July 18, 2012

What Makes a True Friend?

This topic is on my mind because of the just-concluded trip to Oregon to visit a few fellow bloggers. As things turned out I have made several real friends out of virtual ones. What happened to make this transition? What are the characteristics we look for when asking someone else into our life? Since having friends is an important part of a satisfying retirement it seemed worth a closer look.

One of the keys is the ability to share openly. If we are with someone and we must constantly watch what we say or self-censor too much, then a real friendship is unlikely. Sharing both joys and sorrows is critical to a meaningful friendship. That can't happen if communication isn't open and expressive. We shouldn't be hesitant to open up to a real friend.

Be willing to try and experience new things together is a good test of a friendship. When any of us leave our comfort zone there is some tension and nervousness present. Even something as simple as trying a different cuisine because your friend likes it can reveal a lot about the state of the relationship. Traveling might be a better test. Being together for several days while away from the security of home and routine can quickly test a budding friendship. If you can laugh together at misfortunes and share great experiences, then a deep friendship may be possible.

A core of common beliefs and the acceptance of different beliefs must both be present. While these points might seem contradictory, I believe they are critical. Common beliefs might include the importance of respect for other people, that discrimination has no place in our society, or that children deserve the very best we can provide. Different beliefs may be about spirituality or religion, political affiliations and hot button issues of the day. Friendship requires that those differences are never used as a wedge or weapon. Spirited discussions and honest disagreements should create a stronger bond between two people that value that relationship.

There must be no pressure to "perform." Think back to a dating relationship you have had. The small talk and overt politeness are part of that world. We want to present our best possible face to the other person. But, in a true friendship it is perfectly OK for one person to be having a bad day and admit it. We don't have to always look or feel our best all the time. That isn't real life and friends don't want someone to put up a front or play a part. "Dress-up" isn't part of this type of relationship.

There must be an sincere interest  to learn more about that person. Nothing could be more unfulfilling than to spend time with someone over a long period of time and never learn more about each other. That would mean one or both people are being dishonest about their feelings and needs. It would mean that the relationship would never become more than skin-deep.

Many people much wiser than I have made the point that friendship brings depth and joy to someone's life. True friendship is a special gift that two people give to each other. As Proverbs notes, "Disregarding another person's faults preserves love." Deep friendship is an essential part of a satisfying retirement and a life lived well and fully.

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  1. Thanks for this reminder. Thinking about WHY friendships work is important to me. I have folks I cannot totally relax with (some of them are family) but I truly treasure the friends with whom I can totally be me, warts & all. One other friendship threshold I've noticed is if the relationship survives either an argument or a disagreement over an important issue. Those experiences seem to be "friendship test" ----I've noticed that the relationships that survive a disagreement tend to continue to grow; while other folks just can't get beyond the issue.

    1. The "friendship test" is an excellent point. It is easy to be friends with someone who never rattles your cage. But a true, lasting friendship needs some testing every now and then. Is that friendship worth fighting for...figuring out how to heal and move forward?

      Thanks, Pam. Important comment.

  2. The only issue I would take with your post is that I do have close friends with whom I'd NEVER travel, and one with whom I will NEVER dine out again(fortunately, she is a great cook, so dinner at her house or mine works). I like people whose world view is different than mine, but who can rationally argue their positions without getting defensive. Tolerance and openness to new experiences tend to be what I look for in friends. My closest friend of more than 40 years is childless and never understood or related to any of my adoptions. But she has withstood 30 years of MY parenting and MY whining--a good friend, indeed.

    1. I accept your two qualifiers. Traveling together is a real test and not all personalities are suited to go that route. Or, you quickly learn things about the other person and yourself that make waves.

      I found the folks in Oregon so interesting because their world view and perspectives are different from what I normally encounter at home. I find myself refining my ideas and positions based on new input. If everyone I deal with on a daily basis thinks the same way that stimulation is missing.

      Tolerance and openness are the keys.

