My friendships made up a huge part of my life growing up in the states. Friendships are valuable, so that, they instinctively challenge us to show up in a way in the world where it is most beneficial to us and others in our surroundings. Though there are periods when friendships are tested by the many vicissitudes of life, the peak of the mountain or the good times are not always too far from sight. Knowing that I could rely on friends when life was tough, it made me reflect on how much these relationships can occupy a person’s life.
As I matured in my relationships, I began to ask myself why I always felt that people wore masks to conceal who they truly are. The questions spiraled into a genuine interest on the factors individuals needed to take into account to be a trusted friend. Determined not to let the thought linger on my mind, I began my search for books, journal articles and audio-visual materials that would help me make sense of the value of friendships. Throughout many trials and errors made along the journey, these resources and my experiences strengthened my compassion, empathy and giving muscles in my friendships.
In my pursuit to understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships, my research inspired me to share the key traits of relationships that have proven to be love-filled aside from those moments that warranted a heart-to-heart conversation. The topic on friendship has always been a subject of fascination because many have pondered on this theme through reading journal articles, diving in magazine prints or reading self-help books. Living in societies where women and men are often conditioned to outcompete each other, I thought it would be important to highlight the essential factors that foster enriching relationships. I do not purport to have created an exhaustive list of behavioral traits that would foster or sever relationships. However, I believe the presence of a list would contribute to the ongoing discussion on ways of being that can either conceal or support healing in the soul places of our friendships.
The American Time Use Survey published in 2017 stated that most employed people spent about 8.02 hours working at home and at their workplace on days worked at these locations. Given we spend the majority of our days in career occupations that consume most of our energy, we always seek a place of refuge in our friendships to provide an oasis for emotional support. Erich Fromm states that mature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, and one’s individuality. During the rigged peaks of transitions, life taught me friends are by-products of their workplaces too. How many times has a friend behaved in a manner that reminded you of toxic relationships in the workplace? I came to the realization that, sometimes, we are not really talking to those we love but rather to the various archetype versions molded by the expectations placed on them by numerous spheres of influence.
My friendships taught me the importance of allowing other people to grow and unfold as they are. By doing so, an incredible amount of respect was developed in these relationships. Life showed me that true friends fight for you, have your best interests at heart, show consistent behavior on how they treat you irrespective of who is around them, value communication and hold space to express your true self during the toughest periods of our lives. The moral attitudes that have proven to be invaluable in being a good friend were to:
- Be a strong advocate and provide advice when necessary or requested by others.
- Show consistency in how you treat people at all times.
- Taking time to understand your friends’ love language and holding space for people to share their stories.
- Always asking questions when in doubt about something and not assuming how others are relating to you in the relationship.
- Serve as a resource and provide value whenever possible through time, advice, knowledge or empowerment.
- Admit your shortcomings and make necessary reparations.
- Not impose thoughts or ideas but instead trust that the other person can make the best decision for himself/herself.
- Communicate clearly what you can bring to the relationship as often as possible.
I struggled to accept Alexander Nehamas’ stance that “no friendship can provide a pattern or example for others to follow: it has not model other than himself”. The statement couldn’t be further from the truth because even if friendships have no other models than themselves, relationships that do not work inform us on how future interactions can be managed. As Erich Fromm stated in his book “The Art of Loving” “in the act of giving lies the expression of aliveness. It was through these interactions, the following list of behavioral characteristics that warranted a discussion emerged:
Friendship depends less on what friends actually do than on the motives out of which they do it—motives that emerge gradually through the ordinary, seemingly inconsequential interactions of which all friendships, from the most casual to the most intense, consist.
~ Alexander Nehamas
We all have expectations in relationships but people cannot be regarded as a Messiah. In turn, it places unrealistic expectations on a friend and shifts him or her into a role he/she was not assigned to play in your life. Guidance and taking the time to meditate on relationships is critical to knowing how to manage over time. It is more than fine to support each other’s success. And, it becomes cumbersome when the demands are overflowing the cup of what the other person can handle. Thus, it is always helpful to know what you and this person can provide to each other’s lives without judgment. It shouldn’t always be a situation where people constantly try to benefit from the interaction. In the end, people also have to account for their own lives.
- Being Narcissistic: Honesty is the best policy in friendships. It is great to know we have confidants in our lives we can share our deepest selves with but if you have an issue with a friend, it is best to resolve the situation with them personally. As Maya Angelou once stated, people may forget what you did or said but they will always remember how you made them feel.
- Mentoring friends requires a selfless attitude: When you are in a position to provide mentorship to someone, it does not mean all the opportunities they receive are transferred in your stewardship. In giving of your time, energy and resources unselfishly, your mentee/friend will be more willing to give of themselves to you.
- Proving Yourself All the Time: I live in an environment where résumés are worn around like a badge of honor. Sharing a laundry list of your resumé is not always appealing in personal relationships. The resumé is only a tiny fragment of your life—at least, from the eyes of a good friend. He/she will recognize form the onset that you are more than your achievements. But, a good friend will understand that you are not perfect and be willing to support you in your journey. You are the happy medium of the five people you hang around the most. Therefore, you cannot be the only one who possesses specialized information. Being a friend is allowing people to grow with or without your presence. It’s not taking credit for all that someone does irrespective of their hard efforts. You matter more to those who care for you than all the combined achievements you have accumulated on your C.V.
- Attention seekers: These are the people who love when the spotlight is placed directly overhead, irrespective of a friend’s presence in the room. Though self-confidence is a laudable trait, other friends deserve to have light shine on them. Friendly competition can be welcomed from time to time but too much of something can sever ties quickly or build resentment. People challenge themselves everyday with the countless demands deposited in their lives left to right from their daily commitments. And, the reality is, most oftentimes, people just want to have someone validate them and simply say that “everything is going to be okay”.
A friendship is akin to a cadence nicely interwoven in a song. Even when the notes are nicely stacked together, it does not mean they will always produce a song that flows nicely. There will be discord along the way that creates gaps of misunderstanding. I cannot stress the value of having friends in our lives who help us find the treasure that lives within us. These are the people entrusted to our care in our lives, a fountain where you can pour yourself into and draw from when your vase of love needs to be replenished.
If you have found yourself at a crossroad with some folks in your life, take the time today to call them and show how much you appreciate them. The most important questions to reflect on are: 1. Are you honoring your friends for how they choose to live their lives? and 2. What are the precious things you hold on to in your relationships? I hope you take time to reflect on the ways you contribute to the evolution and growth of your relationships because the way we treat others determines the types of people we attract in our lives.