I think most of us know how to navigate friendships. But even at 31 I have been baffled, blindsided, and confused as to why or how some friendships went awry. I’ve also been surprised and delighted at regaining old friendships, and even making new ones. I might even call myself a friendship expert, in the same way anyone could. After all, haven’t we will been navigating the world of friendship ever since we can remember?
But recent events have had me really thinking about friendship. What’s it made of? What breaks it? How do you keep it? And last but not least, how do you make new friends?
So I broke it down to a top ten. If you find yourself floundering consider these things, maybe they can help you pin point how your friendship went wrong, or right. Possibly this list could prevent a friendship from breaking up. Or maybe this is just me figuring it out for myself. Whatever the case. I hope you enjoy, and feel free to add anything I missed in the comments.
1.) Be open. Notice that I didn’t say honest? Of course you should be honest as a friend, but like any relationship there is necessary and unnecessary honesty. Sure, tell secrets, tell them the stories of your life, don’t embellish, be truthful. If they ask you if their purple lipstick looks bad, and it really does. TELL them. A true friend isn’t a ‘yes man’ and will tell you if you have spinach in your teeth. But nobody needs unbidden advice or critiquing. Did your friend ask you your approval of their new boyfriend, or what time they should be putting their kids to bed? No? Then it’s not your call. Friendship is about acceptance, even if they make choices you wouldn’t. If your a friend you’re going to let your friend live their way. And a good friend will let you live your way as well.
To add: There exceptions to this rule. If your friend is putting themselves or others in danger, it is time to talk.
2.) Personal Space. Respect it. Some people invite you to come right in their house, open the fridge and make yourself a snack. “Oh, stop by anytime!” Walk in without knocking. Yes, I kid you not, there are people who do this. There’s nothing wrong with it, and if they consider you a friend, they don’t expect you to ask to use the bathroom before you use it, they assume, since your a friend that you’ll feel as comfortable in their home as you do in yours, and treat it so. But not every friend is like this. Know your friend well enough to know what’s comfortable for them. Respect their bubble. If they ask for you to call before coming over, do it. When a friend sets a boundary they are telling you what makes them comfortable. If you ignore their boundaries you make them uncomfortable, and are telling them you don’t respect their space. A good friend will always respect your boundaries.
3.) Religion and Politics. Ok, there are always those friends that you know agree with you on sensitive matters. Religion and politics are the big two but there are more that fit here. If you know your friend shares the same opinions on these issues go at it! There’s nothing like yessing and constant high fives when you find a topic you both passionately agree on. But there’s also nothing like getting sick to your stomach when a friend goes off on a rant about something you wholeheartedly disagree with. A good friend doesn’t have to totally avoid a subject you aren’t on par with, and some of the best conversations are discussing issues that two people disagree about. But this goes back to respect. If you know bringing up (I’m just going to throw a known sensitive topic out there for example) abortion is a sore spot for your friend, be respectful and bite your tongue. On the other hand if your friend and you enjoy an even temperament, and know you can handle disagreeable topics while still maintaining a level of mutual respect, do it. Talk about whatever you like. Maintaining a friendship doesn’t have to mean avoiding sensitive topics. But to have a successful debate on issues you disagree upon and still be able to walk away as friends, keep personal attacks at bay, agree to disagree, and let the other person know that while you may disagree with them you still respect their right to their opinion.
4.) Significant others. Every person I know has their own personal way of dealing with their significant other. Some are extremely jealous. Others are completely trusting. Some have monogamous relationships, others have open relationships. This is about knowing and, here it is again: respecting your friend. If you know your friend tends to be jealous or suspicious of their mate, make a point to avoid building a separate relationship with his or her significant other. If you respect your friend, you’re going to respect that they might be possessive of their boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife. The last thing you want is to become a source of worry for them. I’m not advocating or saying a jealous relationship is healthy, but this is about friendship, and also about allowing your friend to live their life.
