I believe that most people want to have good friends in their lives, as well as likely hope to be a good friend to others. And yet, so many of us do not do these two things. Many of us tend to keep friends in our lives that we know are not particularly healthy or good for us. And at one time or another, each of us have been a less than ideal friend to someone whom we cared about.
Like romantic relationship, I believe friendship is a topic that in our culture does not get nearly enough attention. You can go to school and be educated in almost ANY subject. Mathematics, drama and play-writing, zoology, food service, art, psychology, medicine, the list goes on. And yet, there is no education within our society for how to be a good friend, what healthy relationships look like, or how to create a wonderful romantic relationship. Most of us are left to fumble along in the dark on these topic. To grope blindly as we learn via trial and error.
Some people have been given the gift of having positive role models nearby. Maybe in the form of their parents, siblings or close family friends whom they have spent years being close to. Someone who is lucky has people like that in their life who can be showcases for what a healthy relationship looks like (friendship, familial, or romantic) But for quite a few of us, those awesome role models are in short supply. And a vast majority of people do not have the interest in taking time to really learn about these topics.
That is surprising since being well versed in these very topics (how to be a good romantic partner, what healthy relationships look like, how to be a good friend, great communication, etc) are CENTRAL to the success of our lives. Learning and being good at these very things is literally one of the defining factors as to whether or not we will have a successful, fulfilling and truly happy life, or if instead we will have lots of stressful relationships, struggles, and disappointments.
I have been thinking a lot lately about friendship. What it means. How to be a good one. How to spot the good ones.
So, what makes someone a good friend, anyway?
Side-note: yes, friendships sometimes end. An ending does not mean that the person was not a great friend to you while the relationship endured.
1. Fun to be with. Of course, no one is happy or "on" 100% of the time. Everyone has bad days, or even emotionally challenging phases of their life. Part of being a great friend is being understanding of this, and being supportive to your friend when they are going through these times. But in general, the majority of the time spent with your friend should be lots of fun! When in their company, you should feel happy. Positive. Joyful. Good. And you should walk away from your interactions with them feeling the same.
2. Make time for you. Everyone is busy. Its part of life. Especially nowadays. People are busier than ever. We all have jobs, hobbies, passions, events to attend, maybe school or education underway, goals we might be working towards, etc. A good friend will prioritize you, be willing to make time for you, and commit to dates with you and will follow through. They do this because they like you and because they want to maintain a relationship with you.
3. Good values. Not to be misunderstood, I do not mean a friend must share your same values. How boring would that be? "Good" values is not synonyms with having the same values. By "good" I mean healthy. Upstanding. Values that generally mean they have good character. Values such as: honesty, consideration for others, good listening skills, open mindedness, forgiveness, compassion, etc. These (and many others) are values that likely make up a worthwhile friend.
4. Forgiveness. This is an important aspect of any friendship that you expect to last a long time. I am not suggesting unlimited forgiveness, nor an I suggesting that we should grant our friends free passes on terrible behavior. Some things are deal breakers.
What I am suggesting is to remember the humanness in each of us. People will screw up. Even the ones who love you. This may result in you feeling hurt, disappointed, angry. But experiencing those feelings is not grounds for an automatic ending. And actually, behaving in such a way may cause you to feel regret over the long run. When someone does something wrong, do not forget about all the things they did that were right.
Anger will be part of any longstanding close relationship. Whether romantic, platonic or familiar. Understand this and you will be better able to work through it when it does come up.
One of the best books I have ever read about friendships/how to be closer to others/being a good friend and what a good friend looks like: "The Friendship Factor" by Alan Loy McGinnis. He points out this very thing, regarding anger being a part of close relationships. I highly, highly recommend this book. Its a short, easy read. I have read it at least 3 times. And it will majorly inspire you and give some awesome inspiration and thought with regards to the close relationships in your life.
