Everybody wants to have friends. In order to have friends though, of course it means that someone must be a friend. This is all very logical, but the being a friend side doesn’t seem to get talked about as much as the having a friend part. Being a friend takes hard work and intentionality, commitment and dedication, love and laughter. If it sounds like I’m confusing friendship with marriage, it’s because, particularly as a single person, I take friendship very seriously. Some friendships are only meant to be for a short season, but I truly believe that others can–and should–last years and years, and maybe even forever.
I’m not going to write a “How To Be a Good Friend” guide. First of all, I don’t think it’s that easy, and second, I have been (and I’m sure at times will continue to be) a really sucky friend. Maybe someday I’ll have it more figured out, but for now, I will simply offer these few observations about friendship.
- There is no one right, perfect way to be a friend. People are wired differently, and therefore require different things from their friends. At the same time, different people are able to offer their friends different things. Some are good listeners, others are willing to give much-needed challenges, and others are good at bringing laughter when it’s needed. The way I’m a friend to Person A has to be different than the way I’m a friend to Person B, because they’re not the same.
- Know when to lean in and when to lean back. This is something I’ve only recently been realizing, and I do not excel at it. The reality is that pretty much all of my friends have many wonderful people in their lives, and there will be phases where what they need most isn’t something I’m the best at offering. When that’s the case, I need to know it’s okay to lean back from that friendship for a while–not to walk away and abandon it completely, but to give space for others to give what I cannot. Being someone who feels deeply for other people and also has a natural inclination to want to fix things, leaning back feels very counterintuitive to me. Leaning in is important too, though. Even when life is messy and complicated and hard, my friends need to know I won’t shy away from that stuff even if it’s difficult to be in that space with them.
- Shut up. This works in two ways: First, knowing how to stop talking and to instead listen well. There’s a difference between listening, merely letting a friend’s words hit my ears, and listening well, paying attention to what’s behind the words and to my friend themselves. Second, shutting up means knowing there are some stories that belong to my friends and are not mine to tell. Secrets obviously fall into this camp, but there is other information that, while maybe not a secret, isn’t mine to tell anyone else. Part of being a friend means being trustworthy without having to be asked to be so.
Friendship isn’t math or science. It can’t be reduced to stagnant formulas; it has to be allowed to breath, change, and take new shapes as time and circumstances dictate. So if we want to have good friends, we must also be willing to commit to being a good friend.
Til next time…
p.s. How do you strive to be a good friend?