By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor
For a decade the mega-popular TV show Friends showed us that great friends could offer a bond as strong, reliable, and full of love as a family. Of course, not just any old friend will do; the friend must be close.
And while Friends had good screenwriting, of course, it wasn’t real life. Yet science confirms the fact that sometimes the cords of friendship hold tighter through the storms of life than the bonds of our family DNA.
While internet friends can be fun to interact with, they don’t fend off isolation, which is the number-one feeling that lessens our quality of life. In fact, as we spend more time online with friends we’ve never met in person, our feelings of isolation rise.
The average person has 130 Facebook friends. However, in real life, the average adult has just two close friends. This number is down from three best friends in the 1980s. A drop by one doesn’t seem like much until you think about it in percentages. It’s actually a decrease of one-third of our most impactful friendships. Considering how necessary close friends are to our overall happiness and our physical, emotional, and mental health, having that third person adds a lot to the quality of our life.
Close friendships are a rare gift. The trust and loyalty which are the cornerstones of meaningful relationships are grown over a period of months and years. Yet if the friendship remains after this time of testing, it often lasts a lifetime and offers benefits that last just as long. Best friends can keep us from stumbling, pick us up when we do, and put our life back on the right track. Through the highs and lows, the big events and the quiet days, close friends are there for us, helping us get through whatever life delivers.
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.
Ecclesiastes 4:10 (NIV)
Traits of Great Friends
Anyone can be friendly, but if you’re looking for a new bestie, or you want to continue to nourish your closest friendships, you’ll find that all of them share a core of traits that are non-negotiable. Break one of these top five, and the friendship will either never fully sprout or wither on the vine.
1.) Great friends are more alike than they are different, and they continually work on looking for their similarities.
While the old saying is true that “opposites attract,” they only do so on an almost frivolous level. An introvert and extrovert make a good match because they aren’t both jostling to lead every conversation. A person who cooks only as her family’s main source of income and one who cooks as an artistic expression get along because one person gets to shine in what she loves to do (cook!) and the other gets to benefit (eat!) from her friend’s talent. An adventurer and a homebody get along because they even each other out. Due to the encouragement of each other, the homebody expands her horizons a little, and the adventurer keeps herself a little more grounded.
It’s as C.S. Lewis said: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'”
Close friends will have wayyyyyy more similarities than differences when it comes to the core values of life, which are the ways they treat and value others. Their views on the importance of religion in their lives will align (even if they’re of different denominations or faiths). The central part of their political views will be similar even if they don’t always vote for the same candidate. Their child-rearing ways will not vary much from one another.
A sense of humor is one of the main things friends look for in one another. We need that in our lives; indeed, we want to laugh often with our friends. And the deepest laughs can come from something said that starts with “Do you remember that time we….?”
Friends’ taste in clothes, decor, food, music, and art might vary, but not by so much that one person is bored or finds it tedious spending time in the other person’s world.
To every rule there are exceptions. The same can be said of friendships. There are great friendships sometimes made when one friend is “salt” and the other is “pepper.” Yet as different as they are, they make the perfect combination!
While they might not always agree, great friends admire one another and respect each others’ decisions.
Now, of course, the more similar the two individuals are, the easier the friendship will be to form and maintain. That’s because the more we can say “You too?!” and find common ground, the larger the garden of our friendship.
As you seek out new friends, ask lots of questions. And ask questions of your longtime friends, too, because people’s likes and interests ebb, flow, and evolve throughout life. The questioning isn’t because you’re nosy. (No one will see you that way, because everyone’s favorite subject is themselves, even if they don’t realize it.) You ask because every “You too?!” moment shared together adds strength (and eventually longevity) to your friendship.
2.) A great friend is the president of your fan club, the defender of your realm, and the safekeeper of your confidences.
Great friends don’t share confidences with anyone – their spouse, partner, other close friends – anyone. They lock the confidences away in the vault of their heart and throw away the key. This is vital because we all need someone to talk to and because we need to know that we can share our imperfections and be reassured instead of judged.
