What Makes Someone a True Friend
by Merryl Lentz
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True friendship is as rare as a precious gem, and even more valuable. But what, exactly, is a true friend? Someone you've friended on Facebook? Nope. Someone you tweet here and there on Twitter? No. Someone who likes you because you buy things for them? Negative. Someone to whom you're always willing to lend a helping hand, but who never reciprocates? Definitely not.
These are all fair weather friends, who are only there when you're happy, healthy, and have money. At the very most, they're acquaintances, not true friends. True friends have your best interests at heart, and are always there for you -- through the good times, as well as the bad, through all of your ups and downs. They treat you like family, even though you're not blood relatives.
It may sound trite, but to have a true friend, you must be a true friend, since people typically attracts similar people. As the Bible says in Luke 6:31, "As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them." And, to paraphrase Gandhi, who said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world," be the type of friend you would want to have. That doesn't mean twisting yourself into a pretzel to conform to some preconception of what traits you think people will or won't like. Be genuine. Polish what you consider to be your best qualities until they shine like a beacon that will draw similar friends to you.
So what are some of the magnets that connect people as friends? One trait is sharing common interests -- and this is a biggie. While it can be true that opposites attract -- at least initially -- after a period of time, divergent interests will often cause people to drift apart. We can still care very much about friends who lack common interests with us, but these types of friends probably only sporadically spend time with us.
Shared history also unites people -- even those who have little in common with each other -- if they've both endured tough times together. However, if that's the only quality they have in common, the friendship, unfortunately, probably isn't destined to last very long.
Similar values are another trait over which people bond. They both believe similar things to be right and true about people, their actions, and the world around them. If they both believe that sharing is noble, that's a strong value that reinforces their bond. If, however, one person believes that hard partying is the best way to have fun, while the other is strictly anti-drug and alcohol, the relationship won't have a solid foundation.
Equality, as well, has its place in joining people together in friendship. If they mutually support and encourage each other, the relationship flourishes. However, if one friend is constantly providing support and encouragement which is not reciprocated, it is not a true friendship, and will eventually reach a dead end.
With a true friend, you can be your authentic self, flaws and all. You may view certain traits you possess as imperfect, but a true friend will regard these same traits as characteristics that make you interesting and unique. This, however, doesn't mean that your friend will keep mum about things they think you might not want to hear. If they feel that pointing out something, even something that's a sensitive matter or behavior, is in your best interests to hear, they will let you know -- but in a manner that's kind and constructive. For example, a true friend will tell you that you become obstinate when you drink too much, or will let you know what they think about a boyfriend who treats you abusively.
A true friend will always stick by you when the going gets tough. They will never turn and walk away from you and your problems. They'll be supportive of you even when you can barely reciprocate. When times get rough, a true friend will sacrifice their resources -- even if those resources are limited -- to help you out. After you've been through a thorny period in your life, take a look and see who is still standing by you, shoulder-to-shoulder. These are your true friends.
Good listeners make good friends. They're willing to listen to your problems for as long as you need to talk about them to help sort them out, without immediately relating what you're talking about to themselves and shifting the focus of the conversation to themselves. If you need to be on the phone for an hour a day for two weeks to feel relief from your burdens, a true friend will do their best to make time to lend a sympathetic ear.
True friends will be supportive of you and encourage you to follow your dreams. If you dream big, they won't exhibit petty jealousy over what they interpret as you being better than them, or more accomplished than them. They won't belittle your goals, or discourage you from striving for them. Even if you're older than your friend, one who is true will treat you like a nurtured child who is bolstered by a parent who tells them they can be whomever they strive to be, and achieve whatever they strive to achieve.
Past conflicts are left in the past by a true friend. If the two of you have butted heads in the past, a false friend will hold a grudge. Even if a matter has been resolved, fake friends will hold tight onto the alleged injustice brought upon them by you. They stubbornly reject that you've made mistakes in the past, owned up to them and learned from them, and are not who you used to be. This type of person casts an anchor over the past that drags both of you down, negating any enjoyment you could derive from each other in the present and future, and is not a true friend.
True friendship and lies don't mix, particularly if this so-called friend is a chronic liar. You keep giving them one more chance to be trusted, and then one more chance after that -- so not only are they lying to you, but you're lying to yourself. A habitual liar is not going to change, no matter how many "second" chances you give them. You're lying to yourself by thinking that "next time is gonna be different." It's not. They're not going to change -- certainly not overnight. And they're probably lying to themselves, as well, thinking that they're doing nothing wrong. It's best to cut this type of deceitful person out of your life -- they wouldn't even make a good acquaintance.
A true friend doesn't take you for granted. A true friend doesn't make promises or plans with you, only to leave you hanging. A true friend isn't always taking and taking, without giving back. Not that you have to keep a running tally of who has done what and how often, but if you're the sole person doing all the giving, your "friend" is actually a user who's seeing how much they can get out of you for their own benefit. If you distance yourself from someone who seems to be taking advantage of your, don't be surprised if they don't attempt to close the gap -- they'll probably be too busy trying to move on and find someone else to use. A true friend will never use you solely for personal gain.
On the other hand, someone who does the occasional favor for you will not expect anything in return -- which is the definition of a favor. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a favor is, "a kind or helpful act that you do for someone." It's a generous, selfless act that doesn't keep score. It doesn't come with a clause that says, "Now that I've done you a favor, you owe me. Bigtime." A true friend will do the best that they can with the resources that they have available to gladly grant you a favor, should you need one.
Having a true friend is like having true love -- hard to find, but well worth the wait.
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