“A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself.”Jim Morrison
We tune into a commercial and a group of “friends” are laughing and high fiving each other. Yes, it’s another football Sunday and a beer commercial is touting this jovial group, having fun together with some tasty Buds. It’s the classic myth that we all have friends. That’s the Hollywood version, more likely we know very little about the people we are rubbing elbows with. The epic question is what is a friend actually?
We can look up friendship and there are numerous criteria for what makes a friend, things like trust, support, empathy, but they often forget to include the main element, our feelings for that person. Do they get to us? Do we like them? Friendship is really about caring, even loving another person. When I met my best friend, we immediately spoke the same language, and I immediately liked him. As we proceeded to get together there were conversations, stories, history, and interests that we shared. The invisible sense of ease and the rhythm and interests were similar. As time went by, each of us experienced difficulties and there was genuine concern from one another. We decided we would be totally honest and “Tell it like it is” so we didn’t hold our concerns or feelings in. There was also an interest in reaching out to each other that was natural and shared. It was not like only one of us picked up the phone. We went on adventures and shared secret hiking spots around the city and beyond, and each time awed by the ease and comfort we shared.
Friendship is a fragile thing and can be destroyed by forms of betrayal. Taking a friendship for granted, making condescending remarks, superiority and crossing boundaries can kill it. So can change. Herb Goldberg writes in The Hazards of Being Male that 85% of men in America do not have friends, they have buddies like bowling buddies or golfing buddies. No shared intimacies, but only a connection to a sport or a team, even a political tribe.
There is quite a bit of difference between men and women in the way each sex relates and establishes friendships. Women are wired for connection because their system is built for empathy whether they have children or not. It is also culturally acceptable for women to exhibit affection towards other women and men. It’s typical for women to express emotions. Men are taught, early on, to be tough, and showing feelings is often believed to be a sign of weakness.
Friendship and all great relationships are akin to rowing a boat, both pulling together through the straights and narrows of life. It’s based on an equal involvement that begins with a sincere interest in one another. When friendships begin, they are not this way, but they build by taking the time to listen and develop concern for one another. It is also true that participation in a friendship is not always equal. Sometimes it’s more like 60/40 or even 90/10 but in the end, it evens out. To understand that people get busy or there are other obligations is part of being a friend. Sharing a laugh, kidding and playfulness are great ways of weaving in some fun to lighten the stress and tension of life. Sharing a story or a joke is a core strength in all important relationships. Good relationships involve an interest in knowing one another well.
Relationships all have common elements. The feeling that someone has your back, or as my friend has said to “ride or die” for one another, and at the very least will stop what they are doing to be there for you. When you go through struggles, like, loss of a job, death in the family or health crises, it is at those times loyal friends show up. Small and large gestures that show generosity, a selflessness and love can make a dramatic difference in our lives. Sharing difficulties reduces stress and feelings of isolation. Having a friend to talk to is the best medicine for our emotional ailments. Hopefully, all love relationships are at their core great friendships.
There was a time in my life when I needed to decide what I wanted in a friend. Not just people I had known all my life but people who wanted to know me, who checked in and cared to listen. I wanted equality relationships, with common interests, values, and morals. Someone who I could talk to about anything, and I could feel truly real with them. In other words, I developed the “No narcissists” rule. Since that time, I have nurtured my family, my wife and my friends who meet all those standards. I’m grateful to have a few great friends, a best friend, and a loving wife. I do my best to contribute as they do. My group is not large, but they are mighty.