March 8, 2018

5 Attributes That Mark a True Friend


Friendship is as important to our wellbeing as eating right and exercising. So says a report on web site,  Livebout. A Harvard University study says the same thing. Real friends help us reduce stress, make better lifestyle decisions, even help keep our brains healthy. While this is true throughout our lives, it becomes especially true during retirement when we more time to nature meaningful relationships. 

So, what makes a true friend? What are the key attributes that separate a deep friendship from a casual acquaintance? 

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.

18 comments:

  1. Very thought provoking, as usual, Bob. We’ve found that our local circle of friends centers on other parents we met during our kids’ pre-school and elementary school years who were raising their families with the same values (honesty, hard work, respect, courtesy, kindness, service, sense of humor) we were striving to instill in our kids. Now my husband and I are happily arranging “play dates” for ourselves rather than for our kids since they’re now 23 and 18. Retirement (ours and others’) is also allowing us to spend more time with childhood friends, siblings and some cousins we’re especially close to – pure pleasure as we truly enjoy the time and the adventures (big and small) that we share with all of them. I’d have to say that, of the attributes you mentioned, common beliefs and the lack of pressure to perform are the two that resonate the most with me. Thank you for bringing lots of wonderful people in my life to mind this morning!

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    1. I envy you, Mary. Both Betty and I came from small families. Our only relatives are back east, so we see them only every few years. We do live within 5 minutes of one daughter's family and the grandkids, while the other daughter is about 40 minutes away, but she's at our house a lot. So, we have immediate family nearby but no other relatives.

      We have a few close friends, some local, and some in Oregon. But, we've never been the type of couple that has an active social life, we just moved too often in our earlier days to put down many roots.

      This was an interesting post to write, because I am not the best person to advise about friendship. I'm happy you found it on target!

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    2. Please allow me to set the record straight, Bob. My husband and I consider ourselves social hermits, not social butterflies. :) The people I mentioned in my comment represent only five local couples (including the cousins), two out-of-state childhood friends and four siblings between my husband and me. Our play dates average only two or three per month and mostly involve breakfast at a local restaurant or pizza at our favorite spot. We keep our friends few and close but the strength of those friendships is evidenced by their longevity. I just didn't want you to picture us as being out on the town several times a week. No, you're more likely to find us at home puttering around the house and yard or planning our next camping trip. You are blessed to have your daughters living nearby. Being able to spend time with your kids (no matter how old they are!) is one of the great advantages of retirement!

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    3. Betty and I definitely consider ourselves more hermit-like than active. We do a lot together and with immediate family. Otherwise, our social interaction is restricted to church small group meetings twice a month. We have discussed our situation and are quite comfortable with our life.

      I am just about to add your blog to the sidebar. Look for it!

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    4. Why thank you, sir! That's very much appreciated!

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  2. I think your list rather implied this, but I wanted to stress the importance of friends caring about each other, and expressing it, when things go a little wonky. Sometimes there are family problems, or a brief hospitalization or a financial crisis and one wants to know a friend cares about you through this. Not just a person who maintains "radio silence", as the kids say, when a shoulder is needed.

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    1. I think that is one of the indicators of a true friend: there for you when others are keeping their distance. Good point, Anne.

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  3. We moved so frequently when the kids were younger that it was difficult to make new friends in each new place. Fortunately we did find great friends along the way and stay in touch to this day, much thanks for Facebook! But, living in this little beach community hasn't been as easy to make friends. Most have been through Dave's volunteering at Habitat For Humanity. We are not that far from our old neighborhood in Philly but, it's just not the same. I'm hoping to get more involved in some of the community events and maybe build stronger bonds. We'll see.

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    1. Betty and I had the chance almost 2 years ago (has it been that long?) to meet up with a friend of ours we hadn't seen in 30 years. We never missed a beat. It was as if we had been apart 30 days, not years. We met his wife and had a great time reminiscing and were sorry our visit with them was so brief. For us, that type of connection is rare, I'm afraid.

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  4. We have family nearby that we see on birthdays, holidays, etc., and also some friends we both made while working. I'm more social than DH, but he's become more social since retirement - golfing buddies who also do breakfast together during the off season, volunteer friends, etc. I also have women friends that I've had for years, although my closest lifelong friend moved into a very rural area, had some health problems and ghosted me 10 years ago after 30+ years of friendship. Needless to say, I've tried several times to reconnect, as that was a huge loss for me. But she is absolutely radio silent and I've given up. It's like a death and I continue to mourn her, as no one can replace that level of friend. And I do think it's harder to make friends as we age.
    --Hope

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    1. It is much easier at our age to make acquaintances rather than true friends, simply because it takes a lot of time and shared experiences to build a really deep friendship. Too often, social interactions we have now are more surface-depth-convenience some shared connection, like church. That serves an important need we have, but it just isn't the same.

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    2. Much easier to make acquaintances than true friends at this age. Spot on, Bob.

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  5. My friends are precious to me, and I find I don't need many. I am busy in retirement and enjoy friends I made while working with them for decades at a university and another friend I made in women's Bible study four years ago.

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    1. Good friends are precious. You are blessed to have the ones you do.

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  6. Ability to share openly - check
    Try new experiences - check
    Common beliefs and acceptance of different beliefs - check
    No pressure to perform - check
    Sincere interest to learn more - check
    It seems that the #1 key of sharing openly is all-encompassing. It allows for the freedom of trying new experiences, accepting different beliefs, being present all without the pressure to perform. It seems that a circle of friends is important to meeting all of these criteria. There's only a handful of my friends who meet all the above criteria. I guess those are the real BFFs. And at this age, forever has a different connotation. I would also recommend friends of different ages for the life perspective that is offered.

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    1. Your point about looking for friends of different ages is important. One of the ways we can stay more vibrant and connected is by interacting with people both younger and older than we are. Youth isn't to be avoided, it is to be energized by and mentored to, if possible. And, those senior to us have different life lessons to share.

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  7. Having true, close friends is so important. Being far away from our friends was one reason Rob and I felt lonely and dissatisfied with our life when we were living in our previous community prior to my retirement. For some reason, we found it hard to make friends there, although both of us made good friends elsewhere that we have lived and have continued to maintain those friendships from afar. I am very lucky to have five best friends (not counting Rob). One is a childhood friend whom I have known for more than 50 years, and another is her husband whom I have known for 35 years. Another is a friend I met as a university student, and the other two are work colleagues who became friends that I met midway through my career. Since we moved to our retirement location, we have both made it a priority to get involved with our new community and meet people. We are very happy to have met a couple who share many common interests and are developing a friendship with them, and Rob has reconnected with some old friends that he had lost touch with, as well. Sadly, I also have some friends whom I have lost touch with, and I miss them and think about them, and wonder where they are and how they are doing.

    Jude

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    1. You are blessed to have friendships that stretch back so many years. The shared experiences and memories can never be duplicated, no matter good new friends are.

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