What It Really Means To Be a Friend

women laying on a bed talking to each other

Katarzyna Grabowska / Unsplash

When it comes to finding friends, perhaps the first step is understanding what exactly friendship is. Does it mean you have each other in your Facebook list? Or that you see each other every Tuesday when you play racquetball? Not really. A relationship needs to have some key elements in order to be labeled as a friendship.

A Personal Relationship That Is Reciprocated

It's not enough to see a person at, say, book group each week and enjoy their company. In order for a friend to truly be considered a friend, he or she has to also believe you are their friend also.

This can get tricky because most people have a different idea of what friendship really means. Some people are instantly trusting of new people and accept them into their heart without question. For these types of folks, they assume someone is their friend until they find out otherwise.

The Difference Between Being Friends and Acting Friendly

Other people, however, might act "friendly" with someone but not consider them a friend for quite a while. Perhaps these types of people need to get know someone better before they even consider labeling them as a friend. Or perhaps they already have a lot of friends and therefore wouldn't consider someone they occasionally see at social events a friend.

It's a not perfect world, but in terms of friendship, someone who is genuinely a friend usually:

  • Has told you that you are a friend or has introduced you as their friend.
  • Has called or emailed you about meeting for coffee, lunch, etc.
  • Has done something nice for you.
  • Is sincerely interested when you talk about your life.
  • Roots for you and wants the best for you.
  • Is willing to hang out with you outside of the place you first met (work, social gathering, exercise class).

Friends Are Kind and Act as a Positive Influence in Your Life

It should go without saying that real friends make you feel good, as opposed to bringing you down. People who are genuinely your friend put your relationship above being right or trying to feel superior. If someone constantly puts you down, he or she is not a real friend.

However, people have bad days and act imperfectly, so there are times when a true friend will be negative or hurt your feelings. The way to determine if they are really a friend (as opposed to something more negative like a frenemy) is to look at the whole of your relationship. Don't look at moments alone, but consider:

  • How does this person make you feel when you're with them?
  • Do you look forward to seeing them?
  • Can you share your joy freely? Or do you feel you need to keep quiet about your own good news when you're around them?

If someone is really your friend, they act in a kind manner. They do nice things for you. (If they ask you to do things for them without ever reciprocating, chances are they aren't really a friend.)

Friends don't keep score, but there is a balance to the relationship. Sometimes one friend might be in the "spotlight," while the other is cheering them on. Friends should trade off in giving each other the "floor" in a conversation and in life and should understand when the moment is their friends and not theirs.

Friends Are People You See on a Regular Basis

The other key component to friendship is a real, face-to-face, relationship. This isn't to say that after you have established a friendship, you can't still be friends with them once they move away. However, in order to have a real friendship, you have to spend time with each other.

While online friendships can serve a place in your life, they aren't the same as a real friendship. To that end, the term "friendship" does get applied to many situations today, from loyal customers to people you don't even know and will never meet. But that doesn't mean these people are truly your friends.

If you need to qualify the definition of a friend in your life (my work friend, my Facebook friend, etc.), then chances are it isn't a real friendship but is instead a different type of relationship. 

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