Why is it hard to make friends over 30? That’s the subtitle of one of my favorite articles from the New York Times. My friends and I have asked a variation of that question in our post-college life: Why is it hard to make friends after college?
In the article, the author quotes sociologist Rebecca G. Adams about the three crucial conditions that are required to making close friends: “Proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.”
Considering those conditions, it’s obvious why college relationships usually blossom into deep friendships. It’s also obvious why relationships after college are challenging. Rarely do all of those conditions exist at the same time.
I recently revisited the NYT article and realized there is one group of people in my life that meets all of those conditions: my neighbors.
What if one solution to making friends post-college could be as simple as loving your neighbor?
Jesus’s Command and Our Well-Being
If you grew up in the church, you probably learned that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.
In our attempts to capture the essence of the second commandment — our love of the triune God turns outward to love people — we can easily overlook the obvious implications of the command: We are to love the people in physical proximity to us.
My pastor, Brian Ferry, put it this way in a podcast I recorded with him: “It’s very easy to say ‘Love your neighbor and love everyone.’ But everyone is very… close to no one. My metaphorical neighbor across the earth is somewhat impossible to love whereas my actual, physical…neighbor who lives near me, works in a cube next to me…they are there [in my daily life]. I’m so focused on loving my metaphorical neighbor, I ignore my actual real neighbor.”
Moreover, in Jesus’s command to love our neighbor, we see His provision in our lives. Loving our neighbors isn’t simply a call to evangelism (although it can certainly include that). Research demonstrates that knowing and trusting one’s neighbors is correlated with better health and well-being. The command is a way that Jesus re-orients our lives to provide friendship and community while promoting human flourishing and the common good.
Living out the Second Greatest Commandment
What might it look like to move the second greatest commandment from the abstract to our daily lives? Here are some easy, practical ideas to start loving your neighbor.
Wave to your neighbors and learn their names: When you take your garbage out or grab the mail, avoid the urge to scurry inside without looking around. Two of my hurdles with neighboring are my avoidance of awkward situations and my commitment to my to-do list. Neighboring forces me to let go of my schedule, make time for those God has brought into my life, and push through the clumsy interactions that are usually present in new friendships.
Meet the people around you: In addition to the people who live around you, who are people that you interact with in your daily life? Perhaps it’s a barista at Starbucks, the guy who takes a lunch break the same time as you do at work, or the woman who is always at the dog park the same time as you. Invest the time to get to know them.
Invite people to your home: This is a good starting point, or something to do after you get to know a few folks. Folks from my former church in Indianapolis invite people to hang out on their porches throughout the summer. Don’t have a porch? Why not initiate a low-key meet-and-greet for your neighbors in the common room of your apartment, or have a dessert potluck in your backyard?
On a recent Saturday morning, my husband and I hosted a coffee and coffeecake hour on our front porch and invited a handful of neighbors to join us. The invitations were simple (I hand-wrote the details on a 3×5 card) and the food was basic.
When we reach out to our neighbors, our goal isn’t to impress, but to love and invite people into our lives.“We don’t do entertaining,” Ferry explains. “What we’re doing is hospitality, which is letting people into your actual life.”
Pray for them: If all of your prayers were answered, would your neighbors notice? That’s a question raised by Ray Cannata, a pastor in New Orleans, La. and the subject of the movie “The Man Who Ate New Orleans.” Every time I’m reminded of that question, I’m convicted. Praying for neighbors isn’t a substitute for doing the awkward, messy work of loving them in word and deed. But all of our work of neighboring should be enveloped in prayers for the people and places God has given us.
This Is an Art, Not a Science
Neighboring isn’t an equation where you plug in X and Y to get Z. Neighboring is an act of continual obedience which requires paying attention to God’s work around us and responding to that work with wisdom and joy.
While relationships with neighbors can be life-giving, they can also be infected with sin and may present challenges. We live in a broken world. Only one person came to the first neighbor get-together I hosted at my first apartment in Cincinnati.
I know from experience that neighboring isn’t a silver bullet to our the struggle to make friends in the post-college world. I’m simply proposing that maybe if you’re feeling a bit lonely and wanting to make some new friends, loving your literal neighbors might be a good place to start.