  3. I appreciate all of the qualities you have listed regarding friendship. It has me thinking about them and the previous comments of readers. I think perhaps as I reflect about my different friendships, I am struck by how I have different friends that fulfil different needs. Some are just light-hearted friendships, some are couple friendships, others are very close and I can "bare my soul". Perhaps there are varying levels of friendships? I know my friends have always played a vital role in my life and some have waned or evolved over the years. I definitely know that if you want friends you have to be a friend....not always the "taker". I also know that some friends and I still care deeply about one another but have drifted due to different directions in our life. But I am also heartened that friends from school(many, many moons ago:)have reconnected as we all have much more time in our lives now for one another. My husband and I have made friends from our travels that are like family to us. I don't know if we would have been as close if we had met them in earlier stages in our lives. I do know that God blesses us each greatly when He puts a new friend in our lives and expects us to treat them dearly. Thanks for another wonderful, thought-provoking post, Bob!

    1. "Different friends for different needs" is quite right. And, the depth and importance of friendships vary as well. Some are more like acquaintances, others are social friends, and some friends because of shared hobbies.

      It is the true or deep friend that makes life so much richer. A male friend in whom I can confide gives me a different perspective and outlet than Betty can. A close female friend is also beneficial, within obvious parameters.

      Just as important, me filling that role for someone else makes me feel good and useful. To be able to ease a friend's burdens or give them some guidance is a true blessing.

      The one thing you mentioned that I don't really have are any friends from my past. i wasn't good at making anything other than "hi neighbor" types of contacts. Also, I moved a lot growing up so I never made any lasting friends from school days. Looking back, I do wish I could have acted differently and been able to carry some people from then to now.

      Thanks, Linda.

    2. In regard to friends from my past, when we all get together we have a saying that I like--"I knew you when, and love ya anyway"--pretty special. And I am sure if you get the opportunity to reconnect with some of your previous classmates or early year friends, you would be so surprised how much you could share. Remember...we were all young then and have matured. Really been a fun experience.
      And I so agree with needing of friend of the same sex to bounce ideas off of and discuss issues...you get a whole different perspective of that of your spouse. Kind of takes "the heat" off of your spouse and they don't have to listen to everything:)! My best friend is priceless that way. I try to always do the same for her. What we share never goes any farther.

  4. I am curious if you find it easier to make friends when you're retired because people aren't as stressed about work and finding "time." One thing I'm hoping to find are friends who would go on an adventure trip with us. Another thing you didn't bring up is the couple aspect. Often I enjoy my girlfriends, but not their husbands. Or my husband does not feel a connection with the husband, but we both like the wife. Has that happened to you and Betty? (BTW, I apologize in a prior post, I think I named your wife incorrectly. Please say sorry to her if that's the case.)
    I seem to connect "instantly" with people who are on vacation from Europe in Florida, or those from the mid-west who have moved to Florida. What does that say about me? BTW, those photos from Oregon are gorgeous. What a lovely place to have a second home.

    1. That's a good question. I don't think I have found it any easier as a retired person because of the lack of work-related stress. Rather, since I worked alone now I can interact with other people more often and that opens up friendship opportunities.

      The couple aspect is often a big hurdle. I view that more of an issue with social friends, those you can have dinner with, or go to shows together. I think it would be rare if all 4 people were extremely close friends with each of the other three. If one half of the couple clicks with you, then that could be the opportunity for a deep friendship, while the relationship with the other partner remains on a casual or polite basis.

      Yes, Betty and I have known several couples where we like the wife or husband, but not the other. Over time, if one of them doesn't move into a serious friendship role we tend to eventually drop away from that couple. It becomes too difficult to make the "odd person" out feel a part of the conversation.

      The reality is, both of us are by nature loners. We can shine and sparkle in a social situation with the best of them. But, given the choice we often choose to be alone together. That is why this post is so personal to me. I have to work constantly to develop truly meaningful friendships.

  5. I especially like what you said about sharing core beliefs and respecting different beliefs. If someone shares my core values about integrity, compassion, and so on, then I don't really care what that person's religious or political views are, as long as we can be respectful. It helps if we can be curious and interested even if we don't agree.

    1. It is too bad that our political system can't seem to follow that description at the moment. Wouldn't friendships be rather dull if we only hung around people who think just like we do? Respect and being open-minded are rather crucial traits. Thanks, Galen.

  6. Steve in Los AngelesWed Jul 18, 09:03:00 PM MST

    Bob, you wrote above: "There must be no pressure to 'perform.' Think back to a dating relationship you have had. The small talk and overt politeness are part of that world. We want to present our best possible face to the other person. But, in a true friendship it is perfectly OK for one person to be having a bad day and admit it. We don't have to always look or feel our best all the time. That isn't real life and friends don't want someone to put up a front or play a part. 'Dress-up' isn't part of this type of relationship."

