There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.
What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.
We all have people in our lives—people who are important to us, people we spend time with, people we care about.
There are lots of ways we might characterize these relationships—acquaintances, colleagues, teammates—but how many of them are friends?
We tend to use the word friend without a lot of thought. It’s a very common word, and we tend to use it rather loosely, but I think it can be helpful to dig in to what it really means to have a friend. What does friendship mean to you?
We all know people whom we considered friends but who are no longer part of our lives. This is very common and very normal; people do grow apart and evolve differently. But we should not take these comings and goings lightly. We should never let someone who has the potential to be a lifelong friend slip away simply because of inattention or lack of effort. Friends should not be treated as a rotating cast of characters who can be replaced or disposed of. There will always be times in our lives when friends are needed and hard to come by.
One of my (many) nerdy tendencies is keeping lists and tables. In one of them, which I call “people I have known,” I identify people who have had an impact on me in some way. I describe how, where, and when I met them and the category of our relationship: colleague, teacher, student, music associate, baseball associate, girlfriend, buddy, friend, or close friend.
The last three categories fall under the friend umbrella (I leave out girlfriends, who are invariably friends, but the nature of those relationships is beyond this topic). In a friendship, a range of dynamics could exist. We may have a lot of fun with someone, but our relationship with that person is not very deep (category: buddy). We may have a lot of chemistry with someone and care about what happens to him or her (category: friend). If we’re lucky, we have people in our lives with whom our relationship is deeper and more meaningful—people who truly understand us, and we them. I categorize these people as close friends, and I am lucky to have a handful. I don’t let people into this category very easily, but when they get in, they tend to be in for life.
Categorizing aside, what does it mean to be a friend? What are the dynamics of friendship?
The more obvious elements are the fact that we spend time with our friends socially, or engaged in shared activities. We may share experiences—talk about the fun things we did or are planning to do. We may compare notes—about people we know, about our kids, about our commutes.
The emotional context is also there—we care about our friends. We want them to be happy and fulfilled. We talk to them about how they feel, how they cope with their challenges. We try to help them, to give them advice. We want to be a shoulder to lean on and an ear to listen. We want to celebrate their joys and help them with their problems.
But friendship is a two-way relationship. We want our friends to be happy, but we also want our friendships to make us happy. Good friendships have a balance that comes from mutual respect, a shared vision of the relationship, and a strong desire to be part of each other’s lives. Being a friend is a commitment. Being a close friend can be challenging and time-consuming. Obviously, we wouldn’t make this commitment to just anybody. We know who our close friends are because we want to give our relationships with them a high level of attention.
It can be enlightening to think about whether or not we are good friends to our friends.
Ideally, this happens naturally, but like anything important in our lives, we should be fully aware of the nature of all our friendships, particularly our relationships with our close friends. How do we do that? Take someone who you consider a close friend and think about the following questions:
- Do you truly care about this person, whether he or she is happy and getting everything he or she wants and needs in life?
- Do you share an empathetic bond? Do you tend to share feelings when one or the other of you is happy or excited, sad or frustrated?
- Do you invest time in the person, not only spending time together, but also thinking about him or her?
- Do you wish the person was with you when you see or experience something exciting, awe inspiring, enraging, or upsetting? Do you have a desire to share these experiences with the person as someone who would interpret something the same way you would?
An equally important question is, does the person feel the same way about you? The balance in close friendships is what makes them truly special. You may have answered yes to all the questions above, but if the person doesn’t feel the same way, what you have is not really a close friendship.
Friends and family are truly the most valuable people in our lives. We could have the most interesting and exciting lives imaginable, but if we didn’t have friends to share our experiences with, our existence would be much less meaningful.
Humans are social animals—it’s part of who we are. Our friends help make our lives more fulfilling and happier, and we wouldn’t be who we are without them. The more we understand them, the more meaningful our friendships are. We should give them the attention they need to thrive.
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