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Friendship can take many forms and does not have a precise, fixed equation or solution. But just to get it out of the way, Merriam-Webster defines friendship as “the state of being friends: the relationship between friends.” Great. So what does that mean? Well, to drill down a little further, it goes on to define “friend” as “a person who you like and enjoy being with.” The second definition says, “a person who helps or supports someone or something (such as a cause or charity.)” But much like the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law, there’s quite a bit more to unpack in defining friendship.

What it isn’t…

First, somewhat counterintuitively, it might be easier to define what friendship isn’t. Things that a friendship is not:

  • A relationship where you get used for something, or you use someone else for your own gain
  • A space for trash talking friends. If they’re saying bad things about your friends, what are they saying about you behind your back? And that goes for you, too. Consider your own actions here as well!
  • Intolerant of differences. Sure, you probably have something in common, but that doesn’t mean you have everything in common. And if your friend can’t appreciate the variety your opinions, hobbies, or even values you bring to the relationship, they’re not really a friend.

What it is…

So then what is it? That’s the beauty in the absence of a hard answer! You get to define that for yourself, and whoever chooses to (or you choose to) enter into this relationship with you. Does friendship mean calling or texting every day? Or that you never get annoyed with them? Or no one’s feelings ever get hurt? Or that someone in the relationship always has the “right” answer? This answer is easy: absolutely not.

The variable relationship between friends gets to be determined by the participants. For some, yes, it does mean calling every day. For others, once in a while around the holidays is enough. But whatever that communication frequency, so long as all parties are in agreement, that is up to them! I encourage you to suspend your judgments about other friendships or relationships that don’t include you; that’s none of your business. (Too harsh? Perhaps. But it’s true.) What works for some may not work for you. And if you find yourself in a situation where your friend has different ideas about the parameters of your friendship, then you can make changes to that in a variety of ways. You can make some sort of “formal” plea to alter your friendship parameters, or find a new buddy whose ideals align more directly with your own. In any of those options, you have the ability to change your level of participation in that friendship.

Communication is a big part of any friendship, but so too are trust and vulnerability. Now, I’m not saying that you have to pack tissues every time you plan to have brunch with your friend because you’re planning to cry it out. (Maybe just sometimes.) But trust and vulnerability are the foundation of a true friendship.

What is the true meaning of friendship?

While the terms of friendship can be fuzzy and undefined, there are a few traits that are generally pretty consistent. You can keep an eye out for these if you seek a deeper connection with a friend:

Honesty, Empathy

Is there such a thing as a dishonest friend? Isn’t that an oxymoron? And definitions aside, who wants to keep a friend around who is dishonest? In a field of undefined relationships, honesty is a trait that is a safe assumption here. You want your friends to tell you their feedback and opinions, not just be a yes-person. Sitting on the other side of the table, you also want to be able to tell your friends your honest opinion without reservation. But tread lightly with that honesty stick. There’s a difference between a light love-tap and a hard-whack. You can be honest and gentle at the same time; the truth doesn’t have to hurt. Ask for, and be, honest, but do it lovingly.

Acceptance

Remember that part about “intolerance of differences?” Here is a more positive spin on what to look for in a friend. Look for people who will accept and embrace all of who you are. Now, make no mistake – that doesn’t mean you’re perfect and shouldn’t constantly strive to be your best self. But your true friends will see that potential, and love you for it, imperfections and all.

Want the best for you

A true friend doesn’t factor in their own gain or loss into a question of your happiness. A lesser “friend” might give you advice based on what is best, convenient, or benefits them. But a true friend will help guide you to your best self and decisions. Think of them as cheerleaders along your journey. How would you feel about a cheerleader that only cheers you on when they get something out of it? Not so great. Look for those who are your biggest fan, even when you’re not the one winning the race.

Warm and fuzzies A true friendship makes your heart smile. On the good days, you want to share the things that make you happy. On the bad days, they lift you up and help keep your head above water. And if you’re really lucky, they’re there for all the days in between, and they still make your heart smile in the unassuming moments. True friends don’t abandon ship when things get tough. They show up when you need them to; and sometimes when you don’t. But they’re not like jury duty – a seemingly random assignment. You have to invest in friendships. All of these qualities are things to look for in a person you want to call a friend, but the work starts with you. Put these qualities out in the world, and they will come back to you. Do things that make someone have the “warm and fuzzies” when they think of you, and you will attract back an equal friend.

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