“Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
I have been very fortunate to have many cherished friendships in my life. People remind me of this constantly, seemingly impressed by the variety and richness of the friendships in my life.
Recently, I sat down and thought, “John, you are a writer and have lots of friends but you have never written about friendship.” With the exception of a few poems, all my writing has been about my vision for the future, a better world, etc. How about looking at what I have to say about friendship? So here goes:
Starting at the very basic definition, I see friendship as one form of relationship. Others include family, neighbors, classmates, co-workers, lovers, people with whom you share some common interest such as fellow members of spiritual communities, professional associations, alumni organizations – and less intimate forms of relationship – acquaintances.
Friendships can grow out of any of these other forms, usually based on a deep intuitive attraction rather than being contrived or intentionally created.
It has been my experience that much like the chemistry that is felt at the start of a romantic relationship, friendships are born when this intuitive attraction is experienced. I have several friends with whom I felt an instant affinity when I met them and those friendships have lasted for years!
Other friendships have grown over time, gaining richness as time goes by. Well-seasoned friendships such as these find a special niche in our hearts where, like fine wine, they improve with age.
There are also friendships that seem to have “run their course” – while intense and enjoyable for a number of years they fall fallow. Various factors contribute to these waning friendships. Moving geographically, changing of common interests, and becoming involved in another group are all ways that can contribute to diminishing interest in keeping the friendship going.
In my experience, those “fallow” friendships are still active, even though there might not be communication between the parties. You can never erase those good times, no matter how long ago they peaked.
Even those friendships that “hit a bump” – that left someone upset or hurt – still reside in our memories and can be revived if both parties share that intention.
I went into business with a good friend many years ago and we ended up in very painful (and expensive) litigation. After our settlement we remained civil but hardly friendly. This lasted for about twenty years before I decided to invite my former partner to lunch. Our time together was quite cordial but a bit stiff. At one point during our lunch I apologized for my role in the dispute that caused both of us so much pain all those years ago. As we walked out to the parking lot he asked for a hug and as we embraced it seemed like only yesterday that we were good friends. At that point I felt we had healed the friendship. Our common interests have changed enough that we probably will never be close friends again but we still have an occasional lunch to catch up with each other’s lives.
Friendships do “hit bumps” where one gets upset at the other, but these bumps can be healed. It is a shame to let good friendships go fallow over some incident that was most likely unintentional. Good friendships are too precious to allow stubbornness or another form of ego cancel out years of good times and shared experience. Good friends can be bigger than that!
So what are the essential qualities of good friendships?
First is complete acceptance of the other person – as they are, not as you’d like them to be. This is also my definition of unconditional love. Next, you must trust one another implicitly so that even if the other person says something you find hurtful you trust they didn’t mean to hurt you. Each person takes responsibility for keeping the friendship vibrant and shares an intentionality that the friendship remains healthy and reciprocal. Finally, when a bump occurs, as is likely for most friendships, it is addressed by both parties as soon as possible and resolved.
Essential Qualities of Friendships
- Unconditional acceptance
- Implicit trust
- Shared responsibility for the relationship
- Address and resolve problems promptly
Recently a friend reminded me of another class of friendships – relationships with people we have yet to meet. As a futurist, I was surprised I hadn’t thought of this myself.
Be ready; you never know when that new friend may appear in your life, or you suddenly develop a close tie with someone you’ve known for years.