Good friends and the limits of good intentions

Good friends and the limits of good intentions

As I told you in the latest newsletter, I’ve had friendship on the brain all fall. I’ve been sitting on several drafts about friends for months now, but I keep sitting with them because I don’t feel like they do the topic justice.

This one doesn’t do it justice, either. But I’d like to start the conversation with you anyway.

Shauna Niequist said something at the Influence Conference that perfectly captured the inarticulate swirling thoughts I’ve had recently about community: Good intentions get you nowhere.

I’m an idealist by nature: I’m full of good intentions. But I can see when I scan my life that Shauna’s right: my good intentions are crushed beneath my daily realities of life and work and kids and place.

I may be idealistically committed to local, in-person relationships, but good intentions don’t make those relationships happen. Too many of my adult friendships–especially since I entered my 30s–have fallen victim to too many dreamy ideals and too little action.

When it comes to maintaining adult friendships, good intentions don’t work. But a few things do: recurring coffee dates. iPhone reminders. Appointments on the calendar. The concrete trumps the aspirational, every time.

Looking back, I can see that my adult friendships have succeeded best when they were supported by the structure of my life. It’s been easiest for me to grow close to the people I saw regularly: the friends I’d bump into at school pickup every day, the girls at the gym, my (now-defunct) regular girls’ nights. Those relationships had more than good intentions going for them. They had a regular, recurring place in my life. I could count on them.

This fall, I’ve been thinking about how I can again build the relationships that matter–and I mean local, in-person relationships–into the very structure of my life, the rhythm of my days.

It’s not easy. But it works far better than my good intentions ever did.

I’d welcome your thoughts about good intentions and planning for friendship in comments. 


  1. Martha says:

    Oh, man. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. For me, it’s staying in touch with dear friends that we’ve moved away from due to the military. Sure, you can’t keep them all, but some are too good to lose. I realized that my good intentions to write and warm feelings toward them do not actually keep us in touch. So frustrating.

  2. MJ says:

    I have a long distance relationship with my best friend. When I moved 12 years ago, I think we both thought that the friendship would die a slow death, not from any ill feelings, just because the proximity was gone. When we lived close we saw each other every day, but after I moved a few hours away we started scheduling phone dates with each other, and then as technology caught up with our brains, we started texting. Now we text each other dozens – sometimes even hundreds – of times a day, and I feel as close to her as I ever have even though we only manage to see each other in person a few times a year. I have other friends who have become friends by default. We live on the same street, our kids do things together, we go to the same events – and those friendships are so much easier to maintain. Accessibility makes such a huge difference.

  3. It is hard to stay in touch with friends when you’re all busy with kids, work, etc, isn’t it?! I got invited to a holiday cookie exchange that I agreed to go to because I wanted to see all the other people there, but it never dawned on me that it also entailed baking 80 COOKIES! Sheesh… and I’m trying to cut back on sugar! I almost cancelled at the last minute. But I sucked it up, and made the cookies half the size I normally do, because I really need to “get out more”! Not sure what I’m going to do with all the cookies I bring home, though…

  4. Johanna says:

    Oh, yes!!! I have thought a lot about this because especially with moving a lot it feels like so much work to maintain (and start) friendships.

    Regular, on the calendar times to get with someone are a must for me. Otherwise life just takes over.

  5. I get together with my BFF every other Tuesday night. It is a standing commitment that trumps all else. We also have scheduled in a time with the young couples from our church-open house style, second Sunday of the month. We have coffee and dessert, and whoever can come, does. I do find that intentional and regularly scheduled is the best. When you simply say “let’s get together” it rarely happens-unless you actually schedule a date in right then.

  6. Shelly says:

    I’m really interested in these responses because I only ever see friends when I go to church. I’m at a season in my life when I just can’t pursue friendships the way I want to. There are so many reasons for this. We have ten kids between 7months and 14 still living at home. (We have a 20 year old who has ”flown the coop”), we homeschool, we’re a one car family so I can’t drive anywhere during the day unless I drive my husband to work which doesn’t happen often because we need to conserve gas. The gas issue also prevents me from meeting up with friends in the evening because with one income supporting twelve people we can’t afford to keep filling the tank. I look forward to a time when friendships will be easier.

    • Ann says:

      Shelly-I feel your frustration! I’m a homeschooling mom of 4 ages 13 to 2 1/2 and with one due in February. My friends are are done having children and 2 closest friends sent their kids to public school this year. I don’t feel like these friendships are dying but have changed so much, heck I’ve changed a lot! I too look forward to a time when I’m in a different “season of life” and can have more me time. Hopefully it won’t be when Ladies are asking me to wear purple with a red hat!!!
      Enjoy your family this Holiday season

  7. Tina B says:

    For me, it works different ways with different friends. For the locals, I typically make the next “date” when we’re together. We’d have dinner and hang out one evening and that night we’d look at our calendars for the next month or so and plan it right then. Otherwise, those 4-6 weeks would go by in a blink and then it would be another 4-6 weeks at best before we’d actually get together again.

    For those friends far away, we keep in touch through email or phone or in some cases snail mail letters. It really just depends on the person and how they like to stay in touch. When it’s important to maintain the relationship, we find a way.

