Lauren Meeks of Tiny Buddha writes:

“No friendship is an accident.” –O. Henry, Heart of the West

Recently I was telling a friend how grateful I was that she had initiated a get-together.

“No one ever reaches out to me,” I complained. “I feel like I am the one driving all of my relationships.”

“Well,” she responded, “don’t think too highly of me. I almost never reach out…to anyone.”

I mulled this over on my way home that evening. I have often felt like the driving force behind many of my relationships. But I have also felt on many occasions that I’m just as bad at keeping in touch as my friends.

The truth is, many of us are terrible at relationships. We leave our social connections up to chance, only spending time with the people we happen to see during the course of our week.

Sometimes we invite people to spend time with us, but then once they get there we divert half of our attention talking to friends on our phone. Some of us are good at having actual conversations, but not very deep ones—we stick to topics like the weather, the results of the recent sports game in the city, or what’s trending on social media.

We have come to prize friendships of “convenience” above friendships of substance.

It’s become more important to us that we make our next meeting or social engagement, respond to the most recent tweet, or check out what’s trending on Facebook than to take the real, raw time it requires to build solid, edifying relationships.

However you look at it, there is a lot of room for growth when it comes to building friendships and community in our day and age. What are some ways you can foster caring and supportive relationships today in a digital, easily distracted world?

1. Initiate and reciprocate

As much as we all want to be invited by others, you have to remember that they are craving to feel included just as much as you are. You could wait for someone else to ask you to do something, but you may be waiting forever.

Swallow your pride and just take the first step. Invite them over for dinner, grab coffee in the morning, check out your local museum, go to a concert together or a walk in the park—the possibilities are endless.

Not all relationships that you initiate will pan out, but being willing to take that first step can go a long way toward creating the foundation of a lasting friendship.

Of course, this won’t be the only step. Equally as important as initiating is reciprocating when someone else reaches out to you. Initiating with someone once is not going to get you very far if you don’t follow up with more invitations, or they don’t reciprocate in kind.

I have countless friendships that have burned out because I became frustrated with always being the one to suggest outings. Don’t be that friend. If someone has made the effort to reach out to you, give them the courtesy of doing the same for them.

2. Be present

If we want to develop deep relationships, we’ve got to put down our phones. Or tablets, or computers, or whatever else is distracting us from really connecting with the people sitting right in front of us.

Consciously focus on listening to what people are saying. Respond accordingly. Ask questions that show you really care about them. If they tell you about something they’re struggling with or excited about, bring it up the next time you talk to them.

People will be much more willing to invest in you if they feel you truly care about them and what’s going on in their lives, and you can only make them feel you care about them if you really do care. Put the distractions away and commit to being present with your friend for the time you are together.

I think about this principle often when I contrast my relationships with my brother and my husband.

My brother is addicted to his phone. He is always on it—updating his social media accounts, responding to texts, or doing research for work.

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