I ask all new patients do they have a support network, such as family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors they can talk to. I press further: do they have any they can actually confide with. Sometimes with the men-folk (who are less apt than women to have a close same-sex friend) “Do you have someone you could call in the night when in trouble?” That answer is often ‘no”. Often I hear patients aren’t so depressed and they are lonely; if they had a few friends their depression would be so much better. They don’t need Prozac, they need a pal. They nearly always agree with this hypothesis but are quick to ask ‘so how do I do make such a friend?” Good question. Even before covid19 we were dealing with a ‘friend problem’. There is a lot of data that supports friends do us and society a lot of good. Unfortunately, many modern matters impede us to keep old friends, and worse, make new ones. Covid19 makes this challenge even more ponderous than it already is, worse luck. Fortunately for us, making friends isn’t impossible nor does it require special skills. It is like an old hobby you haven’t done in a long while; after you pick it back up and practice, it gets easier.

With that said, it ain’t easy, especially with the covid19 factor.

First of all you have to talk to people. The first conversation is felt by many to be the hardest. We fear saying hello to our prodromal friends A.K.A strangers due to two fears: there is the fear of being seen as a threat and the fear of being rejected. Most of us have been trained not to talk to strangers and see them as objects of suspicion. Studies show this is not true: strangers like being talked to. When asked after a chat “did you like that stranger saying hi and talking to you?” the answer is nearly 100% yes. People are generally glad at being addressed.

We often misinterpret a nonresponse or a hesitation to our greetings/openers as rejection, when in fact most of the time the recipient is merely momentarily confused, not knowing what to do, so they keep mum. When interacting with a prodromal friend, ask something about them, using a concrete opener the future friend will hear unambiguously. “Oh what a great hat/shoes/dog/purse you’ve got there. I’ve been searching for something like it. Where did you get it? At a gathering, you talk about the game/the music. A party always has the host as a common denominator: “So how do you know so-and-so?” These types of opening lines are clear and deemed safe. If someone truly doesn’t want to talk to you, they will give a short nondescript reply and then you move on.

The first challenge of making friends is you have to be around people. These days this is no easy task. I often recommend going to activity-based get-togethers like church or a class (in-person types) or a walking group. What these have in common is you are going to something that holds your interest and the others there are similarly inclined. Even if you end up makin no friends, you haven’t wasted your time; you’ve done something enjoyable – and you were around people, which is beneficial in itself.

The second challenge to making friends is this takes time and effort. It is like learning to play an instrument; it needs regular practice. My nephew Posthumous Thomas told me about a friend he made last month by being on a swing next to another boy. The boy said to my nephew “Do you want to be my friend?” PT replied yes, and off they went. Were is that easy for us! I think I read it takes over a dozen or more interactions before adult acquaintances realize they’ve become friends.

The third challenge: friendships have to be regularly nurtured. This is not a passive endeavor; you will have to work at this. What I mean by work is being regularly in touch with friends via calls, texts, and better yet is actual get-togethers.

Here is another factor, not often talked about, but I think important. In many friendships there is a “Frog and Toad” dynamic. “Frog’ is the one in the relationship who is the instigator for getting together, while “Toad” is the friend who is passive at initiating reach-outs. I hear complaints from the “Frogs” that they are doing all the work: “I’m the one making all the effort!” they remonstrate, ‘I do all the calling and inviting Toad out!”. I point out whenever they do reach out, “Toad” is always glad to hear from them, and doesn’t say no. If “Toad” didn’t value the relationship, he would decline. Toad is glad to be with you, and when together the relationship is more balanced compared to who started it. For better or worse, some folks are ‘Frogs’ and some are ‘Toads’. Learn which one you are and be OK with it. Many a nice friendship is spoiled when Frog and Toad expect the other to be more like them.*

Don’t think I have mastered these matters. I must consciously strive to maintain my friends and work to to make new ones. It is easier to declare it all ‘too much’ and succumb to staying home staring at my iPhone.

Having a friend – or making a new one – can be a lot of work that often requires some courage but it is well worth it.

Are you more Frog or Toad?

*Someone and I are different types: I am a Frog and Someone is a Toad. In our network of acquaintances, he finds it irksome we are the ones ‘always doing the investigating’. I have less issue with this. I realized early if I waited, Toad-like, for friends to call, I would get very few invites to anything. Yes, it would be nice if others reciprocated more often than they do, but I know they don’t decline when we call them, nor to they disvalue our friendship.