“A friend is one who knows you and loves you just the same.” – Elbert Hubbard
BFFs. Amigos. Buddies. Peeps. Besties. Kindred spirits.
Whatever you choose to call them, you cherish your friends with all your heart. Even if you don’t have friendships that you feel strongly about, you love the idea of having such people around you.
Who wouldn’t want to be part of a group with Chandler, Rachel, Phoebe, Ross, Joey and Monica in Friends? Or Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda in Sex and the City? Or Harry, Ron and Hermione in Harry Potter? Or Woody and Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story? We all look up to these idealized portrayals of enduring friendships that show us how much joy, sustenance and learning we can gain from them.
Friendship is a special kind of love, which the ancient Greeks referred to as Philia, which means “affectionate regard and rapport, usually between equals”. They see it as a dispassionate yet virtuous form of love based on loyalty, equality and familiarity. There aren’t any articulated rules in friendships or contracts that bind you together, and you can invest as much as you would like to in each one of them.
Nowadays, friendships are becoming increasingly less important to people. The average working professional lives an isolated life without putting much effort into creating friendships. This is mostly due to the popularity of individualism and the romanticized ideal of making it on your own. Friends are now seen as a means to an end, to fulfill a purpose such as climbing the corporate or social ladder.
The fickle, fleeting and non-committal mindset of the majority of individuals today makes genuine and deep friendships hard to come by. We’re also becoming more reliant on the Internet as a source of social connections because of the ease and convenience it offers. But chatting with people on virtual platforms is definitely not the same as going out for coffee or a beer with a friend or a group of them.
It’s also much harder to make friends as a working adult than it is when we’re in high school and at university. Other priorities and responsibilities such as career demands and caring for children and family can cause friendships to take a backseat. It’s also possible that you and your friends from school have grown apart because you now have different interests or you’ve moved to different locations.
For many of us, all we have left of those epic friendships from our youth are fond memories of the wonderful times we shared with our companions. Perhaps you went through a range of pivotal growing-up experiences together during those life chapters, such as dealing with teachers, cramming for exam weeks, hanging out after class, sharing inside jokes, and talking about common friends and your crushes.
Once we leave those institutions, we have to step up our networking game to find such high-quality friendships. A lack of effort can cause us to fall into the trap of making friends of convenience instead of friends who are truly like-minded and like-hearted. You make friends of convenience because they either work at your office, live in your neighborhood, or they’re friends with your partner or family.
But if you’re looking for those special kindred spirits, people who just “get” you and with whom your interactions seem almost effortless, you have to be willing to put in some thought and energy into finding them. I know that this may sound like a lot of work and you probably have enough on your plate, but it’s definitely worth it, as you stand to benefit in multiple ways from these true-blue connections.
Besides the enjoyment and comfort that friendship provides, it can have a positive impact on our health and well-being. Multiple studies have shown that individuals who have a strong base of social support face a reduced risk of several health problems, such as high blood pressure, depression and high body mass index (BMI). Adults with prolific social lives tend to live longer than those with fewer connections.
On the mental health front, friendships can boost our self-confidence, help us cope with trauma and pain, give us a sense of belonging, and encourage us to improve our lives for the better. We can derive all these benefits, provided we use focus on quality over quantity in our friendships. We spend plenty of time looking for a life partner, so why not do the same when searching for simpatico friendships?
I believe that real friendships are a blessing and a significant source of pleasure. There are so many marvelous things to experience in life, which are much more enjoyable if you have the right people to share it with. Friends can also be a major source of learning for us because every single person that you attract into your personal space is a reflection of you and your traits, in some way or another.
So if you don’t like the people you’ve befriended so far, it might serve you well to reflect on how and why they’ve come into your life. One of the secrets to developing great friendships is to first cultivate within yourself the qualities of a friend that you would wish to have. Take responsibility for the way you contribute to the dynamics of your friendships and adjust your behavior accordingly.
You might also want to question your judgment of character. Do you generally get stuck in toxic friendships and rarely manage to spot people with whom you can have a healthy relationship? If you do then you’re part of the majority of people who have forgotten how a true friend acts and behaves.
Great friendships are defined by a constellation of qualities and the commonalities that you share. What follows are 5 essential traits of a true friend and how you can recognize them during your encounters:
- They add to your life: A true friend always enhances your life in some way. They may provide knowledge, humor, fun or comfort and support. There’s a natural flow of give and take between the two of you and you never once feel like you’re being taken advantage of. You feel thankful that they are in your life because they make you a better person and they help you move closer towards your goals.
- They’re supportive and positive: Your friends should be your cheerleaders and your biggest advocates. You’ll know that you’ve found a true friend when they want the best for you and you feel instantly uplifted when you’re in their presence. When you talk about your dreams and goals, they listen patiently and they’re happy to support you in your vision and help you in any way that they can. Because they are emotionally mature and self-assured individuals who are comfortable in their own skin, they have no problem with complimenting you and showering you with genuine words of praise.
- They’re comforting, trustworthy and loyal: A true friend is life a soft cushion that you can fall back on whenever you go through rough patches in your life. They are intent listeners with high levels of empathy and kindness. When you’re feeling down, you know that you’ll feel better if you give them a call or see them for coffee. They’ve got your back and they will help you get back up during the times you fall. Your secrets are safe with them and their trustworthiness is unquestionable. They also give you the sense that they will always be there for you and be loyal, no matter where life takes the both of you.
- They accept and respect you for who you are: When you’re in the presence of a good friend, you feel loved and accepted for who you are, warts and all. You don’t need to pretend to be someone you’re not when you’re with them because they appreciate the real you. They respect you as an individual and they never try to fix you or diminish your self-worth. They find your quirks and faults endearing (and might even occasionally tease you about them), and they’re patient with you if you ever do mess up. They understand that you’re human and they’re willing to forgive you if you sincerely ask for an apology.
- They’re able to receive: All healthy relationships are a two-way street. A true friend should also be a good receiver so that you have the pleasure of offering everything that they give you in return. You don’t want to feel guilty about being a taker who doesn’t take the chance to express your generosity towards the people that you really care about. Befriending someone who is a giver and who isn’t comfortable with receiving from others is not conducive to a wholesome and balanced friendship.
Now that you know what makes a true friend, get out there and cast a wide net. Join clubs, organizations, networking events, and spread positive energy wherever you go. In time, you’ll build a rich circle of trust that’ll last for a lifetime. Don’t settle for less because you deserve only the best!
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: What do you think are the most important qualities of a true friend? Do you have anyone in your life that embodies those qualities?