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How well do you really know your friends?

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Friendships can sometimes feel like a marriage. Similar to a suitor, social and   other personal experiences may initially bring you and a ‘friend’ together, you sense   a common bond and there is often that mutual anticipation that your interaction will   develop into something greater.

Based on those feelings, two separate individuals come together and forge a mutual   liking or respect that with time you both hope continues to grow.

In theory at least that’s how a friendship should develop. However, a recent turn of events has caused me to ask myself this rhetorical question – how well do I really know my so-called ‘friends?’ But perhaps before I even get to that, I should be asking first, who really are my friends? What criteria or value do I use to take   someone I have recently met or who I have known for a short period of time and move them from the bucket of being essentially an acquaintance to that special designation of ‘friend’?

In our society, we use the term ‘friend’ so loosely and carelessly that saying someone is your friend doesn’t reveal anything at all about your relationship with that person. The term ‘friend’ has been stretched to describe the broader population of people we have met at one time or the other. The person you met once in the lift can be your ‘friend’. As can the person who accepted your friend request on   Instagram, even   though she can’t quite recollect who you are.

However, at heart, most of us would agree that such people aren’t really our friends.  There are those friends and then there are a special and usually a tiny handful of people I see as ‘the real deal friends.’ And there is a big difference between the two. The Instagram and ‘we once had a brief chat in the elevator’ friends are not your friends. You barely know them. They are just people you had a chance encounter with and perhaps exchanged pleasantries with once upon a time.

The real deal friends, however, are different. These are people who have your back everyday of the week, including Sunday. At the first sign of a crisis, they shelve their own issues and are there for you to help dissect and then shoulder whatever difficulty or pain you are experiencing. They would go the extra mile to check in on you from time to time just to ask, “So, what’s   up?” And the two of you will celebrate your personal triumphs as well as commiserate over your major life disappointments.

These   relationships are arguably stronger than a marriage. They stand the test of time and are not easily blown over by the turbulence of life that will inevitably come. They can even withstand long periods of separation (how many of you have had that friend that you don’t see for years and who probably lives on a different continent, yet every time the two of you meet up, you pick up the conversation from where you last left off as if you just saw each other yesterday?)

If you are lucky enough to have such friendships, then hold on to them with dear life as they are priceless and a rarity in our society today. Nowadays, most of us are so caught up in our own lives and personal issues and struggles that we barely take the   time to look up and see what is happening to those around us.

Someone I had considered to be a close friend recently accused me of being so caught-up in my problems that I didn’t care about anyone else but myself, including her.

After offloading clearly years of suppressed anger at me in a public forum, she stormed off and has never spoken with me again. It was like a slap in the face because over the years, I had believed and truly thought we had a rock solid friendship. I cared about her and believed I was investing in our friendship and I had absolutely no idea she felt this way.
The lesson I took from that painful experience was that friendships are hard and even when you think you really know your friends; you need to run a health check on your relationships on a regular basis. Like the way you would in evaluating a potential suitor, ask yourself– how is this friendship really going? Do we share the same values? Are there things about this person that actually make me uncomfortable but I keep ignoring them? And, very importantly, look for this tell-tale sign- the way your friends treat their family and their other friends will tell you a lot about what kind of person they really are.

Friendships are important to life because at the end of the day these human interactions are a major part of what life is really about. No matter how much money or success you have, you can’t experience it all by yourself. Well, perhaps you can, but it will never be as good as sharing it with a good friend or group of friends who know your story and have championed you along the way.

However, like some marriages, many of us continue to persevere in defunct or unsatisfactory friendships that have long flat-lined. If you are such a person, then I urge you to stop and re-evaluate your reality.  It is entirely your prerogative to opt out of a bad or unsatisfactory friendship. Accept the fact that sometimes people come into your life and stay for a time and then they leave.

For the time they were your friends, you may even have had a wonderful relationship. However, you are both at the stage where you are ready to move on and look for something else. There is absolutely nothing wrong with accepting that at this stage of your life, a particular friend’s part of your personal story is over.

So I would urge you to look at your friendships, evaluate them and be bold in admitting to yourself whether you should really classify this person as a true friend. (Its perfectly okay for them to just be an acquaintance, too, it just means that you won’t make the personal investment in that relationship you otherwise would with a true friend).

Make time to invest in those handful of relationships, which, like fine wine, will gradually mature over time. Meaningful friendships, if you are lucky enough to have them, are ultimately a major contributor to joy in this interesting journey called life.


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