Adulting is a thing, can we please make Friending one too? Hear me out.
Use case: That embarrassing moment where you think you’re really good at something, and then someone comes along and mercilessly disabuses you of that notion. Painfully so. Blush-inducing. Where you want to run, hide, and eat copious amounts of Nutella.
When the stakes are low, the fall from innocence isn’t that bad. Like landing on a soft, pillow-top mattress from the first story window. Wow, I guess I’m not that good at playing the tuba. I’ll try soccer instead. When the stakes are higher, though, the tumble is much more painful. Think: falling out of a 18th story window only to land on an overused dorm-room mattress. Ouch. This is:
There’s one reality, though, most people are hesitant to confront. This skill is so bedrock to our personal history, has so much potential to shape our lives, that to find out we’re bad at it would be grievous at best. Hence, we appoint ourselves Captain Avoider (check out my cape!) and aggressively look the other way. Have you guessed it? I’m talking about friendship.
This article is for everyone who *thinks* they are a good friend, but deep down, just want some confirmation they are not off base.
1. Good friends notice the little things.
Good friends pay attention. They notice your hair is half an inch shorter. They can tell you’ve been consistently going to that Sunday weight training class. They spot your new jacket and compliment you on it. Noticing the little things requires the other person to take the focus off themselves and give you sustained, individualized attention. Self-absorbed people don’t notice shit about you and they never will, unless, of course, it is in their own self-interest. Good friends don’t have to strain themselves to focus on you. It’s natural, they enjoy it, and as a result, they notice the little things :)
2. Good friends show up.
Good friends show up when you’re in the hospital. They show up to your house 7pm on a Friday night (uninvited, might I add) after a tough breakup with a bottle of wine and a shoulder to cry on. They send you a care package when you’ve been swamped at work and haven’t had a chance to go to the grocery store all week. They show up in the good times also — they come to your cello performance, your housewarming, your dog’s 6th birthday party. Good friends are present & engaged, during both the good times and the bad.
3. Good friends follow-up.
I started a new job this week. Many people in my life knew about it. Not all of them checked in with me to see how it went. It doesn’t mean they are bad people, it just means they are in the *acquaintance* category, not the *good friends* category. Good friends, the really good kind, follow-up. They make a mental note that you had a big event, or something you were nervous/excited about, and then check in within 48 hours to see how it went. It’s a way of looking after those we care about. It communicates:
4. Good friends are curious & enjoy giving conversational space.
Great conversations are like basketball. I take the ball, dribble it a while, then pass it to you. You take it, you dribble it for a brief period, then pass it back to me. In healthy friendships, there is a back and forth in conversation. Each person has their moment to shine. The trouble comes when one person hogs the ball. Faux friends typically find a way to turn the conversation back to themselves, repeatedly, instead of asking follow up questions & showing interest. Real friends have no problem yielding the conversational floor because they are genuinely curious about getting to know you better.
5. Good friends have ‘old-fashioned’ habits.
Good friends have very few barn-door tendencies. They leave voicemails. They prefer meeting in person and talking on the phone over endless texting. They are respectful to your family. They take their shoes off when they enter your home. When visiting, they bring a bottle of Cabernet, unprompted. They bring flowers to your opening night. Overall, their actions combine effort with thoughtfulness in a way that evokes a homey feeling that warms the soul. They act as if a What Would Cary Grant Dobumper sticker runs their prefrontal cortex. And I’ll be the first to say it — the result is just dashing. ❤
6. Good friends are true to their word.
Flakiness has to be one of the most unattractive qualities of 2019, and I must say, this abomination is growing in voracity, not abetting. It’s tragic too, because dependability is bedrock to deep, lasting friendships. A dependable person is a person of their word. If they say they are going to come to your house on Saturday, they show up. If they say they will be there at 5pm, they arrive at 5pm. If they say they will give you a ride to the airport, they do. They keep their word. Remember: our word is our bond. It’s one of the most influential — and shockingly neglected — aspects of our reputation. When someone meets us, that person is handing us an uncolored sketch titled ‘Can I Depend On You?’ Every interaction thereafter we are coloring in the drawing, answering them with our actions. Based on what we draw, people choose to stay in our lives or move on. High-value people have options. If the choice is between a dependable person and a flaky person (which it often is), self-confident people will pick the dependable person every time.