That’s why great friends are presidents of each other’s fan clubs. They cheer us through the obstacles life puts in our way. When a “frenemy” would tell us, “You don’t have what it takes,” a great friend would tell us, “I can’t wait to celebrate with you when you make it through the other side, because you are sooooo going to hit this out of the ballpark!”
These aren’t empty words of encouragement. A great friend means every word she says because she not only sees you as you are today, she sees you as you can be, and there’s nothing you can’t do if you give it all you’ve got.
And woe to the person who puts you down in front of her. A great friend will defend your honor. If she overhears gossip, she’ll say something along the lines of, “Mia is one of my closest friends. I know her well, and if you knew her like I do, you’d know she isn’t the type to…” It will stop the gossipers in their tracks every time.
3.) A great friend will tell you hard truths because she loves you even more than she loves your friendship.
In little things, it’s often better to let our friends stumble and be there to pick them up, dust them off, and get them back on track. However, a friend doesn’t let a friend fall over a cliff.
If you think her fiance is arrogant, you keep quiet. If you know that he’s cheating on her, and have facts to back that up, you tell her.
If she gains twenty pounds, you join a gym and invite her to join you. If she gains or loses a lot of weight, you let her know that you can’t watch someone you love harm herself.
I experienced this firsthand when Marc, my oldest, was a toddler. I breastfed him for 21 months. When I told an acquaintance at church that he was weaned, she warned me, “Don’t eat much. Ever! Once you stop breastfeeding, you gain weight faster than a wildfire spreads.” I didn’t know her well, so I didn’t think I put much stock into what she said. However, her words kept running through my head. I was happy with my weight, but I decided I should lose five pounds so that I had wiggle room in what I thought was going to be my inevitable weight gain.
The first five pounds came off fast! But that was only because I was starving myself to lose weight before the new pounds I was supposedly going to gain showed up.
It felt really good to lose that weight, so I decided I would drop five more pounds…you know…just to be doubly sure. I slid from weight loss to anorexia.
I’m 5’8″ and weighed 135 pounds when I started. In a matter of months, I weighed 99 pounds, and I had no plans of stopping my starvation diet. My mind distorted reality. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see a thin person. I saw someone who not only would look better but would have accomplished something worthwhile if I just lost a few more pounds.
Kent talked, and talked, and talked to me. He couldn’t convince me. My mom couldn’t convince me. My doctor couldn’t convince me. The hushed comments I overheard of people at church and in the neighborhood talking about me as I walked by couldn’t convince me that I was hurting myself.
Then Pam, one of my dearest friends, knocked loudly on my door on a Thursday afternoon.
When I opened the door, she looked serious…even angry.
“What’s wrong, Pam? Please come in.” I said, motioning for her to enter.
I cheerfully offered her a seat. “No thank you. I’m only staying a moment. I’m here to say that you’ve changed. You’re delusional. You look like hell. And you are 100 percent anorexic.”
“You’re probably going to be dead soon, and Marc isn’t even old enough to remember you. You’re throwing away your life and you’re ruining his. It’s sad, and sad I can take. But it’s also stupid, and stupid I can’t take.”
“All my friends are smart women. That’s who I choose to surround myself with, and that’s why you were at the top of my list. Now, I can’t even look at you. I still love you, but this is the last time you’ll see me unless you take an honest look in the mirror and see that you look like a concentration-camp prisoner and you acknowledge that, while you still might not believe it, you’re anorexic.”
“I won’t be at your funeral, Maralee.”
“But if you stop this downward spiral, and you want to go out to eat a full meal, I’ll be back in a heartbeat. If you want me to sit and eat with you, I’ll come back every day. But before you ever see me, you first have to gain ten pounds.”
“But…” I was going to start reasoning with her. Pam interrupted me.
“I didn’t come here to hear ‘but…anything.’ I came because I love you. I told you what you need to hear. I don’t know anything else to say. At least now when you die, I’ll know I tried.”
She walked to the front door, let herself out, got into her car, and drove out of my driveway.
