One of my childhood memories involves sifting through a big tin of Crayons with a herd of other preschoolers looking for the perfect one, usually the fat pink one that we all liked to fight over. That box was filled with variety. Not only were the traditional colors present, but there were special sparkly ones, oddly-shaped ones, broken ones, naked ones with no wrapper, multi-colored ones, and Crayons that had been chewed on.
If that tin had been filled with nothing but brand-new yellow Crayons and nothing else, it wouldn’t have been much fun. Not that anyone would argue the importance of “yellow” for coloring in suns, flowers, chickens, and rubber ducks, but yellow is not very useful when one wants to color grass, water, apples, and fire engines.
In today’s society, we tend to treat our friendships like a box of yellow Crayons. I’m a yellow Crayon, so I only hang out with other yellow Crayons. I only relate to and have things in common with other yellow Crayons. In other words, the single people hang out with other single people, the married couples segregate themselves with other married couples, young moms only hang out with other young moms, etc. This tendency happens naturally. We gravitate to “sameness” and create even more subdivisions—married with kids, married without kids, single with kids, empty-nesters, newly-married, and so on. It’s the easiest way to make friends—finding those people who have similar living situations.
Experience has taught me, however, that surrounding myself entirely by friends in my similar stage of life is not always a healthy technique. It’s a fine technique if I have little desire to grow as a person or be challenged or learn from other’s life experiences. But if I truly desire my friendships to have a meaningful impact on my life, I need to consider changing it up.
Back when I was a single, graduate student, I met a married couple, Tracy and Eric, who took me under their wing and included me in their circle of friends. We even travelled to Egypt together. Their friendship coaxed me to step out of my “singles only” zone and interact with students who were in a far different stage of life than myself. Tracy and Eric had a unique relationship with each other based on deep consideration and mutual respect. Being around them and observing them taught me things that I now apply in my own marriage relationship.
The military requires my husband Eric and I to pick up and move every three years or so. Hence, it can be difficult. It is hard to leave good friends and have to start all over somewhere else. But the positive side is that we are able to establish lots of friendships all over the globe and are exposed to so many different people with different backgrounds.
My husband and I make a point of creating a strong, healthy friend network, wherever we go, that includes a variety of life stages. When we arrive in a new place, we prioritize our goals in this way:
- Find a place to live.
- Find a good community like a church.
The second step gives us an instant community of friends that we can tap in to and do life with. Currently, our friend zone covers a wide spectrum of life stages—several are single, several are new parents, one couple is raising teenagers—regardless of our own life stage, we grow our own relationships by observing each other’s experiences, mistakes, successes, and techniques.
My favorite category of friends are those who have been married a long time and are at least the age of my parents or perhaps older. They have years of experience to pass on. They have already survived the toddlers and the teenagers, and if they have survived a few decades of marriage, they probably have some really good advice to pass on.
I like to occasionally check up on my box of Crayons. If I start to see too much of one color, it may be time reevaluate my friendships. Lots of colors means more opportunities and more possibilities for deeper, richer friendships.