  8. I definitely need to reassert myself when it comes to maintaining friendship. Since my son started grade school I’ve found it harder to get together with the friends I used to see regularly at preschool pickup and the park. But now life is moving a little faster, and we don’t have the built-in contact we used to, which is why I needed this reminder that if I want to keep these up (and I do), and I need to make it happen. (I even skipped a girls’ night recently just because I was too tired on a Friday night to get myself out of the house! Priorities!)

  9. Tim says:

    Is it horrible that I don’t feel an urge to be intentional about friendships? Seriously, I sometimes wonder if this is a character flaw or something.


    • Ann says:

      Funny -my husband feels the same way. He’s so busy with family, work & side business-he really has little time to even kind of stress about friendship communications. I could probably take some cues from him.

    • Jeannie says:

      I wouldn’t say it’s horrible or indicates a character flaw at all, Tim. You spend a lot of time each day engaging with online friends, so you may not have the same need for intentional one-on-one in-person time (esp being an introvert as you’ve said). And I do think it’s different for men and women. My husband’s idea of intentional friendships is a biweekly squash date or helping someone move! — whereas I make a point of contacting girlfriends and setting up times to meet and talk. I also think my husband would say that I am his closest friend, whereas I might not quite say the same. But I don’t want to reinforce stereotypes, either. I think it is more a point of whether we think there is something missing in our lives and want to take steps to fill that void. If that’s not the case, then we certainly shouldn’t worry about why it isn’t.

  10. Jessica says:

    In January I attended the Gay Christian Network conference and met a number of new people, but two in particular I really clicked strongly with. I didn’t want an entire year to go by until I talked to them again (the next conference is in January again), so I put monthly reminders on my calendar to contact them. I didn’t follow through every single month, but I exchanged Facebook messages throughout the year with one and have had regular Skype dates about every other month with the other. It felt a little strange to be so structured about it, but it really worked, and I can’t wait to see both of them again next month!

    • Anne says:

      “It felt a little strange to be so structured about it, but it really worked.”

      So glad to hear it–thanks for sharing what that looked like.

  11. Jeannie says:

    I’ve thought about the friendship issue very extensively this past year, having had a “breakup” with my closest friend, someone with whom I had a strong, positive pattern of intentional friendship-building for 27 years. The positive outcome of this awful experience is that I have made more effort to get and stay in touch with other friends and have strengthened some bonds I might not have otherwise. Anyway I’m really glad you brought this topic up and I’d look forward to any other posts you write on the issue of friendship!

    • Anne says:

      Oh, Jeannie. You’ve referenced that experience before and every time I feel gut-punched on your behalf. I really appreciate you sharing the positive outcome from that experience and how it’s practically affected how you approach your relationships.

    • Tina B says:

      Wow, Jeannie, that strikes a chord with me as I met my best friend 27 years ago. I can’t imagine how you must have felt and the grieving that you must have gone through. Hugs to you for developing those other relationships.

      My best friend almost died a couple of years ago from serious chronic health problems and I had to contemplate what my life would be like without her. I’d like to think that I’d move forward like you did, but I just don’t know.

  12. Kelty says:

    Oh so true and wise. I appreciate your pointing out “local, in-person relationships.” For me, I think social media has this way of making my brain *think* that I’ve invested in relationships when I really haven’t. Knowing *about* your friends is not the same as knowing them. I have to remind myself to get off of the computer, pick up the phone and make time.

  13. Leigh Kramer says:

    When I read the line where you said friendships best occurred under the structure of your life, I thought, “of course! Because you’re a 9.” 9s do best when they operate under structure, whatever it may be.

    I like having monthly standing “dates,” such as Book Club or Dinner Club, though I’m not participating in any right now. But I do try to keep track of how long it’s been since I’ve seen someone so we can maintain our friendship and not have so much backstory to catch up on the next time we see each other.

  14. Andrea says:

    I have found this to be so true! For my husband and me, some of our closest friendships have grown out of a weekly Sunday-night-after-church-dinner that one of the couples hosts weekly. We rotate who brings the main dish (usually fairly casual — pizza, soup, pasta) and the rest bring sides. Its regularity and routine have been the very thing that allowed deep friendships to flourish.

  15. Ana says:

    Yes this is absolutely true. The only social things that actually do happen are the standing ones that are on my calendar well in advance—the book club, the monthly brunch. The spontaneous days are no more. So I guess I need to schedule more social things onto my calendar….

  16. I thrive on relationships and would love a houseful of people at all times. May just be part of my Southern upbringing. I try and be very intentional but also know that there are people that I may see 1/year and we can just pick up where we left off. I don’t ever put conditions on relationships but have begun to recognize that there are some people that are always going to be negative and/or look for offense and it’s okay to let them go. Here are some ways that I try to be intentional in my relationships:

    About 2 years ago, we started ‘Sunday Suppers’ at our house. Every August & January, we send out an email of all of our open Sundays to friends that we’d like to connect with. We set it for 5:30-7:30 so bedtimes can adhered to, low maintenance dinner and it really gives us something to focus on rather than dreading the Monday blues. We’ve had the best time over these dinners with lots of laughter and an intentional connecting with individuals and/or families, each on their own “Sunday Supper’ night.