What she also did that day was save my life. Because I respected Pam so much, I knew she wouldn’t worry needlessly. If she said I was anorexic, maybe…just maybe I was. That night, I ate half a small sandwich. It was the start of my slow climb back to health…and reality.
Pam loved me more than our friendship, and she was brave enough and good enough to do a hard thing. I know I’m alive today because of her intervention.
It took a couple of months to gain the ten pounds, but we ate lunch at Chili’s when I did. Once I was back to a healthy weight, she never mentioned my bout with anorexia again.
Great friends know what to let slide and when to step in, even if doing so means the other person might reject you forever.
4.) A great friend is happy for your successes and sad for your setbacks.
A great friend keeps jealousy at bay by knowing that life ebbs and flows. It can be hard to watch as your friend’s ship sails into port when you feel like your lifeboat is sinking. But life turns fast. Your day is coming, even if that seems impossible to you at this moment.
Rejoice when your friend rejoices, and cry when she cries. These roles will reverse back and forth in life, and you’ll change places often. Don’t let what you can see out of today’s window make you think that’s the only view you’ll experience.
Friends love through all kinds of weather, and families stick together in all kinds of trouble.
Proverbs 17:17 (MSG)
You’ll find more about this important aspect of friendship in 10 Unique Habits of Remarkably Gracious Ladies.
5.) A great friend doesn’t count the hours; she counts the memories.
We live in a transient society. People move from state to state, from the West Coast to the East Coast, and back again. Yet great friends have the remarkable ability to pick up a conversation in mid-sentence that they were having five years ago. Time away and distance apart doesn’t destroy their friendship. Of course they’ll gain friends in their new hometowns, and they’ll pick up new interests, and maybe even change some of their tastes and opinions. Yet it won’t effect the love they share with their friends from years ago, sometimes as far back as grade school.
A great friend also doesn’t keep social tabs. She doesn’t wait to pick up the phone because she made the last two calls. She just takes it as the fact that she’s great at initiating contact with her dear friends. Please read more about this beautiful aspect of friendship in the post I referenced in 4.) above: 10 Unique Habits of Remarkably Gracious Ladies.
Grace Note 1: The most common ways friendships are hurt or destroyed.
- Friendships can be harmed or even end when either person feels disrespected or taken advantage of. We all seek validation and appreciation. When it stops coming from one of our friends, we often no longer view that person as a friend.
- When you no longer laugh together, it’s a sign that there aren’t enough shared experiences. And while laughing over the good old days is fine, if the time comes when the stories have lost their ability to bring joy to either person, the friendship will probably die if the two people are separated by distance and can’t make any new memories together.
- If a friend makes all the social plans, calls, texts, and such for a period of time without the other person eventually taking the lead at least occasionally, it’s likely to be perceived as (and likely is) a one-sided friendship.
- Major tragedies and major triumphs in our lives can change us. Sometimes, after those events, we’re looking for new things out of life, and we leave behind our past and the people in it as we set out on a new path. In both cases, I find this sad, but it does happen often, so it’s worth mentioning here.
Grace Note 2: A way to strengthen your friendships
By its title, you would think the video below is about how to overcome loneliness; however, as the speaker wrote in the comments section of YouTube, she didn’t pick the title, and it’s listed incorrectly. What you’ll find instead is a wonderful video about how to strengthen your current bonds with friends and family. It’s well worth the view!
Above, I’ve shared five traits of great friends. While of course there are hundreds of traits, these five are fundamental and essential. I got us started; now let’s chat! Join me in the comments section of our blog, which is a VIP page for blog subscribers. It’s on Facebook, and you can request to join by clicking here. Once your blog subscription status is verified, you’re in! And it’s a great group to join. You’ll meet the nicest people!!! If you’re not yet a subscriber, simply type your name and best email address into the subscription box below this post! You’ll receive a wonderful dining-skills book as your welcome gift, and you’ll be part of the Manners Mentor Movement to make the world a little better one kind interaction at a time.
Until next time, keep doing what only you can do! Bless the world around you by being you at your authentic best!
Now…go call a friend and tell her how much she means to you!
Blessings and friendship,