“Good friends help you find important things when you have lost them . . . your smile, your hope and your courage.” -Doe Zantamata
The word friend appears to have been diluted in our world of social media and Facebook. After all, any one of us can be “friends” with more than 800 people and only have met a handful in person, and smaller still, trust a fraction in our most trying times. As someone who is a bit of a lexophile (lover of words), perhaps a better word for any list of social media “friends” would be acquaintances.
By definition, a friend is someone who we share a mutual affection, someone who is not hostile towards us, someone who we enjoy spending time with and someone who helps or supports us.
As we know, there are healthy friendships and there are friendships that give the appearance of wholesome beneficence, but in actuality are eroding and destructive, preventing us from reaching our true potential.
After examining a variety of friendships throughout my life, observing endless teenage friendships as a teacher and pulling from my readings the qualities any healthy relationships needs to have, below are 15 attributes of a true friend worth having in your life. (As you read, keep in mind, that in order to have such devoted, worthwhile friends, we must also be one as well, so the list is not only what to seek, but what to aspire to do as well.)
1. Be present
Now, I want to clarify this first point. A friend is not someone to use and abuse, call up at all hours and expect them to be there when you want them regardless of their schedule. But what a true friend does is become an active member of your life – someone who is aware of what’s going on, calls to see how an important interview, presentation, etc went after a long work day, and makes time to see you. In other words, a true friend makes the friendship a priority, strengthens it regularly over time and doesn’t let the bond die so long as the friendship is healthy and not a crutch for co-dependence.
2. Encourage authenticity
A true friend doesn’t expect their friends to conform to what they understand, but rather revels in their uniqueness, celebrates their strengths and supports them as they strive to reach their full potential. In so doing, a true friend doesn’t compete or tear down their friends in order to bolster their own self-confidence. Often this is why it is easier for strong friendships to form when both friends are thriving in different arenas; however, it is absolutely possible for two friends to work in the same field or compete in the same arena – it simply requires two very strong, secure individuals.
3. Listen and remember
Listening, letting your friend recognize that you are attentive to them and the conversation you are having above anything else going on around, is a supreme form of respect for the relationship. It is easy to be distracted by our cell phones, the passersby or our children (if we have them), but when we make time to give of our undivided attention, we communicate without saying a word. Following the period of listening, remembering what was said solidifies the trust. Whether it is remembering a dear friend’s birthday, sending a brief “best of luck” card in the mail for an exciting new venture or sending a quick text when a friend is traveling to meet someone that may they are anxious to meet, such simple gestures can mean the world.
4. Be loyal
Whether in each other’s presence or not, a true friend refrains from speaking ill of their friend even if other parties begin to nag or talk negatively about a close friend. In fact, a true friend, should it be necessary, will speak up for their friend and attempt to stop the vitriol.
5. Be flexible
Not all friendship are designed to last the test of time. Often a friendship is for a short period of time to help us navigate a particular period in our lives; however, a handful of friendships transcend multiple periods of our childhood and adult lives. Any healthy friendship that successfully has navigated this progression has been flexible enough to let each other grow, experiment, step away from each other for extend periods of time and celebrated the new paths that begin in each others’ lives.
6. Speak the truth
Whether it is good or bad feedback, a true friend has the courage to tactfully and lovingly tell their friend the truth. If a friend has had a great success, even if they don’t understand how it came to be, they are excited and celebratory in all sincerity; however, if a close friend is becoming increasingly negative and difficult to be around, it takes a strong and well-meaning friend to point out the change in behavior – not to nag, but to help them find greater contentment for their own happiness.
7. Be supportive
It can be easy to be supportive of a friend when we approve of what they are doing, but a true test of friendship is to support a loved one when they pursue a path that we don’t understand. I by no means am advocating for supporting a friend when they are choosing a self-destructing downward spiral, but rather if a friend is choosing a career or relationship that we ourselves wouldn’t pursue, but it could be perfectly ideal for someone else, then we need to take a moment and let go of our judgment, be honest with our reservations (explaining why and asking understanding of the situation), but then move on and be supportive.
8. Seek to help improve each other’s lives
Whether by simply being a positive person in our lives or by bringing information, ideas and inspiration that is sincerely believed will help us live our best lives due to the dreams and ideas we expressed to them, a good friend not only is looking out for themselves as they navigate life, but also their dear friends as well.
9. Communicate kindly
While there may be moments of passion and heated disagreement, after things calm down, a true friend recognizes that such heated tones only exacerbate the situation. A true friend can apologize and not hold past mistakes against one another, recognizing that we all make mistakes, we are all human and have bad days. After all, sometimes we just need someone to vent our frustrations to.
10. Respect boundaries
Each friendship is different, thus each friendship will have different boundaries of what can be discussed, how we can behave and what issues are sensitive and not to be shared with others. Also, as we move into adulthood, simply because we have a romantic partner doesn’t mean a friendship has to end; however, the friendship may shift or change, and a true friend respects this journey and decision. Lastly, knowing when we need to give our friends space to be on their own and when we need to pry even if they say they don’t want us to, is insightful knowledge and presents a tricky tight rope to walk. However, with time, knowing how to respond becomes easier.
11. Become comfortable with silence
Often when we’ve been friends with someone for quite some time, we can be absolutely comfortable with each other even if a word is not spoken. Simply enjoying each other’s company, sharing the same space or jumping in the car for a long road trip, can reveal our level of comfort with someone as we don’t feel the need to entertain each other the entire time fearful that they may abandon us should we not be “enjoyable” enough.
12. Be observant of moods
With any friendship, this understanding will take time, but in time it is possible to discern when it is acceptable to be silly and tongue-in-cheek and when our friend simply needs us to be serious and listen or support. On a similar note, taking note of a dear friends change in moods and asking them if they are okay, even if they state they don’t want to talk about it, at least conveys that you are concerned and care for their well-being.
13. Show up
Being supportive of each other’s big events even if you won’t be able to be by their side as they might be the host or the speaker, sends a significant message that you are there to support what matters to them. While life does get in the way at times, so long as you show up more often than not, your friendship will be strengthened.
14. Remember the two-way street rule
It can be easy to unload on good friends and share all of our good and bad news, but find the balance. Remember that a friendship involves two people, so begin asking how they are doing, and then sit back and listen. As friends we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about what we are passionate, excited or upset about, so long as we encourage our friends to do the same.
15. Give thoughtful advice
A secure and supportive friend not only will give thoughtful advice, but won’t be offended when their advice isn’t taken. Also, being a good friend may also involve saying “I don’t know what you should do, but I know someone who you might want to talk to or a book you might want to read”. By simply giving an honest response, the bond of trust is built, so that when you do end up giving advice, your friend has faith that it is coming from a place of love and wanting the best outcome.
Building a friendship is not something that happens magically over coffee one day. Rather it takes time. Time to slowly build the trust and discover who each person is. However, no matter who you are, the key to any healthy relationship is to gradually allow yourself to be vulnerable and observe along the way how the friend you chose to be vulnerable with handles such a trusting gesture. Throwing everything on the table in the first meeting probably isn’t the best idea, but gradually, as you share bits and pieces of yourself, you will eventually be able to see how much you can trust someone.