"Friendship," goes an old saying, "is the best gift you can give yourself." Having one or two authentic friends adds a dimension to life that enhances emotional and spiritual well-being.
It seems that many people try to fill the need for friendship by having lots of acquaintances. This is especially true these days because of the increasing role of social media in many people's daily lives. But there are some important differences between being friendly with (or "friending") someone and having a genuine friend.
There’s nothing wrong with having acquaintances, of course, be they actual or virtual. People with whom you play tennis, go bowling, play cards, go out to eat, and so forth, or merely connect with online. But someone who says, “I have dozens of good friends,” does not truly understand friendship! Real friendship is both a qualitative and a quantitative involvement. Our capacity for true intimacy is limited, so one cannot have a large number of genuine friends or there will not be enough emotional nourishment to sustain all of the relationships.
A certain amount of time must be invested into the relationship as well, since one key element of friendship is spending time together while doing mutually enjoyable things.
Friends have to be cultivated and friendship requires time and sincere effort. It also calls for an element of emotional risk-taking. You might want someone to be your friend, but he or she may not feel the same way about you.
Since deep friendship is based on the development of fondness and love, it follows the rules of all intimate relationships. Namely, it is based on similar values, sharing, caring, trust, respect, consideration, and balanced give and take without competing or “keeping score.”
Women, it seems, are often much better at fostering close friendships than men because, in general, women share confidences and discuss their feelings - two necessary ingredients of real friendship. While also a generalization, but a valid one, guys “hang out” with one another and tend to talk about things rather than emotions. What's more, men are more inclined to try to have all their friendship needs met by their spouses, often placing a burden on their marriages. Still, some people regard a good marriage as the ultimate friendship, and while that may be true, most people also need good, close, caring camaraderie aside from marriage and family.
The most fortunate people are those who are happy in a rewarding marriage, or other committed relationship, have good family relations, and, in addition, have one or two good friends.
Anyone who can honestly say that he or she has two or three authentic friends is very wealthy in the social and emotional economies.
Ralph Waldo Emerson offered this advice to those who desire genuine friendship: “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”
Remember: Think well, act well, feel well, be well!
Copyright by Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.