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The Importance of Lifelong Friendships

We all need a best friend who matters in our lives.

Key points

  • Having a best friend should be a mutually rich experience.
  • Lifelong friends can offer unconditional love, support, and empathic understanding.
  • Deep friendships start strong and get stronger over time.

Let’s define a lifelong friendship not by the years of its length but by the depth of its importance. It’s the opposite of “Just Facebook Friends.” This is one person or a small collection of people who have and will continue to contribute to the happiness of your life and you do the same for them.

Can you really have a lifelong friendship? More than one? Can you have several “best friends,” who each play a different role in adding value to your life, and vice versa? Is there a person who plays the role of your oldest friend and another who may be your dearest friend? This distinction could be divided into who you have known the longest versus who you value most. It could be the difference between the length of the relationship versus the quality of it.

Depending on your age, do you think it’s too late to start cultivating a lifelong friendship? Do younger people even want a lifelong friendship? Is it too much work to develop and nurture? If a review of social media trends and studies suggests many young males feel depressed, unfulfilled, rudderless, emotionally flat, and may even describe themselves as “friendless,” isn’t it time to look at the value of deep friendships as one of the best ways to feel better about yourself and your life?

It can help to look at the current collection of people who are connected to you. We can call some people best friends, good friends, casual friends, work colleagues, or just acquaintances. Some may be friends from your school years, or through your childhood, or as extended family members, or whom you met through your work but have become close to you off the job. Some people will play different parts, based on their geographic closeness to you; others can be far away but still closer, emotionally, than a good friend in your hometown.

One useful rule of thumb is if you have never been to this person’s house, met their spouse, partner, kids, or family members, he or she is probably an acquaintance or a work colleague. That’s okay, but that doesn’t qualify him or her as a lifelong friend. (I suppose it’s possible to have “lifelong acquaintances” but they usually fade away.)

Think about your best friend:

  • Did your friendship start in grade school and remains today?
  • Did you meet by chance and the friendship blossomed, so that the way you met is a source of a good story for you and others?
  • Did you meet online and become real, in-person friends?
  • Was it “Liked ‘Em at First Sight”? Most long-term friendships didn’t start off rocky and get better over time. They started off great and got even greater over the years.

Technology makes finding new friends, reaching out, and connecting regularly possible. There are no excuses anymore not to get in touch and stay in touch through FaceTime or Zoom.

What are the defining factors of a long-term or lifelong friendship? You know them, like them, and trust them and they feel the same about you.

You have a shared fate, about life, relationships, work success, and what your far-away future together looks like.

Long friendships include small and thoughtful gestures, that add up over a long time: “Hey. I’m at the DVD store looking at movies. Is there a film you’ve been wanting to get that I can pick up for you?” (And then not expecting to be paid back for a $10 used movie.)

Good friends give small but thoughtful birthday or holiday gifts. Nothing elaborate, just that you thought of the person or they thought of you. How about splitting the check at a restaurant or trading off each time who pays, with no bad feelings about it whose turn it is, ever?

Lifelong friends participate in an “exchange of vulnerabilities,” meaning they can share deep, secret, or intimate details with each other, feel trust that those stories will never get revealed to anyone else, including another friend who knows you both or even a spouse or partner. Real friendships include being supported when times get tough and you are feeling emotional about life’s tragedies or traumas.

True friends offer help during traumatic events by providing two therapeutic, nurturing tools that work: talking and helping you get through the passage of time.

Real friends ask for your advice and follow it, They don’t argue with you or criticize your point of view as being wrong. They give you feedback, not criticism. They value your wisdom and life experience as being just as important as their own.

They respect your work choices and your career path. They support you through the ups and downs of love relationships, without harshly judging you or saying, “I told you so!” Helping them through tough issues about health or behavior or expectations that involve their kids or their parents.

There is no one-upping, scorekeeping, or grudge-holding. You can disagree politely, positively, without arguing, screaming, or putting the friendship at risk with ultimatums. Supporting their other friends without competing for who is right or who is smarter, or who is better at running their life.

True real friends have few real arguments. They may have the occasional “protective disagreements,” where they don’t attack the other person and can still agree to disagree with no harm to the friendship long-term.

They offer “supportive forgiveness” for making major life mistakes or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Good friends make you laugh and laugh at your jokes (no matter how badly or how well you tell them). They see and share your sense of the joy, positivity, or stupidity and foolishness of other people.

You can mostly agree on politics, religion, movies, music, books, pop culture references, the history of your times together, and social media content. Opposites attract. Yes, but they don’t often stay together for years because as the differences start to pile up, so do the resentments. If what was cute, fun, or endearing in the beginning is now tedious and sets your teeth on edge now, then you probably aren’t looking at a lifelong friend.

Unconditional friendship means unconditional love. Even tough guys should be able to tell their good pals, “I love you, man” and not feel self-conscious about it. (As a side note, I tell a lot of my dearest male friends that I love them because we are all at that age where people around us are starting to die. I would never want them to pass away without knowing how much I cared about them and how much they mean to me.)

Real friends create solid boundaries, early in the friendship: not asking each other for money loans; not competing over a potential boyfriend or girlfriend; or asking to “couch surf” at their house for six months.

Pixabay. Used by permission.
Pixabay. Used by permission.

They stay in regular touch through texts, emails, phone calls, and visits, even if they each live in another state or country.

Long-lasting friendships don’t usually follow a plan; they just happen and grow. They are about kindness, always. They strengthen over time until decades have gone by and you’re still in this person’s life and they are still in yours and it’s wonderful.

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