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- What is friendship?
can look for certain qualities in a potential friend.
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
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."
- 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
- 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.