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Cultivate Your Friendscape with Care: How Will You "People Your Life?"

As social lives rev back up, plan how you choose your friendships.

Key points

  • Friendscapes can look different for different people and that’s okay.
  • Not every friendship will be able to thrive over the years, but the ones that you nurture are more likely to last.
  • Some friendships may need to be cut back or let go when reciprocity no longer balances out over time.

While asking people about their friendships and the ways that their friends “peopled their lives," they use a variety of descriptive images to clarify how they perceived their social worlds. One image that seemed to resonate with many folks was the image of a landscape. One woman described the image she had of her friends and acquaintances as a forest of people. Some women imagined an interconnected map of relationships. Others described a garden with a variety of plants including perennials, annuals, and, of course, a few weeds.

Lush or Barren? How Does Your Friendscape Grow?

There are many metaphors for the groupings of friends that we have assembled over the years. These descriptions are helpful as we seek to understand our relative proximity to others, to describe the interactions we have with others, and to determine the overall size and shape of our social support systems. We tend to have many different layers and categories of friendship, as illustrated by the many stories shared by folks interviewed for a research project. We have friends to whom we may be very emotionally close, yet seldom have the opportunity to see. There may be friends with whom we interact daily but with whom we do not share much intimate information. We may have friends with whom we feel our lives and paths have so fully intertwined over the course of time that it seems impossible to imagine a separation. Each of our friends has a unique relationship with us and as we attempt to create an ideal friendscape, it is essential that we understand the relationships we have today.

Friendscapes Change as Life’s Landscape Changes

Friendships form the web of support that keeps us afloat throughout our lives, civilization was built on interconnection and collaboration and our need for a strong support network is as strong now as it was when prehistoric people banded together for survival. The purpose our friends serve, though, can differ depending on each life stage. There are some friendships that will last across time and are resilient enough to handle the dynamic nature of the changes we experience in life. There are other friendships that are more stage- or place-specific in our lives.

For instance, when we’re starting our careers, we may gravitate towards friends who are at similar places in their lives or those who may help us network and move up in our profession. When we find a partner, it’s typical to focus on connections with other couples to maximize “couple time” while socializing with others. Having a child definitely can change our friendscape as we look for other new moms to connect with and as a child grows up, we may find ourselves seeking out “band moms,” “soccer moms,” and so on as we try to navigate carpools for practices and game days around a busy schedule. We may focus more on meeting our instrumental needs (sharing rides, trading babysitting favors, etc.) over trying to develop deeper friendships. Even getting a dog can change our friendscapes as we meet other “dog parents” in dog parks or walking down our streets.

In midlife, once kids are grown and out or we’ve become more established in our careers, we tend to take time to focus more on our own needs and who we’ve become. Friendships may take on a more intimate and richly connected flavor as there is more time to devote to the more meaningful relationships than earlier stages when life was busier and forward momentum was essential. Unfortunately, as older adulthood arrives, women often find their friendscapes less lush and less vibrant as friends move away, pass away, or experience increasingly limited mobility. This is when we may rely on our family members to take on a more significant role through increased instrumental assistance in our day-to-day lives.

While some of us may cultivate what seems like acres of friends, others may be just as content and satisfied with more of a patio garden friendscape. The key is to plant and nourish the types of relationships that you feel best fit your social support needs. One person’s weed might be seen as a natural beauty by another.

As we move into the social world that resembles our pre-pandemic lives, give some thought to how you'd like to "people your life" now. If there were relationships that sustained you through the last year and a half, continue to invest in these relationships. If there were friendships that lost their urgency or their appeal over the last year, be intentional in how you choose to engage or disengage further from these relationships. Now is a great time to be planful in the relationships that you'd like to take root in your friendscape and those who you can let go of.

The need for friendships and support is hardwired into us and having at least one good friend can enhance our life satisfaction immeasurably. We are healthier, physically and mentally, when we feel rooted in a healthy friendscape that we nurture and are nourished by. And, even more important, we will live longer, too.

More from Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D.
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