I once met a woman who wanted to grow in the area of her passion and asked for my guidance.
I recommended that she first contact her family and friends to let them know about her new commitment to her passion. (I had found that the support of family and friends was essential to my moving forward with my novel.)
But the woman replied that, for her, going to her “friends” for support was not an option. In fact, the entire idea of friendship just filled her with painful memories of past hurts, disappointments, and betrayals. The only person she felt she could truly trust and confide in was her husband.
Other than him, she said, she had no real friends.
I was taken aback by her response.
This had not been my experience with friendship.
When I announced to my friends that I was writing a novel, for instance, they immediately responded with their love and support. (It would have been incredibly challenging for me to have gone forward without their support.)
But this encounter finally made me realize just how blessed I was to have really great friends, and just how challenging it was for others to establish a similar type of friendship.
My Friendship Journey
Now, I wasn’t always good at establishing healthy friendships.
In High School I remember I had a group of friends who consistently put me down, made fun of me, and got their kicks from saying very mean things about people who were different from them.
I was friends with them for years because I was afraid no one else would be my friend if I left them.
But after several years, I just couldn’t stand being around them anymore. So, by the end of High School, I ended up leaving this group of friends and starting a relationship with the group of friends I have now.
What Is Friendship?
One of the hardest lessons I had to learn in High School was that a friendship shouldn’t make me feel bad about myself.
So, now that I know better, I would like to make it clear what a “friend” really means for those who struggle with friendship:
- A friend does not put you down. A friend lifts you up.
- A friend does not ignore your needs or your worries. A friend is sensitive and is willing to listen to you if you have an issue you want to address.
- A friend does not try to thwart or sabotage your best efforts at achieving your happiness. A friend wants what is best for you, and is happy when you achieve it.
- A friend does not try to control you or put you in a box just for their own personal comfort. A friend is open to grow with you as you grow, or at least tries their best to set you free.
- A friend does not harm you physically, psychologically, emotionally, or verbally. THIS IS ABUSE, NOT FRIENDSHIP. On the other hand, a friend is your cheerleader who inspires you, reminds you of your best and brightest qualities, and encourages you to keep going forward.
- Even though a friend supports you, a friend does not “suck up” to you. A friend gets real with you when your ego needs to be checked or when you have done something wrong and you may need to apologize or make amends for it.
- (That said, a friend is humble and is willing to swallow their pride and apologize when they realize they have done something wrong.)
- Friendship is also a journey. And part of that journey is learning what friendship means for you, and what your own rules and boundaries are when it comes to establishing a healthy friendship.
6 Steps To Establishing Healthy, Long-Lasting Friendships
Now that I know what healthy friendships are, I can share with you the steps it takes to establish a long-lasting friendship:
1. Leave Poisonous Friendships
Some people stay in unhealthy friendships for years just because this is all they know and they don’t want to lose that connection. But sometimes we have to sum up the courage to leave a friendship that may be poisonous to us in order find the type of friendships that will nourish our great potential.
2. Be Yourself
When you are yourself, you’ll attract people who are just like you. So go out and join clubs or organizations that you are passionate about. Attend events, or take classes that are of interest to you.
These places, events, and organizations are a fertile ground for you to discover future, long-lasting friendships.
3. Invest Time In The Friendship
This step may seem obvious, but due to today’s busy work schedules sometimes people can easily forget that friendships need to be a priority on par with work and romantic relationships.
You need to invest time in your friendship for it to grow strong. You can’t continually blow a friend off and expect them to be there when you’re ready to meet up with them.
You need to set a time aside for your friend often, and make them a priority in your life so that the friendship can thrive.
4. Expect That Your Friend Reciprocate Your Investment
Friendship is a two-way street.
If you have tried your best to make the friendship happen and the other person has been M.I.A. for way too long, you might need to reconsider this friendship.
First of all, you want a friend who really wants to hang out with you. So if this person is not trying hard enough, you might want to question whether they really want you to be their friend.
If you’re having trouble with your friend’s lack of reciprocation, this is probably something you’ll need to discuss with them, which leads us to:
This is possibly the most important step in establish a strong friendship.
I’ve noticed that when people refuse to follow this rule, the friendship will begin to break down.
Unfortunately, friendship isn’t all sunshine and rainbows: you must be willing to have the ugly, awkward conversations with friends in order for the friendship to survive through the challenging times.
Conflict is part of friendship.
You may find that talking about a thorny issue with a friend actually makes the both of you feel better afterward. When you communicate, instead of bottling up all that resentment, you express the emotions and so the conflict has trouble getting worse.
Often times it is uncovered that the conflict is not due to malice but simply to a misunderstanding or an unintended mistake.
So, if you’re upset with a friend, try talking to them first before you end it.
The simple act of communicating the issue might be the very thing that saves the friendship.
6. Change and Grow Together
The key to making a friendship “long-lasting’ is that you allow your friend to grow and change.
Not allowing a friend to grow is like telling a bud not to become a tree. Any attempt at forcing or controlling a plant will cause it to wither. The same thing will happen to a friendship.
But when you do accept your friend’s ever-evolving nature, and they accept your constant growth, you both allow that friendship to bloom and grow stronger.
The Truth About Friendship
One morning I was taking my regular jog around my neighborhood when a stray dog came up behind me. Out of the corner of my eye I could see that the dog was small, mangy, and black. At first I pushed myself forward, afraid the dog would try to bite me. But, to my surprise, instead of biting me the dog quickly ran up beside me with a smile on his face.
Suddenly, I was jogging on this path–a path that I usually take alone–but now I was accompanied by this dog I’d never seen before. That dog ran beside me for a good fifteen minutes or so until it ran off somewhere and disappeared.
That was the last time I saw of him.
Now, he may have left me in the end but, at the moment he was running beside me, that dog made me fee less alone.
In that moment that dog was a true friend. He didn’t want to bite me. He didn’t want to bark at me. He didn’t want a treat. He didn’t want me to throw him a bone. He didn’t want to jump out ahead of me, as if to beat me in a race. He didn’t want to fall right behind me, as if he depended on me to guide him to the next point.
No, he just wanted to be with me.
And I think that’s what true friendship is.
Friendship is an old, mangy dog who joins you on your morning jog simply because that’s what you’re doing, and it gives him great joy to share the ride.