5. Willing to make sacrifices/inconvenience themselves on your behalf. This is not to say that we should be doormats. Or that we allow ourselves to be taken advantage of. Or that we are always making huge grand gestures for our friends. But, as within romantic relationships, the same thing goes for friendships. Sometimes, we must do things we do not especially love or want to do, for the greater good of the friendship.
This can be things like: making the long trek to your friends place for the 3rd time in a row because they have a new baby and cannot make the trek out to you easily at the moment, attending something that does not especially interest you (a play, art show, musical performance, etc) because your friend loves it and begs you to attend with them, helping a friend move, picking up a friend at the airport, proofreading a paper of theirs for them just because they ask you to, etc. The list goes on.
Part of being a good friend sometimes means going out of your way for someone. Being a good friend isnt just about being there when its convenient. Its about being there when its not.
6. Being reliable. This goes somewhat hand in hand with point #2. There will be periods in a friends life when they might be less available to you than others. Maybe they are working on a big project that takes up a lot of their time. They might be working towards a further education. Part of being a good friend is being understanding of this, and being somewhat flexible. However, being a good friend also means being reliable. This means keeping your word. When you make plans, your honor them. Allow your friends to know they can count on you. That when you say something, you mean it. That your actions will show it and you will follow through. Flaky friends are generally not awesome ones. For someone to be a great friend, others need to feel they can count on and rely on them.
7. Being able to apologize. A lot of people cannot do this but its incredibly important for successful relationships. I have read studies that say people who do not apologize tend to have much more difficulty with close personal relationships. Being able to apologize, be humble, attempt to see the other persons point of view, take responsibility for your own behavior where you might have been wrong, all of these things are incredibly important for being successful in your close relationships.
8. Non-judgmental and open minded. Because who wants to be friends with someone who makes them feel judged? We choose to be close to those with whom we feel we can open up to. To people we feel that we can share ourselves with totally without fear of being judged, without fear of being thought of differently, etc. What greater gift can a friend give than unconditional acceptance? That does not mean you always agree with everything a friend does. What it does mean is that even if you yourself might not do/think it, you accept that your friend is not you and you allow them to be themselves in your company without making them feel bad about it. Even if they make different choices than you might make, you should still think they are awesome. You probably make choices that they do not agree with or think are the best as well. It goes both ways ;-) Part of being a great friend means being open.
9. An awesome listener. These are in short supply nowadays. Everyone is distracted. By their cell phone, by work, by their to-do list, the list goes on and on and on. Keep a close eye on this and notice that to most of the people you converse with, within seconds, you can see they are already posed and ready to jump in. They are already thinking about what they want to say, as soon as you stop speaking. Often times, when someone does respond to something you have said, they will bring the topic back to them. For instance, "Oh yeah, I know what you mean. When I got dumped a year ago, I..." and so the topic turns back around to them. An awesome listener does not do that often. Yes, all people do it sometimes (its how we connect to others, pointing out similar experiences and feelings).
However, an awesome listener isn't thinking about what they want to say next as you are speaking. They haven't formulated a response. They do not bring the conversation right back to them. They do not interrupt or talk over you. They are not thinking of the text message they might have waiting. Instead, they are present. Literally just listening to what you are saying. Taking it in and considering it. Hearing you. Imagining how you might feel.
A great article from Harvard Business School on What Great Listeners Actually Do.
10. Patience. Last but not least. Part of being a good friend means being patient. This means lots of things. If your friend is going through a tough time, being patient with them. Allowing them some time to work through this challenge while still being a supportive and present friend. This can also mean being patient when you know they have a lot going on and do not have a lot of time for you at the moment. It can mean listening for the 9th time when they talk about the ex who dumped them a month ago, their heart still broken (though yes, its fair if your patience wears out on this one by the 18th time they are bringing this person up yet again ;-). Then you can tell them its time for a new topic).
Patience though, is an important thing to both give and to have with the people you love. Patience will get you through rough patches. It will help you to not take things so personally. Patience is a big one that will greatly help with the success of your relationships.