Defining friendship


Life has been crazy, both figuratively and literally. But I’m finally getting around to jotting down my thoughts about friendship.

The word “friend” has gotten pretty diluted in recent years. Go look at your Facebook if you want an example of this. I’ll wait…

Facebook and other social media outlets have infested our language with imprecision. You and I both know that it’s absurd to call everyone you add to your Facebook account a friend. Yet that imprecision is bleeding over into our outside lives. I catch myself referring to people as friends when what I really mean is “someone I vaguely know,” “acquaintance,” “someone I used to know but don’t really anymore,” and on and on.

That’s sad.

Because to me, “friend” is a sacred label akin to “family.” To me, there are certain obligations, feelings, and promises that come with true friendship. Here’s what defines a true friendship, as far as I’m concerned:

  • Trust. I feel totally comfortable letting it all hang out around my friends. They know me and accept me, flaws and all. And they trust me with their imperfections, too. They know where the bodies are buried and I’m OK with that, because I know where theirs are, too.
  • Support. My friends are people who I can count on to be there for me when I need them. They know they can depend on me to be there for them. The levels of support given and received may vary, but the emotional willingness to do whatever is possible to support one another never changes.
  • Tolerance. Tolerance within a relationship is about more than politics or morals. It’s about giving people the emotional safety to know they can screw up and still be loved; that one mistake will not cause friendship to be withdrawn. This one is tricky for me, because my friends provide this for me, but sometimes I have trouble believing in it. That’s my own baggage.
  • Consistency. I know where I stand with my friends. They know where they stand with me. There is no walking on eggshells or mincing words or ego-stroking. There are no sudden shifts in the emotional dynamic. There is a high probability that the character of the relationship will be fundamentally the same tomorrow, next week, or next year, as it is today.
  • Reciprocity. This one is tricky. No relationship is ever going to be tit-for-tat. You will never get out exactly the things you put in. Each of my friends brings something unique to the table that fills up my emotional bank account. I try to do the same in return, sometimes in similar ways but often in very different ones. Sometimes it might look from the outside like I’m constantly giving and not receiving, because what I’m getting out the friendship isn’t always a tangible thing.
  • Genuine enjoyment. Spending time with my friends isn’t something I work into my schedule like another chore on a list. It’s something I get a tremendous amount of pleasure from. I’m constantly discovering new things about my friends. They make me laugh. They introduce me to new books and TV shows that I might have never heard of. There’s a private language based on shared history, private jokes, made up words, and unspoken understanding that is both soothing and damned entertaining.

There are other aspects that are harder to define. And I’ll tell you, I find it interesting that it was far more difficult to define what I think friendship is than what it isn’t. But I’m trying to be positive. I have more thoughts on this but I’ve rambled on long enough for one day.


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