How to Be Friends: A Semi-Successful Guidebook

She was radiant.

Ruby red lipstick, a thin gold chain around her neck, and hair touched with the slightest curl—the kind that only come when you’ve stopped trying to fabricate them.

But more than that, she felt like a familiar welcome: a favorite book or that perfect pair of worn-in shoes. Her presence said, “I like you, just the way you are.” Her eyes affirmed, “Broken things are beautiful.”

It was good to be with my friend Rachel tonight. So good.

Entering my third decade, I felt fully settled in life, friendships, self. But then this year was hard. And in the process, friendship got hard.

My friends and I have traversed much change in one another’s lives—different seasons, griefs, fears, joys. Yet for me, this last year has born a whole new set of emotions and challenges, and unpacking all of them, even with the people who know me best, has not felt easy.

What’s made it hard to share has made it hard to pursue too. Usually, I am the asker of a million questions, communicating care through listening to the details of my friends’ lives. But lately, I have felt tapped out. Lately, questions have sounded like a lot of work. If something big was happening, they would tell me, right?

The truth is: with time, distance, babies, jobs, boyfriends, husbands, and dating app war stories, connecting with one another has changed. Our interactions can start to feel more and more like highlight reels and less and less like “here together in the right now.”

For me, it’s been unsettling. I’ve massaged the pang of guilt in my gut for how long I’ve taken between calls. I’ve wondered about friends who have drifted farther than normal and what is happening inside. Are they ok? Is this just normal life?  Should I do something? Is it ok that I am too tired and tender to chase them?

And I’ve felt hurt too, even as I acknowledge that I make choices in the intimacy of every friendship.

Little of the distance has been deliberate. Usually it’s two or three back-and-forths over text where we can’t find a time that works to talk, and mutual silence ensues. “We’ll connect again when it’s not such a busy season,” I think.

But at 30, life hasn’t stopped feeling busy. This is not college, where friendship is ready to bloom with each bright-eyed girl who wanders into your dorm room. These days, friendship is a cherished golden doodle who is over a decade old and has hip trouble: she requires regular feeding, check-ups, and grace for where she can’t always do what she once did.

Some days, I’m the goldendoodle. Some days I’m tending to her, grateful for what is, missing what was.

But tonight, Rachel and I are together in our tender mess of glory. Present and full.

I don’t check the things I want to say, I just say them. She doesn’t push the tears off for a better moment, she just cries them. We don’t judge the mocktails, tacos, and bizarreness of our lives, we just embrace them.

And it’s good.

Vivek Murphy, former US Surgeon General and expert on the medical implications of loneliness in American adults shares, “The opposite of loneliness is love.”

That’s what I feel tonight.

And love, if we get quiet and honest enough, is actually quite simple.

Because the people who love us and the people we love are obvious. Not perfect. Not always consistent. But obvious. Like a glowing beacon drawing us home.

If I pay attention to my radiant friend’s invitation tonight, it’s fairly simple too: you’re worthy of knowing and you’re worthy of care. Not the kind you have to chase, but the kind just waiting for you to open your heart to it.

And love like that—it’s always enough.

Katy Johnson lives, dreams, writes, and edits in a messy, watercolored world.  She’s a 30 year old, discovering her hope, her longings, and the wild spaces in her own heart. Her favorite creative project right now is called Will I Break?, and someday, that manuscript may see the light of day.  For now, she shares her thoughts here.