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The Real Thing to Look for in a Friend or Partner

How to make a real positive difference in your relationships,

Key points

  • Friends who don't actually reveal their true selves to you may not be real friends, since you never really know who they are.
  • A "real" important criterion to use when looking for a friend or a partner is how real that person is being to you.
  • Being real to each other can result in close, meaningful relationship and help you better understand and support each other.
  • It takes guts and inner confidence to reveal your true self. But in the long run, it can make a real positive difference.
Source: Image by Erika Wittlieb from Pixabay.
Are your friends showing you their true identities or are they always in disguise?
Source: Image by Erika Wittlieb from Pixabay.

Let's be real. Many of my friends from earlier in my life weren't my "real" friends. They weren't my real friends because they weren't really real to me. Not that they were imaginary friends. Rather they never really revealed their true real selves to me.

For example, there was Readlots O'Managementbooks. That was not his real name. But guess what this guy read lots of while I knew him? Yes, he voraciously read management books. That seemed to help him rise rapidly up the corporate ranks in a major company, although Readlots did benefit from his boss rising up and pulling Readlots up along as well. Readlots never seemed to say anything remotely negative about his job or his boss even when Readlots and I were speaking privately. In fact, as Readlots rose up the corporate ranks, speaking to him seemed more and more like speaking to a TED talk. For example, he once gave his boss the ultimate compliment, at least in Readlots' eyes, telling me that his boss was the first person whom Readlots had ever met that was as smart as Readlots. Yep, basically, Readlots said that everyone else whom he had met up until then was inferior to him intellectually.

By contrast, during the time that I knew him, I and my apparently inferior mind were always very frank with Readlots about my various jobs in my 20s and the accompanying frustrations. For example, I told him about how upper management at my workplace pretty much overlooked me when it came to opportunities and promotions but leaned on me when something was really needed. Readlots' suggestion to me was to read more management books, which I did. But being told to read management books was sort of like being told to watch the Food Channel when you say that you are hungry. I could have used a more frank discussion about the different challenges that we both faced as 20-somethings; the overly general advice in such management books didn't really help my situation.

Source: Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash
Does interacting with your friend feel like you are interacting with an Instagram influencer?
Source: Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

My guess is that Readlots had read somewhere in a management book that you are supposed to always act like a winner and act as if everything's going great for you. That's just not reality, though. Every job and every person has their downsides. Readlots just wasn't being real to me. Eventually, I decided that Readlots was not really my friend.

A similar thing happened with another person, whom we'll call Wellplanned Life. Through his 20s, everything seemed to go according to Wellplanned's plans. He met his eventual wife while in college, so never had to deal with the jambalaya of post-college dating trials and tribulations. He had gotten his top choices of professional school and post-graduate positions, too. Along the way, his significant other appeared to be super supportive, so he didn't seem to have to worry about many things.

After a while, Wellplanned's life seemed a little too perfect. He never really revealed to me any worries, concerns, or mistakes or problems he was having with his work or relationship. Being his friend felt more like following an Instagram influencer who made heavy use of airbrushing and Photoshopping. I felt that there was more going on in his life than what he was presenting. At the same time, he seemed a little uncomfortable when I told him about how rocky my dating and work lives had become at the time. He didn't seem to want to hear about the rough-and-tumble of my real life, lest it rub off on him like some kind of odor or virus. Basically, he wasn't behaving like a real friend.

I didn't realize it in my teens or my 20s, but there's a "real" important criterion to use when looking for friends or a partner. It's how real that person is. It's how much that person is willing to reveal and share his or her true self. It's how much that person is willing to be frank and straightforward with you.

Source: Image by Vinson Tan ( 楊 祖 武 ) from Pixabay
When someone is not real to you, you don't know what lies underneath.
Source: Image by Vinson Tan ( 楊 祖 武 ) from Pixabay

That may seem straightforward, but it's not necessarily easy to find. Many people spend much of their time hiding behind facades, presenting images of themselves that aren't real. Conversations can be as fake as a celebrity's body part. Heck, it's common to encounter people who will act super-friendly to your face while they're talking dirt about you behind your back.

Even amongst those who don't pull such deep fakes, as it were, people often may tell you what they think you want to hear, not what they really believe. For example, when I once told the Chair of a department that I like to be frank with people, he responded, "Well, not everyone likes frank," while he twitched and shifted nervously in his chair. Hmm, wonder what was his real opinion on the matter.

When I finally began prioritizing "being real" as a criterion for friendship over "being interesting", "being attractive", or "being such-and-such," the difference quickly became real clear. The resulting friendships became much closer and more meaningful than previous ones. Being more honest with each other in a real friendship helped us better understand and support each other. At the same time, it was much more comforting knowing that you would be accepted and not harshly judged if you revealed your weaknesses and worries. That's why "real" people tend to like being around others who are "real."

Of course, at first, it may seem daunting to be real. Revealing your not-so-fancy sides can seem risky, requiring real guts and inner confidence. It can be like lowering the shields on the USS Enterprise. There's a saying that actors who are very good at acting have achieved that ability because they aren't comfortable in their own skin. They've spent so much of their lives trying to portray different images. Indeed, it can be scary to reveal your true self. But in the long run, it's better to be real. That way you can attract others who really match your real true self. And that ended up making a real difference.

More from Bruce Y. Lee M.D., M.B.A.
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