    On the flip side a group of girls and I go out 1/month for Supper Club. We draw a restaurant name out of a hat (we each put names in at the beginning of the year that we want to try) and have a fun, foodie night out.

    Last but not least, we have an open Saturday morning coffee group of some women that met at a Women’s Retreat that get together and catch up. Sometime sonly 1 person makes it, sometimes there’s 12 of us but it’s a time to share faith and encouragement for what is going on in our lives.

    Okay, I keep thinking of additional ideas about this so I think you’ve hit a (good) nerve for me. I think I’ll continue to marinate on this and may have to do a ‘link back’ to you.

  17. Sage Grayson says:

    Finding the time to get out there and make friends while balancing my business and my family is my challenge. Making friends as an adult is a lot harder than it was back on the playground.

  18. Allie says:

    This is really good. This can be really hard, and something that I have been trying to figure out recently. For most of my life, I have had a lot of friendships with little depth. After having my first child, I found that to be way too exhausting and now want to focus more on a few friendships deeply.

    One way that I have found for my local-in person friendships to go deeper is when we ask each other for help! I was sick with a cold the other day, and a good friend came by with tissues and chicken soup. When her teacher husband was on Fall Break, I offered to watch their son so they could have a lunch date. I’ve found that those little things make our friendships a lot stronger, and build trust and care for each other when we ask how we can help.

    We’ve also started an 2 month (or so) dinner club with some of our favorite friends–there are 6 of us couples. At each dinner club, we all decide on the date for the next one so it’s set on the calendar 🙂

  19. I think the bottom line in local, up close and personal friendships is the continuing contact — the recurring coffee dates, short phone calls or emails to just say I care, the sharing of play dates and child care for date nights, and more. As a “retired” mentor mom for Mothers of Preschoolers, these are the things I advised my moms to invest time in. And being intentional is one of the themes I drove home. Intentionality in relationships is key. I’m older than anyone posting or commenting on this page, and I can tell you that my hard won friendships depend on my holding up my part of the relationship, so if a friendship becomes a burden because you are the only one calling, checking in, etc., it’s time to move on and find someone new. I hope what Grandma Sherrey has shared is helpful and if anyone wants to privately email me for more input, I’m happy to respond and will.

    BTW, this is a great post and I look forward to your future posts on friendships.

    • Liz says:

      See that is what I have an issue with. I have moved a few times. Am not working right now and with one car between my husband and I its tough to meet people. I have tried to reach out to others but nothing seems to have clicked. I end up being the one to always call, set things up and after awhile its hard for me not to feel like I’m not wanted, or the friendship means more to me than the other person. I have always had a circle of friends that are much older, here I try to connect with people, some my age and I just don’t get the texting me in the morning, with no notice, to as I want to go for a walk at the track … or just not getting back to someone and when you see mgrateful for this post cause I have to admit I’m at a bit of a loss at this point. …

  20. Lesley says:

    I’m of the belief that female friendships are very, very important. There are needs we have as women that husbands can’t fulfill and shouldn’t be asked to fill. (Vice versa for the men in this conversation!) But I think a larger part of the conversation is the number of friends we’re talking about. Some people only need/want one good friend. Others may need more. I have a few close friends who I almost consider family, and that’s because we’re very intentional about seeing each other frequently. We protect our relationships with coffee dates or going for runs together, just like I would protect my marriage by investing in date nights and occasional weekends away. There are other friendships that are fun and important to me, but I’m not as intentional with them especially if we’re in a busy season of life. All that to say, Anne, you are right one: we must be intentional about our friendships, BUT, we must also know what friendships are worth protecting and investing in. We can’t be intentional with everyone.

  21. Heather says:

    We are now 11 moves into my husband’s military career. Frequent relocation has made it difficult to make friends. With each move, I feel an urgency knowing how important true community is and impatient knowing how long it takes to develop. My desperation for friendship motivates me to be intentional, but it is difficult to find people who will reciprocate. I look forward to reading more of what you have to say about friendship. I feel so weary from building and rebuilding community that a fresh perspective would be good for my soul.

    • Deb says:

      This is exactly how I feel. Thanks for articulating what I’ve been mulling over for several days now. My situation is being married cross-culturally and living/working in my husband’s culture (Turkey). I used to be part of a community but have found since marrying that the relationships and community that I crave and need seem to be just out of reach. I feel like the intentional, high desire for a relationship friend who seems to get little reciprocation. And frankly, I’m tired of the busy statement. We are all busy in different ways throughout all the stages of our lives. I wondered, as I was reading this and through these comments, how much our seemingly un-need for friendships or thinking we have too many or evaluating all these relationship issues (intentions and busyness and stage of life etc) is based on our western extravagant culture where we have so many choices and friendships fall into that category. This is a topic that I, too, am thinking about especially being the recipient of un-intentioned and ‘busy’ friends. Thanks for bringing up this topic. I hope you keep on voicing your thoughts. It is a broad topic.

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