My fridge front is plastered with pictures of me with four of my closest friendsKaren (my roommate), Julie, Lisa, and Ruth. There's a photo of us crammed on a bench on Chicago's Navy Pier, one of us in flannel PJs the morning after last year's New Year's Eve slumber party, and a shot of us decked out to go to a swanky German restaurant to celebrate Lisa's birthday. These photos bring back fond memories of good times shared with my own little gang.
As women, we know the benefits of friendship: support, free advice, accountability, laugh therapy, prayer, free rides to the airport, last-minute babysitters, shopping companions, lunch buddies, people to balance our weaknessesand the list goes on. The great thing is, these benefits increase exponentially when you add more than one friend to the picture. When we combine Julie's never-met-a-stranger personality with Karen's sense of fun, Lisa's ability to research any vacation destination or cultural event, Ruth's get-to-the-point philosophy, and my easy sense of humor, we experience all manner of adventure we wouldn't on our own.
We all long for the kind of companionship that allows us to cry on each other's shoulder at 2 A.M., or send each other into a giggle fit with just one sideways glance. But how do you establish those intimate friendships? How do you get a gang? Here are a few lessons I've learned from my relationships with the Fab Fiveand other gangs of women friends.
Never Underestimate The Power Of Prayer.
I distinctly remember driving down a street in Des Moines before my big move to Chicago, the Windy City, and mentally preparing myself for the lonely days ahead. It's gonna be hard. Brace yourself, I thought. Before I could degenerate into having a full-on pity party, another thought hit me: It doesn't have to be so tough. It's as if God tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me oh-so-gently that he controls the universe, including my relationships. I was humbled and encouraged by his loving reminder, so I poured out my heart: God, please provide some kindred spirits.
His provision first came in the form of Christa and Jan, two wonderful women I met in my office. As we interacted at meetings and staff coffee breaks, we discovered common interests in antiques, quirky romantic movies, Edy's Grand Light French Silk Ice Cream, and earth-toned clothing. Our friendships soon blossomed. God had heardand answeredmy prayers. Lesson learned.
And it was a lesson I needed. Within a year of each other, both Christa and Jan moved out of state. When I felt back at square one with loneliness as a constant companion, I clung to the fact that the God who'd provided these dear friends in the first place hadn't changed. He would provide again according to his plan and time.
Get A Little Risky.
The first time my roommate, Karen, and I invited her coworker, Lisa, and my friend-of-a-friend, Julie, to join us for dinner one night several years ago, we had no idea what to expect. Lisa and Julie had never metand we hadn't met each other's friend yet, either. Not exactly the ingredients for a sure-fire great evening! While we could've sat in awkward silence all evening, munching our chips and salsa, we were pleasantly surprised by the smooth flow of conversation and laughter.
You don't know the gang potential of a group of friends until you try. Sure, it's risky. Sure, it may bomb. But the possibility of a circle of close-knit friends is well worth the risk of a lousy lunch or awkward shopping excursion.
Make New Friends, But Keep The Old.
My friend, Michelle, is part of a foursome who've been friends since 1979. The secret of their longevity? A commitment to get together for each other's birthdays no matter what. One of Michelle's friends moved across the country, another is now married with small children, the other is at seminary. But despite the fact Michelle now has a local circle of girlfriends and a demanding career in advertising, she still makes these longstanding friendships a priority. "These women are like sisters to me," says Michelle. "The richness they bring to my life makes it well worth the effort to stay in touch."
Remember: The More The Merrier.
My Fab Five actually started as a Fab Four. Julie, Karen, Lisa, and I used to frequent local restaurants and share many a Blockbuster night together. Once, we even went on vacation togetherlaughing, chatting, eating, and shopping our way through San Antonio, Texas. What fun memories!
Then along came Ruth. She started out as "Julie's friend." They'd met at church, when Julie's family "adopted" Ruth, whose nearest relatives lived hundreds of miles away in Puerto Rico. Julie invited Ruth to some of our get-togethers, and at first she was very quiet. But as we learned to decipher her Spanish accent and appreciate her tell-it-like-it-is spunk, we discovered a friend who added new flourishes to our crew. Now Ruth is our friend and we couldn't picture our gang without her.
Find Some Common Ground.
My gang and I are all single. My friend, Louise, and her group were all sorority sisters, now married, who still keep in touch. My mom and four of her closest friends have been playing bridge together for a couple decades. Common ground can be a great foundation for a circle of friends. Determine to notice the people around you this week as you go about your daily routine. An awesome bunch of friends may be right under your nose!
"We use whatever reason we can come up with to get together," Louise says about her sorority sisters. Weddings, baby showers, holidays, and Pampered Chef parties are all excuses to gather and gab. Every summer these women hold a cookout for their families to get together. "Put food in front of us, and we can gab for hours!" says Louise.
Despite the challenge of the typical soccer mom schedule, these women make time for each other, even if only three or four people can attend. "It's wonderful to celebrate rites of passage together, and even just life in general," says Louise. "Before you know it, we'll be attending graduation parties for our kids!"
A few years ago, when my gang and I were gathering to celebrate Julie's birthday, I showed up in tears. My then-boyfriend of three years and I had just broken up that afternoon. I was miserable, but I wanted to honor my friend, and I knew I could use the company of these dear friends. So I shared my sob story, cried a bit, got a round of hugs, then went out to eat to celebrate Julie's special day. Though my eyes were swollen and my heart was nearly broken, I felt safe and somehow hopeful surrounded by the love, laughter, and support of my gang. Through the years we've helped each other through "female surgery," deaths in the family, dating disasters, and work nightmares.
Vulnerability isn't always easy, but it fosters the kind of intimacy that leads to deep friendships. The ability of women to rally around someone who's hurting is amazing. And that matches our desire for others to gather around us when we're in need. Sharing real lifewarts and allwith each other fosters friendships faster than just about anything I know. And the rewards of my gangall the laughter, deep sharing, prayer support, and sillinessare sweeter than just about anything I know, too.
1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.