“An acquaintance merely enjoys your company, a fair-weather companion flatters when all is well, a true friend has your best interests at heart and the pluck to tell you what you need to hear.”
Sometimes we think by the time we reach our 30s and 40s, we have this friendship business all figured out. Gone are the high school cliques, the drama queens, the users and manipulators…or so we think.
Alas, not all of us who grow into physical adults become emotional adults. And rest assured, emotional maturity is not easily come by, particularly if one is raised, as I was, by adults who had not themselves achieved it.
Who has not faced the raging school mother who faults us for bringing store-bought cookies to the bake sale? Or the friend who cannot be inconvenienced with visiting us but is happy to have us visit her? Or perhaps the eternal borrower of all our things who never seems to get around to bringing them back?
A few weeks ago, when an acquaintance of mine was commenting half bitterly on such a friend, I advised him such friends might be better off dismissed. “She doesn’t seem like a true friend to me,” I remarked.
My acquaintance looked at my quizzically and said, “True friend? I’m not even sure what that means….”
Well, I’m here to set the record straight with wisdom borne out of that painful teacher–experience. How do you recognize true friendship? Here are 15 rock solid clues:
- You can speak your mind to her without fear. In other words, you can be exactly who you are and say exactly what you think, and she’s neither going to cut and run nor judge you, even if you happen to have voted for Donald Trump.
- She will tell you the truth, even when she knows it won’t be easy and it might not feel good…for either of you. She’s not going to lead you down a rosy path that isn’t real. If everyone who loves you thinks you need to stop treating the symptoms of your marriage with martinis, she will speak up and pour the vodka down the drain.
- He loves you through everything. Did you get fired from your job? Did you cheat on your spouse? Did you lie to your wife? It’s okay. He knows you’re human, and he’s going to stand by you even when you’re stupid and wrong. Plenty of convicted murderers have mothers who love them. You deserve to be loved through your faults, too.
- He does not exploit your weaknesses; he protects them. One of the greatest downfalls of marriages and other emotionally intimate relationships is exploitation—when the very people you believe love you most repeatedly throw your vulnerabilities and your faults in your face. They use their intimate knowledge of who you are to win arguments, save face, and break you down. Trust me, if he’s persistently bringing up the fact that you’ve been married four times or that even your mother doesn’t like you, he’s not your friend…. He’s using your trauma to make himself feel better.
- She experiences pride and joy in your accomplishments and happiness and is generous with her praise. If your emotional intimates aren’t your biggest cheerleaders in life, then you need to do some housecleaning. A true friend takes you out to dinner when you get that promotion, cries tears of joy at your wedding when you marry the man of your dreams, and reminds you on a regular basis just how amazing and beautiful you are. After you’ve spent an afternoon in her company, your sense of self-worth should be soaring, not limping.
- She does not compete with you. Instead of advising you, you have one boob that’s higher than the other or deliberately ignoring you at the bar while trying to command the attention of every remotely eligible man in the room while you decide to go back to your room and read a book, she acknowledges your own unique human beauty and longs to bask in its sunshine. Is she proud to be your friend and admires rather than feels threatened by you? If the answer is “no,” ditch her.
- He supports your dreams. No naysayers allowed. If he doesn’t think your mobile Cajun kitchen idea is grand and isn’t sending you advertisements for food trucks, he’s not invested in you the way he should be. True friends want to see you live your dreams and will push you to realize them.
- He encourages you to be your best self. If your main form of entertainment with him is drinking and smoking, reconsider the alliance. We all have our moments when a shot of whiskey seems like a viable treatment for a bad day, but if he is concocting more Manhattans for you than loving encouragement, it may be time to find a new compatriot. A real friend wants to help you on your journey of being the best person you can be.
- She actively works on being her own best self. Stop pitying and enabling the naysayers and do-nothings. Your intimates should be people who not only build you up but who are investing in their own lives. Surround yourself with those who are actively and hopefully working on themselves and not burying their sorrows (and their lives) in self-pity and rage.
- She is unabashedly herself before you as you are before her. She does not pretend to have her shit together with you, even if the rest of the world thinks she’s rock solid. She dares to be vulnerable, fallible, and real. And in so doing, she gives you the space to do the same.
- He forgives. So you criticized his wife. You judged his parenting style. You lost your temper and screamed at him for no valid reason. He decides you’ve had a rough day, a rough week, maybe even a rough year, and lets it go. Because he loves you. And knows you’re grand…even when you don’t know it.
- He says “I’m sorry.” And not the kind of “I’m sorry you feel bad” but the “I’m sorry I did what I did.” He is strong enough to own his error and apologize for it rather than putting the blame on you. A true friend knows when he needs to eat crow and is brave enough to dive in with knife and fork.
- She will go out of her way for you. I once had a “friend” who told me if I moved outside of town, she would never visit me because it was too far. Beware those who will expend no sacrifice on your behalf. The friend who hasn’t the time to drive to your country home is the friend who also hasn’t the time to visit you in the hospital when you have cancer.
- She endeavors to speak your love language even if it is not her own. So she speaks and receives love best through touch—hugs, a hand grasped in times of sorrow, a kiss on the cheek for greeting. But you speak and receive love through service. She recognizes it and dares to venture out of her comfort zone to give to you in the way you best receive….
- He loves with his whole heart and nurtures you in times of suffering. A true friend loves fearlessly and gives relentlessly when you need it most. He will cradle you in care when you are at your worst. Instead of asking, “What can I do to help,” he will determine what needs doing and do it. He will take charge when you cannot. He will give when you need receiving.