It’s February, the polar vortex has plunged deep into Minnesota, and I’m dreaming of summer road trips in my Jeep. It’s the perfect way to spend time with my friends: top-down, sun shining, and Toby Mac singing, Let’s Get This Party Started. Our first stop will be the Caribou Coffee drive-through for Vanilla Coolers. Then we'll set out for a day of fun and a few crazy adventures.
When you buy a Jeep, you become part of a community. Strangers give you the Jeep Wave. A Jeep enthusiast in the Chick-fil-A parking lot will strike up a conversation and invite you to the Jeep Adventure Weekend. It’s a Jeep Thing – you have a light-hearted connection with people simply because you drive a Jeep. And that's how friendships form: a connection.
Because last year presented so many challenges, we really need our friends to help us navigate change. Yet, our connections were sorely tested by lockdowns, social media drama, and societal meltdowns. So, let's explore five ways we can form deeper connections with our friends now.
If you don't enjoy the company of a person, they're not really your friend. And that's why it's important to have fun when you're together, whether it's a road trip, on the phone, or online. However, fun and pandemic aren't a natural pairing, so we have to try harder. Keep doing the small, easy things, such as texting silly videos and photos to a friend to let them know you're thinking about them. If it makes you laugh, your friend will probably laugh too. My husband and his friends share Jeep videos and photos all the time!
Thankfully restrictions are loosening up in Minnesota, so it's easier to find things to do and places to go if you're comfortable leaving the house. However, if you still need to stay home, suggest an online activity to a friend that builds on your shared interest. Then you'll have a planned purpose or topic for connection when all the days feel the same and you don't have anything new to say.
- Choose a day and time to do an activity together, such as exercising your puppies, playing an online game, or discussing a book. You decide how frequently you'll meet: weekly, biweekly, or monthly. Consistency is more important than frequency.
- Ask your friend to teach you something they do well. Maybe you've never installed a tile backsplash, and a friend could talk you through the steps.
- If you're online shopping for your hobby or planning a home renovation, ask a friend for their input about your plans.
- Listen to 10 Things to Tell You with Laura Tremaine. Her podcast is all about sharing our stories with friends so we grow deeper connections. During each episode, Tremaine introduces a topic and specifically tells you how to reach out to a friend.
When we lose organic community interactions that used to occur regularly at work, school, or church, it's important to reach out and keep those connections alive.
When I went on my first Jeep Jamboree trail ride, I learned that communication was the most important safety factor. There are trail guides and spotters who tell you exactly where to drive and how fast you should go. If you don't pay attention to your guide, you might damage your Jeep, or worse yet, you'll put yourself and your passengers at risk of injury. The guide talks and the driver listens. When people trust each other to do their role, everyone will have fun and safely traverse the trail.
If you want to be a better friend, listen. Be present without interjecting your own thoughts, opinion, or perspective. When you’re really listening, you’ll probably learn something new about your friend. Just like the Jeep driver, listening is active. It takes focus to pay attention and resist talking. When you actively listen, your friend feels safe to explore new ideas without judgment. They can verbally process thoughts and ideas that might have been stirring inside them for a while, and they're finally taking a risk to share them with you.
Listening doesn’t mean you need to agree with everything your friend is telling you. Seek to understand them. Sometimes they’re on a journey, and this isn’t the stopping point. Their ideas and opinions will change, possibly in wild pendulum swings of emotions, opinions, and ideas, before they land in a place of certainty. Be patient because the journey might last for years. Show empathy by putting yourself in your friend’s shoes and imagining the world from their point of view.
If your friend reveals something that's truly upsetting to you, perhaps you can say something like, "I can tell it took a lot of courage for you to tell me this. I'll listen to you now and share my thoughts with you later." Your friend won't become defensive, and you can respond after taking time for thoughtful consideration.
Problems always arise on the trail. It's just expected, and people are quick to offer their tow strap or winch to get a Jeep out of trouble. Everyone sticks together on the trail, not only to lend a hand but also to celebrate accomplishments along the way.
When our friends have significant events or deadlines, we can reach out and let them know they're in your thoughts and prayers. If a friend slips up or fails, we can show our loyalty. (After all, we all slip up.) When we have known someone for a long time, we can help them stay on course. We have seen the “big picture” of their life, so we can remind them what's true about themselves and help them get back on track. As a friend, we might know someone better than they know themselves because we've observed their life from a unique vantage point. Don't give up on them!
Jeeps bear an emblem: Trail Rated. It's meant to give owners confidence that their Jeep will go where other vehicles cannot. Sometimes off-road enthusiasts tease Jeep owners who actually stay on the road by gifting them with a special decal: Mall Rated. You might wonder why people don't use the power their Jeeps possess. Well, going off-road can lead to unsightly scrapes and big dents. Sometimes it's hard to let go of appearances and drive a Jeep where it was built to go.
When we're face to face with a friend, we relax and let down our guards. When we're online (especially on social media), we might either try to project perfection, or we become unnaturally emboldened and even aggressive. That's why it's important to see our friends in real life as often as possible. Then we can communicate more clearly and express our emotions through vocal tones and facial expressions that go beyond words.
Living life together means being honest about the challenges we face and the scars that we bear, and then cheering for each other along the way. When conflict arises, we can try to resolve it rather than ignoring it. These four statements will take us far.
- I don't know.
- I need help.
- I'm sorry.
- I was wrong.
True friendships are "trail-rated," built for making deeper connections along life's journey.
Let's go back to the Jeep Wave. A Jeep driver spots another Jeep and gives a friendly wave. Hopefully, the other guy is paying attention and responds in kind. It's reciprocal, and so is friendship. We need to initiate fun activities and conversations rather than wait for the other person to reach out with a plan. It shows we value the relationship and are willing to invest in our future as friends.
So, here's your trail guide to friendship:
- Have fun
- Be reliable
- Be authentic
- Take initiative
Life is all about relationships, and our friends make it richer and fuller. Let's choose a road that leads to deeper, meaningful connections.