6 Ways to Build Strong Friendships

Friendship is one of the most generous gifts of life. You meet someone who (unlike family or colleagues) you’re not beholden to and you choose to share your life with them. 

Julie Beck, editor and writer at The Atlantic, has made a career of marveling at friendships. Over the course of 100 interviews, Beck wrote The Friendship Files — a series dedicated to exploring and celebrating friendships. 

As the series closes, The Six Forces that Fuel Friendship highlights the qualities Beck believes grow friendships. We love friendships here at A Sweat Life and highly recommend Beck’s article and series in its entirety. 

Here’s our quick summary and suggestions on how you can use these six forces to nourish the friendships in your own life.

group of friends smiling

1. Accumulation

What it is: This is the time you spend together. The more time you spend with a person, particularly at the start of your relationship, the more likely it becomes a thriving friendship. 

What it looks like: Becoming friends with the people on the same floor of your dorm, co-workers who spend 40+ a week together becoming friends outside of work. 

We suggest: Spend quality time with a new friend. Volunteer for an event together, meet for a walk twice a week instead of twice a month. Metaphorically stacking up the hours, especially at the beginning of a friendship, goes a long way towards building your relationship. 

2. Attention

What it is: Paying attention and being open to a new friendship, not letting a spark between you and a potential friend go unnoticed. “It’s never too late to meet someone who will be important to you for the rest of your life,” writes Beck. 

What it looks like: Being open to friendship where you may not expect it — from your hairdresser, to your ex’s mom, to someone in the comments section of your favorite blog.

We suggest: Taking out your headphones and putting your phone away. You’ll notice more and be more approachable. Say hello with a smile and eye contact to more people than not. 

3. Intention 

What it is: Putting in the work. When you sense a spark, intention is about following through with it. It takes vulnerability to work through the adult awkwardness of making a new friend, but no relationship is built without that intention.

What it looks like: Being brave enough to ask the coworker you vibe with if they want to go see the band you both love together. 

We suggest: Taking a deep breath and lean into the fear. Simply put, too few of us are willing to be vulnerable and awkward. Not every friend date will lead to a friend, but not asking at all is self rejection. 

4. Ritual

What it is: The most straightforward force — a specific activity you do together on a consistent basis. This is a marriage of accumulation and intention — the glue that keeps you committed to your friends through the chaos of your individual lives.

What it looks like: A monthly book club, Sunday coffee dates, phone catch ups scheduled on your calendar, even an ongoing text chain. The key is your joint commitment to them.

We suggest: Making rituals with new and old friends alike. What kind of fun or connection do you wish you had in your life? Dinner parties? Yearly friend vacations? Ritualize them with a friend, and double your joy.

5. Imagination 

What it is: Recognizing that the possibilities and potential within your friendships are endless, limited only by what you can imagine.  

What it looks like: Buying a house with a friend, adopting a pet together and sharing custody, being a friend’s primary caregiver in illness. 

We suggest: Prioritizing your friendships the way you do your romantic partners. Friendships shouldn’t be left to the corners of our lives or the gaps in our calendars.

6. Grace

What it is: The unconditional love, forgiveness, and open arms between friends no matter how often you speak. 

What it looks like: Picking up right where you left off with an old friend, not holding resentment about a call going unreturned, giving and receiving attention and affection when you finally connect again. 

We suggest: Initiating a connection with that old friend you once loved. Chances are, they’re still thinking of you too.

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About Laura Carrillo

Laura is writer covering topics that inspire women to be the happiest, most alive versions of themselves. After unexpectedly finding her love of fitness through strength training, Laura’s always after the satisfaction of one more rep. A native Chicagoan, Laura loves exploring Chicago’s neighborhoods by foot or bike, and she considers the best days to be those that start with a sweaty workout and end curled up with a good book. You can find her work at lauracarrillowriter.com