    I never got married. Probably the reason I never found a good woman (so far) to marry is that I too often felt the pressure to "perform" (and I do not mean that in a sexual sense at all). (I still am a virgin, even at my age.) I have found that there are too many strings attached (at least for men) to getting married. I have worked much too hard for a very long time (and that includes saving and investing my money well and intelligently) to risk my financial well-being and security (and men, just as women, want and NEED financial security) to risk all of that on a bad marriage. Even prenuptial agreements are no guarantee that a financially well-off man could lose his financial nest egg to an extremely materialistic woman who feels that she is "entitled" to his money. Having a "satisfying retirement" includes having enough money to have such a "satisfying retirement". I certainly am NOT going to risk my retirement. That is for sure!

    I am sure that there are some good women out there. However, I am tired of looking for them. That is a real shame. However, since I met and dated too many very materialistic women, I have had enough and the good women apparently are hiding and/or are playing "hard to get" (and again I do not mean that in a sexual sense at all), I no longer am searching for a good woman and I really could care less if I forever remain single. I also know several other men whose marriages ended up in divorce, and I blame their former wives for the divorces. Fortunately, for men whose chose to remain single because each man could not find a good woman to marry, there is some justice. The very materialistic women often may never get married, because they scared away too many men.

    1. For an increasing number of people, remaining single is a conscious choice based on a whole vareity of reasons. I understand what you are saying, but I disagree with your assessment of the state of the female mindset in relationships.

      Sure, there are materialistic women, but there are just as many men who are self-centered, not willing to compromise, or hung up on money and things. As a culture we have lost some of the ability to learn to adjust to someone else's needs or desires. It is too much about "me." Divorce is rarely a one-way street.

      For your situation, if you are comfortable in being single then you have made the right choice for you. I know how thorough your financial planning and sacrifice has been to put you on a solid financial footing. Not wanting to risk that with a bad choice is entirely logical. I only want to add some perspective to what seems to be some anger on your part against a large percentage of the female population.

      Remember, Steve, this post is about friendship, not marriage. Having a true, non-sexual friend who you can really share life with is a true joy. I firmly believe having at least one intimate (not that kind of intimate) friend is necessary for a truly satisfying retirement.

    2. Steve in Los AngelesThu Jul 19, 11:14:00 PM MST


      Fortunately, I do have a few true, close male friends and one true, close female friend. I have been friends with these people for many years. I also am very close with both of my sisters and one of my cousins. My sisters and my cousin have been happily married for many years.

      Perhaps if I got married just after I finished school and started my career, when money was very tight, then my life would have been different. In fact, I got engaged in the early autumn of 1987 and came very close to getting married. Once I realized the truth about my fiancee, I then ended the engagement.

      Currently, I spend so much time with other people as I have a part-time job, that I enjoy having some quiet solitude time alone at home. I am semi-retired.

      As I mentioned in my post above, I worked extremely hard to accomplish what I accomplished. I also was very disciplined. Nothing was handed to me on a "silver platter." From September 1985 to December 1986, I worked at least 20 hours a work AND went to school, where I studied engineering. Also, from February 1986 to December 1986, I worked on a senior design project, which is similar to a senior thesis. There was a lot of hard work and sacrifice during that time. I had virtually no social life during that time. On weekends (including weekend evenings), I was at home doing school work. There is no way I am going to risk what I worked so very hard to accomplish. Therefore, I must avoid bad relationships.

  7. Bob, your admission of being “loners” makes me feel comfortable sharing that Malcolm and I are also - to a degree. I say that not because we are socially awkward or don’t like people, but because we generally prefer our own company to most of the couples we meet in social situations. Our expectations of a “sincere/honest relationship” have typically ended in disappointment so we have learned to proceed with caution. Being stubborn, opinionated and vocal most definitely affects our ability to sustain relationships, but for those who accept these traits as part of who we are, they will never have two stronger allies.

