In one of my life coaching sessions, I was asked a very interesting question; “What does it mean to be a friend?” As I looked at the individual I was coaching, I thought to myself, “Well, this is an easy question.” However, when I started to give an answer, I found myself at a loss for words. I had to think about it for a moment. Defining friendship is more complex than I thought. The topic of friendship took up the whole hour long session. First, we started with a relative definition of friendship, then we dissected friendship and separated it into parts.
If you ask 10 people what it means to be a friend, you’ll probably get 10 different answers. Technology has changed the way we communicate and interact with each other. The convenience of smart phones and social media has made communicating so impersonal until we have been forced to redefine (or at least add to the definition of) friendship. It’s so much more convenient to send someone a text than calling them. If I want to share a video or picture, technology has made it where I never have to actually meet someone to do so. Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms have given so many people the opportunity to connect and stay in touch with old friends and family; but at what cost? (The danger of social media is another topic altogether).
We have become desensitized to the need of meaningful intimacy in relationships. Human beings are “hard-wired” for intimacy and affection. Friendship by definition of social media is a mirage, and can wreak havoc on our emotional need for affection and intimacy once reality sets in. For example, Facebook has allowed us to create a virtual community of our hand-picked family and friends. Although Facebook is a great tool, the truth is, a Facebook friendship is shallow and does not require any commitment, understanding, closeness, affection, compassion, trust, or love – all the things we look for in true friendship. With the click of a button, you can be in someone’s circle of friends. In the same way you became a “friend,” someone can un-friend you – then you are no more. Think about it. If there were no social media; no texting, and no email, would that change your definition of friendship? How many friends would you have really?
You may have many acquaintances, but I believe a person will only have a couple of real friends in a lifetime. Friendship is not in the quantity, but in the quality. Everyone wants to be loved, accepted, understood and respected for who they are. The question still remains, how do you define friendship?
Wikipedia’s definition says:
Friendship is a relationship of mutual affection between two or more people. Friendship is a stronger form of interpersonal bond than an association…Although there are many forms of friendship, some of which may vary from place to place, certain characteristics are present in many types of friendship. Such characteristics include affection, sympathy, empathy, honest, altruism, mutual understanding and compassion, enjoyment of each other’s company, trust, and the ability to be oneself, express one's feelings, and make mistakes without fear of judgment from the friend.
The Free Dictionary defines a friend as:
1. A person whom one knows, likes, and trusts.
2. A person whom one knows; an acquaintance.
3. A person with whom one is allied in a struggle or cause; a comrade.
There are many reasons why I advocate for the institution of marriage. If the marriage is healthy, this is where children learn friendship. Children learn to be friends by the example of their parents. By the example of the marital relationship within the household, they should learn proper conflict resolution, how to agree to disagree, loyalty, trust, empathy, sympathy, compassion, and love. I really like the last definition above from the Free Dictionary (#3) – A person with whom one is allied in a struggle or cause; comrade. Being a friend is not always comfortable or convenient. Sometimes your relationship may be tested by a struggle, disagreement or some sort of hardship. Just being there as a partner in the struggle can make all the difference. When things get really hard and seemingly unbearable, your willingness to be there and make it work, or help figure things out, speaks volumes about you as a person. Some people have a hard time with commitment and friendship, because they’ve never seen it work. They have no real concept of friendship. Friendship requires work. Some people only know how to run from a struggle, because that’s all they’ve seen. Friendship is also a prerequisite for a healthy and lasting marriage. If a man and woman cannot connect as friends, I can’t see how they can connect as lovers.
I have only a couple of true, life-long friends. My friends have been what I call “time tested.” They’ve stood the test of times. Then I had some who called themselves my friends, but they were nowhere to be found in the struggles of life. They somehow resurfaced when it was convenient for them. Some people move on and walk out of your life without explanation. We will all encounter some people like that at some point in our lives. Yes, it’s disappointing, but get over it and move on. Some people are not supposed to be permanent fixtures in your life. When they move on, you do the same. Look at it as their loss and hold no animosity against them. Life will teach you how to determine your true friends. With all that said, this is not to discount the people you encounter (school friends, church members, co-worker, etc,) who add value to your life by acquaintance and association, but never had the opportunity to intimately know you. Some people are just good to know and have as part of your life – even a small part. That’s just part of what a community is; real or virtual.
Instead of looking at more of what a friend is, let’s look at what a friend is not:
A friend is not a spectator. Have you ever told someone what you were going through, only to have them say something like, “Good luck - when you figure things out give me a call?” A real friend may not always have the right words to say, but they will empathize, seek to understand, and be there for you.
A friend will not just watch life happen to you, but will do life with you.
True friends are not enablers. A true friend will tell you (in the spirit of love) when you are wrong, and may very well reject and rebuke your words and/or actions. A true friend will challenge you to become a better you. It may not feel good to be rebuked by a friend, or hear the word “no” from a friend, but Proverbs 27:6 (NKJV) says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful." If done right, correction from a friend will be appreciated later.
A real friend is not just a taker. If you always find yourself on the giving end of a relationship, and it’s never reciprocated, you may want to re-evaluate your friendship. If someone claims to be connected with you spiritually, mentally and emotionally, then they will know when to give as well as to receive.
Real friends are not envious or jealous. Real friends genuinely celebrate your accomplishments with you. They really want what’s best for you, and are happy when you achieve your goals.
A friend will not cross boundaries. When a friend knows you well, they will respect your physical and emotional boundaries. They will give you your space when you need it, and respect your “no” without making you feel guilty, obligated, confused or angry.
A good friend will not take you for granted. A good friend will show appreciation for what you do, and who you are. They will acknowledge your sacrifices and will gladly return the favor when needed.
A close friend will not exclude you from life’s most meaningful moments. The birth of a child, the purchase of first home, relocating to a different state, getting engaged, the death of a loved one, a Christmas party, etc. – These are all events that you would think a close friend would share with you. You may not be the first one to know, but you should be at the top of the list.
A true friend is not judgmental. A true friend will love and accept you for who you are, and will not try to change you into who they want you to be. They will accept your weaknesses and appreciate your strengths.
A trusted friend will not exploit your relationship. A trusted friend may not tolerate everything you do, but will cover your transgressions with love. A trusted friend will respect and cherish your confidence, and will never seek to lift themselves up by putting you down. 1 Peter 4:8 (ESV) says, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”A true friend does not hold grudges. It’s inevitable; there will be disagreements in your relationship. Learn to agree to disagree, and still make the friendship the priority.
Forgiveness is an attribute of a tried and true friendship. Friendship is not an exact science, that’s why there are so many interpretations of what it means to be a friend. Because we won’t get it right all the time, I like the non-judgmental part of real friendship. Everyone in a friendship should carry their own weight and bring value to the other person. Friendship requires patience and understanding, but should never be a strain or a burden. If you are stressed out because of your relationship, it’s time to sit down with your friend and have a heart-to-heart talk. A healthy friendship is a beautiful thing. Knowing you have someone to "do life" with can make every step a little easier. Remember what John 15:13 (ESV) says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Now That's deep.
Brian T Flippin
Professional Life & Relationship Coach, Author, Speaker
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