When I was young, my friend let me borrow the red crayon from his new box. So I let him ride my bike. When we got older, my friend defended me in a snowball fight and sat with me at lunch so I wouldn’t have to eat alone. Years later, when we were in high school, and I had forgotten my book, my friend “saved my life” by lending me his book so I could do my homework. What would I do without true friends?
Your definition of friendship may change during your lifetime, but its value won’t. True friends have fun together, even when they’re doing nothing special. They communicate without talking and seem close despite living miles apart. True friends take time to listen to your problem when you’re having a terrible day and help you find the sun on a stormy day. True friends are a source of honest feedback and continuous support. They watch your back, preserve your innermost secrets, and lend you a shoulder when things go south — they even know when you need your space.
True friends tell you the truth — even when it hurts — and they put up with you when you’re in a miserable mood. Since true friends know you better than you do, they know when you can, even when you think you can’t. And although they’ll help make you a better person, true friends won’t keep score. You can always be yourself around your true friends. They accept you for who you are rather than for who they want you to be. And, that’s because a true friend cares about your happiness and loves you unconditionally. As Elbert Hubbard said, “A friend is one who knows you and loves you just the same.”
Stages of Friendship
There are several different stages of a friendship — beginning with casual acquaintance, then meaningful relationship, and finally, lasting friendship. While social media helps us keep in touch with our casual acquaintances, meaningful relationships require something more, while lasting friendships demand still greater personal commitment.
The Defining Characteristics of a Friend
Casual acquaintance You probably have a lot of casual acquaintances. You meet them at parties, go to school with them, or live in their neighborhood. You may know their names or recognize their faces. Yet, although you enjoy their company, none of you have invested enough of yourselves to develop meaningful relationships.
As you form a relationship with a casual acquaintance, you may size up him or her to see if that person is fun, positive, accepting, considerate, tolerant, respectful, and ethical. And, if you share common interests and stick with it, both of you may make a commitment that takes the friendship to the next level.
Meaningful relationship In this stage, people gradually commit to a friendship by making small gestures and gauging the other’s response to these gestures. As the friendship develops, each person becomes more invested in and committed to the other and to the relationship.
In the process of developing a meaningful relationship, people look for a friend who is trustworthy, open, honest, thoughtful, fair, giving, dependable, sincere, loyal, forgiving, sharing, supportive, and committed. In addition, they would also expect this friend to possess all the fundamental qualities found in a casual acquaintance.
When consistent behavior is exhibited over time, people become comfortable that their friend’s actions are authentic — and the relationship becomes predictable. This is the start of a lasting friendship, in which authenticity, communication, selflessness, personal growth, and faith thrive.
Lasting friendship Lasting friendships don’t happen by chance; they bloom because friends care as much (or more) about their friend’s happiness as they do their own. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”
The qualities that lead to deeper, lasting friendships are:
Authenticity You can always “be yourself” around your friend. There are no games, and there is no need to measure your words or actions. You are accepted and appreciated for being you.
Communication Your relationship is open and honest. You always tell the truth — even if it hurts. You feel comfortable sharing your life and innermost secrets with your friend. Your friend, in turn, listens with a caring ear and provides you with feedback if you so desire.
Selflessness Your friend wants what’s best for you. Period. There’s give-and-take in any healthy relationship. There’s no need to keep score. You gain considerable pleasure by witnessing your friend’s happiness and success.
Personal growth Your friend brings out the best in you and helps to make you a better person.
Faith Your friend has your back in good times and bad. You have so much trust and confidence in the relationship that you never have reason to question your friend’s motives. As someone once said, “Good friends are like stars. You don’t always see them, but you know that they’re always there.”
Friends for Life
Are you a good friend? Let’s look at some of the telltale signs. A true friend takes action before a request is made; she volunteers to be the designated driver on New Year’s Eve; he helps himself to a beer rather than wanting to be “waited on”; she doesn’t take the picture because she’s expected to be included in the family photo; he doesn’t leave the party with the crowd but instead, stays to clean up the mess; she hears what you said, but also hears what you didn’t say; when he is awakened by your call, he still says he’s so glad to hear from you; she throws you a celebration party even though you beat her out for the promotion; he knows it’s only an argument and not the end of the friendship; she loses more sleep over your problems than over her own; he knows you’d give him the shirt off your back, although he’d never ask; she gives you the bigger piece of cake, even if it’s chocolate.
Being a friend involves so much more than doing a favor for someone or having an occasional chat on social media. It means more than sharing a sandwich or an occasional smile. Friends are people who share one another’s dreams, open their hearts, and complete one another’s life. As Muhammad Ali once said, “Friendship . . . is not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”