    Our best friends are a couple that we met twenty years ago who lived in our former neighborhood for four years. After they moved away we stayed in touch and have visited and traveled together regularly. We enjoy the security of the friendship without the “daily maintenance” that seems to be required by most folks. It works for them and us. I would like to think that the relationship would have survived if they continued to live close by because it was built on a foundation of core values, shared interests, acceptance and tolerance.

    I have another dear friend who lives in Rochester, NY. I see her several times a year and we have maintained the friendship for nearly fifteen years. Malcolm and her husband have met a few times but would not be classified as "friends." They will be retiring to Florida in two years and will live one hour from us so it will be interesting to see how the new dynamic works.

    Bottom line; friendships are complicated, wonderful, unpredictable, necessary and painful at times. And unless you decide to close yourself off completely, there will always be nice people to invite into your life. I admire the steps you took to turn your blogger relationships into real life situations. Since they began with core values and shared interests, I have no doubt you will sustain them for many years into the future. Every day is a new beginning and with it comes a new opportunity to live a satisfying retirement.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject. P.S. I gave Malcolm the questions you sent and he said he will give them some thought. I think that means he will respond.

    1. Great comment, Suzanne. You have explained the struggles so many of us have in developing and maintaining strong friendships. I wish I had written your "friendships are complicated, wonderful, unpredictable, necessary and painful at times" sentence. That says it all.

      Tell Malcom, no pressure. If he wants to answer the questions for the new book, great. But, if not, that is just fine, too. Hold on...I'm starting to sound like a friend!

  8. This is a beautiful post Bob. I asked my granddaughter recently what a friend is. She will be 9 soon. She said that a friend is someone that makes you feel better when you are sad, someone that you can share your secrets with and not tell and someone that you can have a fight will and they will forgive you. I thought she was a very wise young woman. I think she had been working this out in her head for a long time.

    Be well.


    Linking to this blog post!

    1. Sounds as though I should have had your granddaughter write this post. She could have said the same thing I did in 800 fewer words. She is wise beyond her years.

      Thanks, Barbara.

  9. I have had close friends in my life but when I went deaf almost 25 years ago now most of them have drifted away. The communications barrier just seems too insurmountable for them. It is hard to strike up a conversation with someone new with that barrier in place. It seems that most of my current friends are virtual ones like you. Even at church I seem to have no more than casual friends.

    It seems my secret to having friends is that my wife will strike up a conversation with just about anyone standing next to her. She makes friends very easily and drags me along for the ride! God bless her for that. So we have some pretty good casual friends as a couple but I personally feel more like the island in the Simon and Garfunkel song "I am a rock". I'm sure, you being in the business during that era know the words I am talking about.

    Even after twenty five years I still haven't figure out how to make a good friend on my own. The only way is constant presence. I have been volunteering at the soup kitchen for about nine years now and am very comfortable with the hired cook there and the rest of the staff. We manage to get in some pretty good conversation. She is not at all afraid of the pencil and notepad approach for communications. I dearly miss having a really close friend. But that is my life so I accept that.

    1. Thank you for sharing the particular challenge you face. I'd have no idea how I would react in a similar situation. My wife has lost a good percentage of her hearing and used to be quite good at lip reading. Now she says she can't depend on that because she hasn't practiced enough to be any good at it anymore. In a noisy situation she is at a loss.

      I'd love to have some responses from other readers who have a severe hearing loss, or relatives who have that disadvantage. How are friends made? RJ has pointed out a real impediment to friendship.

    2. When you loose that last shred of hearing lip reading often disappears. It takes some auditory to make it successful since only about 30% of the English language appears on the lips. A very few are good at it but most, like me fail, miserable without that audio clue. You might want to prepare Betty for that fact, but it seems she is already there.

    3. Thanks for that additional information, RJ. She says she can hear me if sitting next to me and takes clues from what I say or how I respond. It might be helpful if I turned and addressed her directly in such a social setting.

  10. Most of my adult life I've had close friends. In the past few years I've felt a lack of a 'best' friend/ confidante. Not sure if I'm past that stage or just being more selective.

    All who were at one time my 'best' friend still are in a way but distance makes it difficult. Dave and I share many friends as couples and occasionally you have the situation of liking one more than the other. They probably feel that way about us too.

    I think it's easier in some ways to build friendships when kids are at home. Being out of the work place limits finding friends, too. I'm grateful for my blog friends, virtual and real.
    Great post!


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