Can you be a good friend? Probably not ALL of the time.

Being (and Having) a Good Friend

I’m often asked what makes a good friend or how someone can be a better friend. This is a tricky one. Friendships are often like dating relationships – finding someone who thinks your good stuff is important and who can tolerate your faults while you do the same for them. It really is about goodness of fit – if you are a psychotically punctual person, you may not be able to tolerate a friend who is always late (and vice versa). It’s about finding someone who likes all your good bits and doesn’t mind the bad bits. But let’s proceed in generalities and talk about the things that tend to matter to “most” people.

  1. Do your best to be worthy of their trust.
    1. It is important you keep your promises. Your friends need to know when you promise something, you will do your absolute best to follow through. They need to know they can count on you. You do not need to be perfect (no one is), but they need to know breaking your promises is the exception rather than the rule. You will do everything you can to keep your word.
    2. Be reliable. No one likes it when someone flakes out on them all the time. If you say you are going to meet up for dinner, be there. If you are supposed to help them move, do it. People need to be able to depend on their friends.
    3. Be able to apologize when you screw up. More importantly, mean it when you apologize. Everyone makes a mistake sometimes, own up to it so you can move on.
    4. Tell the truth. You want your friends to be able to count on what you say to them. Do not make things up to impress them. Your friends should like you for who you already are and not who you are pretending to be. Don’t be scared to tell them the truth – even if it isn’t what they wants to hear, especially if it is about something that really matters.
    5. Like them for who they are, not what they can do for you. No one likes to feel taken advantage of or used. Friendships are about give and take. You should reciprocate as much as you receive (even if it is not the same thing) – if your friend is able to score free tickets to a great concert, pick her up a t-shirt at the event to say, “Thank you”.
    6. Demonstrate loyalty. Keep what is told to you in confidence, private. If you share what your friends tell you to others, they will stop telling you anything. Loyalty also includes protecting your friend if others begin to speak badly about her. A loyal friend does not sit quietly while others trash her friends.
    7. Be respectful. Even if you disagree with what she says and need to share it with her, do so with respect. There is no room for disrespect in a friendship. Even if you think something is mind-blowingly boring, it still matters because it matters to her.
  2. Be supportive.
    1. Try to be a good listener. Do your best to ensure you spend half of the time listening to her, not just talking about yourself. Listening shows you care about her and want to hear what she has to say. There are going to be times when one of you is in a crisis and needs more time – this is OK. Support should be balanced across the life of the friendship, not just day to day.
    2. Be there for her. This involves not just being there for her when she wants to talk about difficulties she is having, but also includes helping her problem-solve potential solutions to those problems and bringing in extra help (parents, professionals) when needed. You aren’t just there for her when things go wrong though, be there for her when she is happy, too. The green-eyed monster (jealousy) can cause us to want to minimize others’ successes. Try not to do that to her. Celebrate her victories. You must be pretty amazing to have such an awesome person as a friend!
    3. Don’t be frightened off when her life makes you uncomfortable. Plenty of people get freaked out by crisis and when they don’t know what to do, panic and run away. Try to fight against this temptation. Your friend needs you when she or a family member is seriously ill or someone dies or when she breaks up with her boyfriend/girlfriend or she has a huge blow-up with her parents. Be there even if it is uncomfortable and you do not know what to do. The first and most important thing you can do is show up.
    4. Give space when she needs it. It can be a challenge when your friend has other friendships that don’t include you. Try not to be too jealous. Give her space for these relationships and develop your own outside interests as well. Some separate activities can strengthen the time you have together.
  3. Be there for the long haul:
    1. Learn how to forgive. Just like you aren’t perfect, neither is your friend. Talk about what went wrong. You cannot forgive your friend if you do not talk about what happened. Every once in a while, a friend may do something you find unforgiveable and are unable to get past. It happens. If the friendship is doomed, you might need to move on, but this is hopefully rarely necessary.
    2. Accept your friend the way she is. You will be hopelessly frustrated and disappointed if you continue to expect your friend to change. Just like in a dating relationship, you need to be in a friendship with the person as they are now, not who you hope they might one day be. Accept her and love her even when she is being a butthead – hopefully this isn’t too common an occurrence! Ideally, she will be able to do the same for you.
    3. Go above and beyond. Part of friendship is sacrifice. If your friend really needs you, do your best to be there for her. This will show her how much she and her friendship mean to you.
    4. Stay in touch no matter what. Many times friendships are altered by time and distance. With the technology we have available today, you can email, call, Skype or Facetime with ease. Relationships require a certain amount of work. Put in the effort to maintain regular communication. Don’t wait for her to call you – reach out to her, too.
    5. Understand friendships change over time. If you are friends long enough you will likely experience college, moves, marriages, children and deaths of family members. All of these things can and will likely alter the dynamic of your friendship. This doesn’t have to be terrifying. If you understand this is a necessary transition and that change does not mean an ending, you will be more comfortable with the process.

The most important thing to remember is no one is perfect. You (and all of your friends) are not perfect. Everyone make mistakes. Do your best to be a good friend and, hopefully, they will do the same. Communication is key and most things can be talked through if both of you are willing.

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