Jump to the following topics:
- What is friendship?
- We can look for certain qualities in a potential friend.
- Techniques for developing friendship.
What is friendship? It is the easy, warm, intuitive connection between people. Friendship is conditional; it is founded on a sharing of common interests and values. But it also has an element of the unconditional; our friends are people who are fond of us for who we are, even if they can't articulate their reasons for the fondness -- and it is this mysteriousness and magic which make friendships such a special experience.
We can look for certain qualities in a potential friend. To some extent, friendship happens naturally; we have been conversing frequently with someone at a job or club, and then we realize that a friendship has begun. But we usually have to make an effort to find friendship. One strategy is to look for people who have certain qualities which are most likely to lead to a camaraderie -- but we can still remain open to people who have traits which don't coincide with our list; someone might surprise us by having other traits which are endearing. Friendship is not reducible to a formula. Our friendships might be strongest with people who have the same hobbies, profession, values, and outlook which we possess; with these commonalities, we can spend time playing at that hobby, or "talking shop," or discussing matters with someone who understands us. But other friendships are based on differences; we seek someone who is an expert in a field in which we are an enthusiastic novice -- or we want someone who is a free spirit to counterbalance our over-seriousness. If we know which qualities we need in a friend, we are more likely to make fruitful selections. And yet, because friendship evolves from our feelings, any logical analysis is irrelevant -- and we might admit, "I don't know why; I just like being with that person."
Techniques for developing friendship.
- Cultivate social skills such as conversation and etiquette (which is the art of helping people to feel comfortable).
- Be yourself. And let the other person be himself or herself. In a friendship, we see the other person clearly -- not idealizing to create a perfect companion, and not posturing to present an inflated image of ourselves. We are accepting and non-competitive. And we are free to be unique individuals; friendship is not a merging in which either person's integrity and personality is stifled for the sake of "oneness." Friendship allows us the freedom to reveal those aspects of ourselves which we have not developed or revealed to anyone else.
- Share activities. We become connected to people simply by spending time together, and talking, and doing the same activities. Friendships require this commitment of time. Then, because of our adventures together, we start to view one another as a source of pleasure and fun.
- Learn about the person. We explore our friend's feelings, thoughts, tastes, and dreams. We do this by being attentive -- listening with curiosity and eye contact, and noticing details about the person's appearance and mannerisms. From this understanding, we can find and share common interests, and we also enjoy the novelty of our differences; this leads to the conversations and activities upon which friendships are built. We discover our friend's needs, so that we can help to fulfill them. And through all of this learning, we permit the friend to explore us in the same way. But we don't try to know everything about the person; we enjoy the surprises and spontaneities which keep our friendship fresh.
- Do favors. When we give our time and effort to someone, we are giving evidence of friendship. One of the delights of friendship is the opportunity to express our compassionate and helpful nature to a person who is appreciative and reciprocative.
- Be trustworthy. We have a need to expose our secrets, and to know that the private aspects of ourselves are acceptable. Our tender vulnerabilities need to be touched and affirmed. These things can happen in a friendship. But this trustworthiness must be proven, starting with small confidentialities. We take risks and then we find that the person keeps promises and privacies. Progressively, we lower our defenses a little more, while still respecting the fact that some things are so personal that they are for ourselves alone.
- Support the person. In a non-codependent friendship, the person is not exploited to be a therapist or cheerleader. Yet we all benefit from an occasional external boost to our confidence, and we appreciate someone who motivates us to prove that our self-confidence is justified. Compliments and encouragement give us strength, as long as we do not use them as replacements for our own inner resources of power.
- Accept the uniqueness of each friendship. Every friendship has its individual potential; we destroy it if we try to make it what it cannot be. For example, a particular person of the opposite gender might be ideal for a casual friendship -- but an inappropriate match for such roles as a spouse, sexual partner, date, or confidante. And a friendship is unlikely to provide unconditional love (because that usually exists only in ideal parent-child relationships), or total acceptance (because we all set limits to the behavior which we will tolerate) or total fulfillment (because one person cannot satisfy all of our needs) or even a perfect friendship (because occasionally two people's goals clash and their "friendship skills" falter).
- Accept the changes and difficult times together. Friendships change, and so do the individuals within them. Sometimes these transformations cause the end of a friendship -- perhaps for the best if, in learning more about the person, we realize that our needs cannot be met here. But some friendships survive the turbulence. Conflict can even strengthen a friendship; an argument proves that our bond is based upon the honest expression of feelings. Also, the fact that we want to contend with the friction (rather than walk away from it) asserts our commitment to the friendship itself.