Friendships and what we want from them can change over time; however, there are essential elements that cause us to choose – and want – to become and remain friends with someone. This is the making of friendships. There is also the breaking of friendships: If our needs and wants are not satisfied, it can cause – or force – us to distance ourselves and in some cases, to make the choice to simply disappear from someone’s life. And this is okay!
The question that we must ask ourselves is: Is this a meaningful friendship in the first place?
Meaningful friendship requires 5 essential things (not necessarily in this order):
Reciprocity and Equality
Friendship requires trust. That includes being able to tell a friend something in confidence. If one asks for that information to “remain in the vault”; one knows for certain that that’s exactly where it will remain. Trust also includes knowing that you can probably tell your friend anything and you will not be judged – to your face or behind your back. This does not mean that your friend cannot keep you accountable if you are confessing regarding something harmful to yourself or others. A motto to live by is this: If your friend is telling you secrets about another friend, it’s a sign they are not trustworthy and are telling your secrets to others. If a friend is talking about his/her friend behind her back, they are untrustworthy and are doing the same behind yours.
Friendship also needs reliability. This is of utmost importance, because we CHOOSE to have these people in our lives and we base that choice on the fact that we know this person can be relied on – unlike many people we call acquaintances or strangers – to show up when they say they will, show up on time and show us respect when they do. When a friend habitually or chronically cancels out or shows up late, for whatever reason or excuse they give – this person is taking the importance of the friendship and the friend for granted. If someone does something habitually to someone else, they are working on an assumption that they can do whatever they want to this person without reproach; and that their actions are not affecting this person in anyway. This assumption is wrong; and entirely selfish. If you are one of these people who habitually show up late and always have an excuse, you are saying that someone else has been put on this planet to tolerate your inconsiderate behavior. Sorry! Only your mother loves you that unconditionally! If you have a friend that is not reliable – this is NOT friendship! This is one-sided.
What do you do if a person continually cancels? Stop inviting them and stop sending a message that you will tolerate it. If a friend constantly writes you texts or reaches out to you stating, “I’d love to see you!” or “Let’s get together” but when you reply and try to establish a time and place and that person responds, “I’ll let you know,” simply tell them to get in touch with you when they actually have a tentative date and time to get together. This person is all talk and will continually “romance” you with the idea that he/she wants to see you; but in the end, they are elusive and rarely walk the walk. This is often the person that swoops in from out of town and finds him/herself without plans and wants to keep you hanging on, in case his/her other plans don’t work out. Don’t fall for it! Make plans with friends who actually make themselves available and concretely set up a time and date within a few interactions of communication.
What do you do if a person is habitually late (and you’ve shared how much this frustrates or upsets you)? Simply leave the place that you are waiting for them. It is amazing how many people who are habitually late, actually hate to wait for others. I only had to leave a restaurant once to get this point across. The friend was 20 minutes late (after numerous times of leaving me waiting) – and when this person got to the restaurant and I wasn’t there, she waited about 10 minutes before she texted me (although she couldn’t be bothered texting me to actually tell me she’d be late!) and asked where I was. When I told her I left and the reason why, she was offended! Good! Sometimes, the only way to teach someone how you feel when they disappoint you, is to simply give them an opportunity to actually feel that way. Let’s be clear: Leaving after 20 minutes is respecting yourself; it’s not disrespecting the person who is late!
Respect should be an obvious one to most people, but often times people do not realize what makes another person feel respected or disrespected. This should be something established fairly early in a friendship because everyone is different. However, obvious things such as putting down the other person or attacking their character should never be tolerated. Respect also includes not being condescending to the other person; and valuing them for who they are no matter their socio-economic status, relationship status, gender, culture, race, religion or age.
Many of my friendships have been with people who are younger and older than myself. I find that age rarely has anything to do with friendship as many people are old souls who have a great deal of wisdom to share; and people younger than us can bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm (and energy!) to the friendship. There is nothing more of a turn off than someone who is always referring to the differences (usually in order to put her or himself in a place of superiority) instead of focusing on common ground between the two of you. An example of this is when I was spending time with a female friend who was about ten years older than myself. I have always gravitated to those older than myself partly because I believe I am an old soul and partly because I have older siblings and have more of a comfort level with older people. I also cherish the wisdom and knowledge that they have from experiences that I may not have gone through yet. However, if a friend is habitually saying that because you are younger, you couldn’t possibly understand what they are going through in a condescending way, intimating that they are superior because of their age – this is not making of a friendship. When one is constantly pointing out differences, this is not respecting the elements that brought you together as friends in the first place. Be wary of someone who is constantly referring to these differences, as this comes from a place of insecurity and it is their way of creating inequality in the friendship. Find common ground to walk on – do not point out obstacles of difference.
Last but not least: Friendship is meant to be fun. When we were children, we did not hang out with other kids when they were nasty, late, bullying, disrespectful or any of the other things that many of us put up with in our friendships. We hung out with them, because it was fun. If you are finding any one of your friendships – on a habitual basis – is creating negativity, anxiety (knowing the next time you go out with that person, you most definitely will have to wait for them or worse yet, they are going to make you late for something else); worry or you feeing badly about yourself or guilty for standing up for yourself; or the majority of the conversation and interaction is based on gossip or sharing others’ secrets, then you need to simply place this person on your outside circle of acquaintances; or disconnect from them entirely – and do NOT feel badly about it. We cannot choose our family members and we have to accept and tolerate a lot of things life throws at us. However, a less than stellar friendship is not one of them. Friendship is based completely on choice and its one of the few things in life, we do have a say in! Choose your friends – those people who get in your INNER CIRCLE – wisely!