5.) Judgment. This one is pretty simple. Don’t judge your friends. Not judging doesn’t mean you can’t worry. If your friend is putting themselves in harms way, please do voice your concerns. Maybe even give them ideas on how to help themselves from getting hurt. But anything other than that is you not being a friend. This one goes back to allowing your friend to live their life. So your friend may be promiscuous, but if he or she is using protection, that is their right. Did your friend spend money they don’t have on a pair of shoes? Guess what. If they didn’t ask your advice, it’s none of your business. People make stupid mistakes all the time. But a good friend is able to overlook shortcomings.
6.) Talking shit.
If you wouldn’t say it in front of your friend, don’t say it behind their back.
7.) Friends with friends with enemies. As someone who enjoys being friends with all sorts of people from all walks of life. I have many times encountered situations where I happen to be friends with someone another friend absolutely hates. This can be awkward, and as a general rule of thumb I avoid bringing up the hated friend to the friend who hates them at all cost. If the friend who has the hated friend brings this person up to you, the best thing you can do is make clear that they are talking to a friend of that person and the subject needs to be changed. A good and true friend will respect your right to be friends with whomever you please, even if they do not like a friend of yours, they will have enough love for you to allow you the freedom of having friends with even people they despise.
And to add NEVER make a friend choose between you and someone else, this is a control issue. True friends allow freedom of choice. If you feel like your friend being friends with someone you hate is disrespectful to you, that is an ego problem. No matter how much hate you may have for a friend of your friend, being a true friend means you respect that your friends should never have to hate someone else on your behalf. This goes back to respect, and allowing others to live their own life.
8.) Don’t shoot the messenger. If you find yourself in the middle of a feud between two friends get out! If you engage in the feud chances are you will find yourself in the position of choosing between one of the two friends. You don’t want that. When friends are fighting stay out of it. Of course this is another complicated one. You may find yourself desperately wanting these friends to stay friends. Depending on the situation I think it is ok to butt in and give each person your opinion on why you think this feud can be put to rest. But more then that, if you want to keep both friends steer clear. If you find yourself in a feud with a friend, and don’t want the friendship to end, be the bigger person and concede. Give it time, and if whatever the fight was about is still bothering you bring it up after the both of you have had time to breath and remember why you were friends in the first place.
9.) Making new friends. I only have a limited amount of personal advice on making new friends. I think this is a hard one for just about anybody. I am a stay at home mom, so I haven’t had experience making new friends in the workplace going on eight years now. I don’t have a car, so it is hard to get out without a lot of advance planning and by that time I am already planning to meet friends I already know. So this is for the social media freaks like me. By the use of my fingertips alone I have managed to make a plethora of new friends via social media. On twitter, I have new friends with such simple things in common as the love of food and books, but 120 character conversations can only get you so far. Facebook is a whole different story. One tip on making new friends using social media is don’t be shy. There was a girl who through the “real life” grape vine it was told I have a lot in common with. We weren’t initially friends on Facebook but I took a chance and friended her. Turned out the grape vine was right and through messages back and forth we developed a friendship and sealed it with a real life meet up. I can now proudly say that I’ve made a new friend. And am currently in the process of getting to know another girl via Facebook who I already consider a friend and hope to meet someday in real life.
My best advice for making a new friend, whether it be through social media or real life, is throwing caution to the wind and taking a chance. Building a friendship starts by commonality, if you like books find a book club. If you are able to get out of the house more then I, go to places you enjoy, chances are other people who are at those places enjoy them too, there, you see? You already have something in common. Build on your commonalities. Be open without over sharing. Be honest without giving out your social security number. If this new friend is worth having intuition will let you know.
10.) Forgiveness. One thing you can count on is that at one point or another a friend is probably going to let you down. Whether they stand you up for a coffee date, or say something that hurts your feelings. There are going to be times when things don’t go 100% smooth. How you handle let downs is up to you. But keep in mind, like I mentioned before, to err is human. A good friend will allow for mishaps, and mistakes, and forgive, even if it takes a little time. But OK now, if someone lied to you in a big way, slept with your significant other, or stole from you, this might mean friendship for you two is not in the cards. And that’s ok. But even if you choose to end a friendship, forgiveness is still important. We’ve all heard it, but it’s worth repeating ‘Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die’ forgiveness takes time, and it takes guts, but for your own sanity learn to forgive. Always forgive. It doesn’t have to be right away, but forgiveness is for your well being, and your sanity. And your happiness is worth it.