As a textbook introvert I can spend an awful lot of time alone with the cats and be perfectly content, but every now and again I need to change out of my pyjamas, wash my hair and leave the house for some real human interaction. Almost everyone you ask would say that their friends are an important part of their lives. We, as humans, hunger for connection. Life isn't meant to be lived alone, we need community and connection for happiness and survival. As a childfree/childless woman making and keeping friends has been difficult, but over the years I've had to learn a few tough lessons when it comes to friendship.
First, accept that not all friends are forever. There's a saying "some friends come in to your life for a reason, some for a season and some stay for a lifetime". It's a hard lesson to learn and accept but if you remember anything from all these words I’m stringing together, I hope this is it. Once we get good at letting go and recognizing that those reason and season friends don't reflect poorly on the relationship but that they have accomplished their purpose in our lives, we can move forward and move on. Second, it's important to look inside and consider whether or not we are being the friend we wish to have. My mother in law shared with my husband in his youth an important nugget of wisdom, she said "you need to be the person that person wants to be with." She was referring to dating, but we can apply this to friendship as well. When we are looking for friends what kind of friends do you want to have? Supportive, encouraging, loyal, fun, Christian? Take some time to contemplate, would those types of people want to be friends with you? You need to be the person that they want to be with, just as much as the opposite.
Third, sometimes we have to make a few sacrifices. When it comes to being friends with parents we need to recognize that the demanding years are there, but they aren't forever. During those years we, as ones without children, have the ability to cater slightly more to the needs of our friends. When my husband and I would visit with our parent friends we always planned evening get togethers. We would enjoy an hour or two with their kids and enjoy friend time after they've tucked into bed. This allowed our parent friends to save on a babysitter while still having that grown up time together. Your parent friends are likely willing to take the hit of providing the wine and snacks if you're willing to drive over to their house and tolerate an hour or two of children's nonsense.
We all know sometimes life circumstances change, whether that be moving or changing jobs, or even just graduating from college. Our friend circle shrinks and we need to fill our lives with some new people. It used to be easy, making new friends, we pull someone aside on the playground or bond over the same backpack. Now as an adult it’s somehow a foreign concept. We feel awkward and fear embarrassment and rejection. Fair warning: It's not going to be easy. It's going to require us to push outside of our comfort zone and be a little vulnerable. When making new friends and expanding your circle there are two low threat ways to start with: 1. Join or start a local club/hobby. A club or hobby is really the easiest way make some new friends since you're entering the situation with some common ground. At a book club you aren't talking about kids or life goals or someones awkward painful divorce, you're talking about the books. We can make new friends, even if they are parents, by connecting through things you both enjoy spending time on. Parents need time away from their kids, and I promise that if they're making an effort to pursue a hobby they likely want to talk about things other than diapers and breastfeeding. Start or join a hiking group, join a sports team, attend a cooking or crafting class or volunteer somewhere.
2. Start or join an online group - I recently discovered a few groups on facebook; Childfree Bookworms, Childfree Baking and Childfree Canadians. Turns out there are a few childfree people who live within an hour or so of me, yet if I didn't look I would never have known. Search your local area, state or even country and see if theres anyone close by that is also looking for some childfree friends to connect with. If you can't find a group, start your own! Maybe there's someone in your very town sitting around wishing they were able to connect as well. Reach out and ask someone to go for a coffee, worst they can say is no!
A few extra tips when making new friends: Approach these situations with a 'yes' attitude. As a shy introvert 'no' is a big part of my vocabulary. I don't love making plans too far ahead of time, I am hesitant to say yes to going places I'm not already comfortable at and it's easy to default to a 'no thanks' when being invited out. One thing to remember is saying no doesn't foster relationships. Saying no doesn't open conversations and saying no means you're still spending Friday night alone. Even if you’re inclined to say no, try saying yes every once in a while, you might just enjoy yourself.
Prepare to initiate. Sometimes it takes us being the ones to put forth the effort to foster a relationship. Don't be afraid to text them or reach out after a date to plan another. We can't connect once and expect to be instant best friends, it takes going out on a limb to form those deeper connections. If you find someone interesting at work or have someone new show up at your church, ask them to coffee or offer to buy them lunch. A little initiative goes a long way.
Ask questions. Good friends are also good listeners. Listening to them speak and asking questions is the fastest way to break down walls and get to know someone better. They will know you care about what they have to say and they will feel heard which makes people feel good. Ask questions that aren't too deep but also aren't too vague. No one enjoying being asked "so what are you into?". Be specific; "what has been your favourite travel destination?", "what is your favourite tv show/movie?", "what has been the highlight of your week?" Open ended, clear and concise.
Cast a wide net. Having other childfree by choice friends is the best outcome of our efforts. It’s other people who get us and connect with what we’re going through, but if we prejudge others due to things like having children, we really limit possible amazing friendships. Be open minded when going on the hunt for some new friends and don’t assume just because they’re parents, or they’re older than you or they’re dog people instead of cat people, that you won’t be able to connect and have fun!
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
– C.S. Lewis