Last week I asked my Instagram fam to help me out with something. I asked them to define friendship in their own words. The audience I’ve grown on Instagram really honors me with their vulnerability. They share parts of themselves that they don’t think anyone else understands and THAT is what drives me. I am grateful to be trusted as a writer and an online advocate. So, before we move on, thank you for being here.
I’ve noticed a common thread in my inbox that makes me extremely sad. So many of my people struggle with making friends and/or cultivating the friendships they do have and don’t know what to do or where to look for the human interaction/companionship we all crave. This seems to be even harder as we get older because of how unpredictable life can get. We move to places we don’t know and are put in new situations as parents, students, in our careers, and in our communities. It really made me wonder… how do different people describe friendship?
I am extremely blessed to have a fierce group of empowering friends. Most of them taught ME everything I know about friendship, so be sure to thank them for this post! Like most of you, I have also had my fair share of friendship troubles and have learned a lot along the way… and I know I still have a lot to learn.
What friendship means to me
Here’s the most raw version of my definition of friendship:
I don’t buy into any relationship being “easy”.
I would define friendship as a relationship in which I am able to be my complete self without fear of judgement, shame, or gossip. A friend is someone I can share my imperfections with who ALSO shares their imperfections with me.
Reciprocity is most important for me in my friendships and I say this in the least “score keeping” type of way. When I say that I want efforts to be reciprocated I mean that I want the relationship to be as unfiltered as possible. I want to know that my friend values our friendship as much as I do.
It doesn’t always have to be an elaborate gesture or conversation, but either by your actions or your words… let a girl know that we’re comrades. Ideally, we would both express this in a multitude of ways.
In short: A friend is someone I can trust to speak kindly of me when I am not around and offers constructive criticism to support me being a kind and confident person.
We are all learning and growing
We all have baggage. This is something that is being more commonly presented on social media. I call it the “hot mess mom” reminder. We are lucky to live in a society that is realizing how much support mothers need and how much pressure society can put on us to be perfect. These days, I see more “hot mess moms” than moms pretending their lives are perfect.
I find it best to remind myself of this when I’m thinking about friendship. We are all fighting an internal battle to learn how to have great friendships.
When I think of how we’ve changed the way we pressure moms to be perfect I think of how we can do the same exact thing for friendships. Let’s stop talking about how girl friendships don’t work and are drama filled and focus on how we can improve how we cultivate friendship. Let’s take action instead of just spreading more of the negative idea that female friendships are impossible.
Making friends that last starts with you. The only thing in your power is how good of a friend YOU are.
What can you practice in order to be a good friend?
Some people are able to do these things naturally. You probably have someone in mind and that person probably makes friends “easily”. The truth is, for many of us, we have to WORK at being better friends. As we grow older we rely on our friends less exclusively for fun and more for emotional/mental support.
Here are a few things I found help cultivate long term friendships.
- Share your life with them and allow them to share theirs with you.
This is usually essential to evolving from an acquaintance to a friend. Opening up to a person about parts of your life that you don’t necessarily share with others creates trust on both ends. You learn to trust another person to not ridicule or shame you for sharing your imperfections. Just the same, your potential new friend learns that you confide in them, making it easier for them to trust you.
- Support them by offering advice without expecting them to listen to every piece of advice you have to offer.
Let them know that you will support them even when you don’t agree with what they’re doing or saying (within reason, of course). Obviously, if you find their behavior to be toxic, disrespectful, or endangering and they show no signs of remorse… that’s a red sign for any type of relationship.
- Check in on them – even when life is busy
Sometimes you’re in a rut (or they are) and one of you just needs to send a quick, “Hey! Thinking about you and hope you’re doing great. Life is crazy but I just wanted to check in really quick!”
AND THAT can literally save a person’s life. You never know what silence means… maybe they’re just busy, but MAYBE they really need you right now.
It doesn’t have to be an elaborate meet up, but you do have to check in with each other every so often.
- Encourage your friends and hold each other accountable
Understand that there is a time to vent and a time to rise above. Ultimately, we want to encourage each other to be kind and positive; to take life’s adversities and make the best out of situations. So, while friendship often requires the open door to vent about our frustrations, it’s important to not cross the line of ONLY venting and creating a draining relationship by only focusing on the negative aspects of life.
- Respect boundaries and learn to set some yourself
There is definitely a line you should never cross in a healthy relationship, but sometimes that line looks different for others. AND THAT IS OK! Setting boundaries is extremely important to maintaining healthy friendships because it makes it clear where that line is for you.
Some friendships are beardless (everything is open for discussion and there are very few boundaries) and some require certain topics to be off the table for the best interest of the relationship (differing beliefs/values that you agree to disagree on).
- Don’t expect anything from them that you aren’t willing to give.
I have had friends that expect everyone to help them when they need it but will put themselves first in any given scenario.
If you ever find yourself wondering why a friend doesn’t call or text you, ask yourself if you call or text them. If you see that they’re closer with their other friends in a way they aren’t with you… think about how you express closeness
Set the tone for the friendship you desire.
- Accentuate the positive traits they have
Put simply: Gas your friends up. Don’t shrink them to make yourself feel better. Whether we admit it or not, we all prefer to be around people who enhance our positive traits instead of focusing of our shortcomings.
Don’t mistake me, everyone pokes fun at their friends sometimes. Just make sure it’s not MOST times.
- Be selfless
With time and energy. We are all busy, we are all tired, but we all need to be there for our friends in their time of need not just when times are hard, but for celebrations too!
Of course self care is not selfish, but if given the opportunity to binge watch a show or check in on a friend you haven’t talked to in a while – choose your friend.
- Be honest.
Trust is the single most important component of friendship for me.
Having said that, I don’t think it’s realistic for EVERYONE to be honest ALL THE TIME, but there is always an opportunity to learn and grow. As long as a person makes the effort to grow, I would never write them off as a bad friend. We’re all human and we all make mistakes.
As cheesy as it sounds, be yourself from the very beginning. This requires a lot of work in the self love department. Many of us, at one point or another, make the mistake of trying to look like someone worth befriending by catering to interests that aren’t necessarily our own. We have the idea that the true us isn’t worth befriending and that just isn’t true.
Allow yourself to be misunderstood. There isn’t a more perfect time to make your intentions and values clear.Mel Duso – @thebeardlesscoffee
Now, go out there and meet some friends.