7. Good friends are three-dimensional.
We all know that person who operates on just one-level. All the live long day. I call this person the baseball guy. All he knows is baseball. All he talks about is baseball. If the topic of conversation is something other than baseball he becomes withdrawn, glum, and virtually plaster-like. There’s nothing wrong with baseball, but my gosh, is there nothing else in life you find interesting? How utterly boring. Good friends are multi-faceted. They have various sides to them, like a precious diamond. Every time you turn it, you see a new aspect you hadn’t see before. You see your friend in various lights and, like diamonds, they are breathtaking to behold.
8. Good friends support you when you step out into the wilderness.
Most people avoid being associated with something that isn’t tried and true successful, with something that is in its infancy and hasn’t actually ‘made it’ yet. People tend to support something publicly only after if it’s already approved by a multitude of voices. Safety in numbers. It’s an insecurity really, as if someone else’s success (or lack thereof) is a reflection on you.
When you start a new venture, good friends lean in instead of pulling away. They are proud to be seen with you in the uncertainty; they stand by you in uncharted waters. They are in the bloody boat with you, not watching from shore making sure you don’t capsize before deciding to join you. They are there to support you when you step out and do something new, even if they are the only voice doing so. The absence of a crowd doesn’t phase them. If you’re trying to discern your true friends, scan your relational horizon for the people who stand with you, unabashedly, in the wilderness. That’s your tribe.
9. Good friends aren’t threatened by the success of others.
Sadly, many people realize how important this trait is only after it is too late, when so much has already been invested. We all intrinsically know we need a friend when we’re having a hard time. That’s a no-brainer. But what about when you are on top of the world? When you get that promotion? That incredible new relationship? A faux friend will find reasons to make you feel bad about it because your success makes them feel ‘less than.’ When presented with the news of your new-found success, a faux friend will say things like: ‘Oh, won’t you have less time for the kids/your husband?’ ‘Oh, won’t that be much harder and put a strain on xyz?’ Don’t sugar coat this response — please see it in it’s full, sinister glory. This is a person drawing comfort from your pain, someone with a vested interest in you staying at the bottom because it makes them feel better about themselves. A good friend isn’t threatened by your success. A good friend will be genuinely happy when you succeed and not compare your success to their own situation. They view your life as independent to theirs. Which brings me to the next point…
10. Good friends are self-sufficient.
Good friends don’t exist as an extension of you. They are their own unique person. Your bad day doesn’t affect theirs. Their tank is full. They are comfortable in their own skin. They don’t need you to validate them. Which is why they can call you on your shit when needed. Which is why they can uplift you when you are down. Which is why they are in a position to inspire you to be the best version of you.
11. Good friends give you what you need.
The deepest and most mature level of friendship asks not what you or I want, but what the other person needs. The other person may want encouragement, but in this instance, they need hard truths delivered in tough love. They may want space, but actually need presence (or vise versa). They may want their poor behavior enabled, but actually need someone to shine a light on their dysfunction. They may want guidance, but really need to work through something on their own.
True friendship requires knowing a person so deeply as to know what they need. It requires seeing a person and their needs independent from you. It requires the willingness to break rapport and take some relational risks, because you care more about the person than the state of the relationship. You have to risk being dead wrong and the other person being upset. You have to risk being spot on and the other person receiving it/growing in the process, or walking away. Give not what you or they want, but what they need.
12. Good friends are consistent.
Hills and valleys, baby. That’s what life is. Anyone that says life is linear is a verified fool. The plot-line of life isn’t linear; it looks a lot more like this.
We want friends who are consistent through the hills and valleys. Friends who are reliably themselves. It’s of little value if you are true to your word yesterday but not today. If you are secure and confident yesterday but ultra-clingy today. A good friend is a good friend consistently. This is what allows us to count on them. To feel safe and seen in their presence. We can take a deep breath and relax when we are with them because they will always be true. To themselves, and to us.
Before I lose all you perfectionists out there, let me be very clear — We can’t be all of these things perfectly, but we can be them increasingly. Am I more consistent today than I was 3 months ago? Am I more supportive of others’ success today than I was 6 months ago? Overall, is there a general pattern of growth, not stagnation or decline, in these areas? Not perfectly, but increasingly. Friendship is too vital a skill to leave to subjective musings; these 12 traits bring an objective roadmap to help navigate our most important life relationships.
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