For the past few days I’ve been mulling over friendship. What makes a true friend. The difference between an acquaintance, a facebook “friend”, a frenemy, a friend, and a good friend. This introspection has led to several conclusions; one is that there are varying degrees of friendship. It isn’t that I like people any less, but friend A may be someone I can talk to and lunch with or merely facebook chat and for whatever reason it doesn’t bridge to Good Friend status. And then friend B is a Kindred Spirit. The other thing I learned is that friendship — even close friendship — can fade and die.
So what makes a good friend or a strong friendship? In thinking of my closest friendships, those that are strong and those that have ended for whatever reason I came to several conclusions on what makes a strong friendship:
Common Interests: This may seem like a “duh” type statement, but I really think this is what makes one want to be friends with another person. I work and interact with a number of Nice People, but I don’t have anything in common with them. I may have a quick chat or a conversation over a cup of coffee, but it never goes anywhere. We eventually run out of things to say. I need for someone to have an interest in the things I love (not everything, but maybe a thing or two). For example if you hate Charles Dickens and would rather watch Fox News I may still be able to have a great friendship with you if we both love thrifting and Arcade Fire. We Have Common Interests. I won’t babble about Bleak House and you won’t babble about Sean Hannity and we can both score kitschy vintage owl swag at the Goodwill and listen to Funeral on repeat.
Communication: Some people I don’t understand. Maybe I don’t “get” their sense of humor or maybe every conversation leaves me confused and wondering “I wonder what she meant….” Communication means that we understand one another and we can talk things out from which movie to watch to settling differences to letting the other person know when we are hurt, angry, joyous, or lonely. It also means that we TALK. I have many friends that I don’t even talk to on face book. They are all lumped into the category of People I Admire, but we never really converse.
Courtesy: I try to be careful to not take advantage of my friends. It is easy to relax around people we love, but I firmly believe that basic courtesy should always be in place. This means returning borrowed items, maybe putting off that 3am phone call when you know the other person works the next day, showing up to planned activities on time or at the very least not habitually showing up very late, not talking over the other person or attempting to “top” stories. Basic basic basic courtesy goes a long way. I would say that a lack of courtesy is the first sign that a friendship may go sour.
Constructive Criticism: Now to some meaty stuff. I’ve constructively criticized when asked (“no, I wouldn’t wear the yellow Charlotte Russe jumpsuit and booties”) and I’ve given unsolicited criticism (“cheating is wrong” or “I’m worried about your binge drinking”). Friends should be the ones to challenge you and let you know when you’re doing wrong. Tough love all the way. And then there is petty criticism. I’ve had “friends” comment negatively on my thrift store wardrobe, my desire to use tote bags for everything, my parenting choices, my hair, my music and my life. There is a big difference between not liking something and expressing that opinion and belittling someone because of a choice they’ve made.
Caring: A certain amount of selflessness goes into being a friend. I will bring you chicken soup and lend you $20 bucks. I’ll be happy for you when you’re happy and supportive when you’re down. Time, energy, love…. all of those things go into being a great friend. If there isn’t love there isn’t a friendship.
Core Ethics: I disagree with many of my friends on politics and religion and I’m fine with having a difference of opinion. However, I CANNOT be friends with people who are homophobic, racist, misogynists, or people who are ridiculously shallow. Try as I might, I cannot get along with someone who believes a $600 Burberry handbag is an investment worth making.
Compromise: Okay, I’ll watch your silly anime and I’ll endure the Lady Gaga CD (maybe). But then you might have to sit through a BBC drama or listen to my litany of “that’s what she said jokes.” That’s the true test of a friendship, liking some one enough to endure annoyance, boredom, or being outside of one’s comfort zone now and again.
I love my friends and I cherish each memory we have together. Cheers!