flexible and have few demands of one another. This mutual understanding eliminates any power imbalances and can encourage a lasting friendship based on chemistry.

This is something which Rawlins reiterates, “That is how friendships continue, because people are living up to each other’s expectations . And if we have relaxed expectations for each other, or we’ve even suspended expectations, there’s a sense in which we realise that.”

Invest in the right people

The older you get, the less patience you’ll have for being put through the wringer. A low-maintenance friend may well have a crisis that, as their buddy, you’ll need to attend to. But crucially, they don’t add a dose of self-composed drama into the mix. Your friendship evolves in simple and straight-forward terms, without the need to test boundaries. This then forms a mutually supportive raft that will see you through life’s ups and downs, minus the strain of extra baggage. This is why investing in the right low-maintenance friendships is invaluable.

It’s harder than you might imagine to make a good friendship last. Research indicates that true intimacy comes about via an average of 200 hours’ worth of meaningful conversations. Then comes a tidal wave of other random variables – distance, life events, and consistency – that have potential to sway the balance.

Creating and maintaining lasting friendships can be challenging. But if you can negotiate the tightrope of friendship politics, the rewards are huge. Satisfying relationships not only make us happier and healthier, they also keep us afloat as we get older and more bruised by outside events.

Be there when it counts

Little surprise, too, that friendship is one of those things that we notice most when it’s missing. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends,” is one of the top five regrets of dying patients, according to accounts from a nurse. “Many [patients] had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years,” says author and palliative nurse Bronnie Ware. “There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved.”

This brings us onto the crux of lifelong friendships. You don’t always have to be in contact with someone, but you do need to be a reliable source of support in their life. Low-maintenance friends invest time and effort at a slow and steady pace, providing an uncomplicated presence. To them, friendship is  a continuum; a place where closeness is assumed, no matter what happens in between. They’re flexible enough to standby when life gets in the way and, most importantly, fall back in where it counts.

Make lasting friendships on your next adventure

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