Two years ago, my partner and I set out on a journey. The idea was to build an intentional community of friends. A virtual home for those whose values, likes, and dislikes were compatible with ours.
Companionship and communion are close to the top of anyone’s bucket list for a happy life. So, as we took our first dip into the retirement pool, moving to a resort-like city 500 miles to the south, finding friends became our noble goal.
Sadly, the endeavor turned out to be a tall order not easily achievable. Because making new friends isn’t quite as simple as it once was.
At our age, friendship is an intellectual and emotional pursuit. It’s hard work and time-consuming. Filled with expectations and disappointments.
A heavy-lift, as opposed to the more casual process of friendships developed while young, when we’re a clean slate. More casual. Devoid of cynicism and lacking an insular world view that takes root long before retirement.
Nevertheless, after some trial and error and more than a few heart-to-heart talks between us about process, we began to see some encouraging results.
Until friendship became an extreme sport.
Covid-19 changed everything.
Isolation. Exposed vulnerabilities. Twisted nerves. A stock market meltdown. More questions than answers.
What could go wrong with a plan to develop friendships while wearing masks and gloves?
Zoom technology might be fine as a touch-base with long-term friends. But for humor, irony, and a bit of urban repartee, nothing can replace a couple of hours at a neighborhood Starbucks, huddled over a small café table.
In other words – the old normal.
The new normal, of course, is distancing.
But sheltering-in-place is tantamount to absentee ownership in a new friendship. Relationships don’t feed themselves. They rely on attention. Forward movement. A deft hand at keeping in touch so that a burgeoning friendship doesn’t detach from the mother ship.
One needs to get past that deer caught-in-the-headlights reaction to our current global situation long enough to focus on conscientious communication. Relearn phone skills. Excel at FaceTime. Be Zoom-approachable.
But just how do you do that? How do you build and sustain relationships under such forced conditions?
You take advantage of moments that can only be recognized by deep engagement. Listening is the new being there.
Listening with care and wisdom for what’s underneath a friend’s words. Fears that might be filling an awkward pause. The meaning behind a fairly innocuous sigh. The frustrations articulated less by words and more by changes in tone and tenor.
Listening is where the opportunity for intensified friendship lives during the time of the virus.
The benefits of being there are bountiful.
If you’ve listened well enough, your responses will demonstrate emotional availability and provide safe-harbor for a friend’s expression of insecurity, gratitude, and a willingness to get closer. Deep listening is a way to provide affirmation anchored in truth. An understanding of what makes the other person tick.
And the best part about listening is this: there’s no prep necessary.
Like good actors who live in the listening moment on stage or in films, you’ll automatically know how to respond with authenticity. Listening will drive your best instincts forward and give you confidence to leave behind your inhibitions as you explore new territory with someone you want to get to know better.
That’s the gift of being there.
Do you practice being there for your friends? What does that look like? What is the new normal for your friendships? Please share your thoughts and let’s have a discussion.