When it comes right down to it, there is no more valuable social capital than friendships. These are the relationships that can stand the test of time and distance and roll with the punches when things get a little dicey. Good friends, though, will give you the space you need when you need it, and love you just as much when you’re down as when you’re up, and when you’re broke as well as loaded.
Even in the best friendships, life can get in the way of frequent connections, but good friends can pick up a conversation months or even years later and feel as close as ever. It’s not the frequency of connecting that proves the strength of a relationship, it’s the depth of the connection and the mutual affinity and respect that are the hallmarks of its merit.
Following is a list of six plain and simple rules that women believe people will follow if they are to be counted as a true friend:
1. Support, trust, and honesty are givens.
Everyone needs a support network — and friendships are the bedrock of our social support systems. When you consider yourself the friend of another, you’re implicitly offering to be a part of her support network. If you’re a no-show too often when you’re needed, your value in the network declines at a rate in direct proportion to how great her need might be. If you fail to show up for her, you shouldn’t be surprised if she fails to show up for you. Friendships are built on mutuality and reciprocity — be there for her, so that she will be there for you.
If you don’t trust her, she’s not your friend. If she cannot trust you, you’re not her friend. If you share untruths or spread lies, you’re not her friend. It’s just that simple. Without trust, there is no authenticity to the friendship. If you can’t be straight with her or feel the need to hide your actions or tell untruths, the relationship is being built on shifting sand and won’t be able to withstand any real challenges.
2. Listen to your friends.
Too often, we only “half hear” what others are telling us — our own lives are so complicated that we have difficulty making space for caring about another’s experiences some days. However, friendships require attention and tending — if we don’t truly know what a friend needs, and if we don’t clearly state what we’re feeling or needing ourselves, friendships just won’t survive.
3. Ditch the judgment.
Good friends are able to acknowledge that everyone is human, and that true friends don’t judge each other’s choices. If you can’t handle friends who make decisions or choose lives that differ from what you feel is “best,” then you need to exit the relationship. Friends don’t have to necessarily “like” or “approve” of their friends’ choices, but good friends will accept their friends’ choices no matter what. And if you can’t handle the path your friend is traveling, it’s better to let the relationship go than to stand on the sidelines heckling your friend or shaming her for her decisions.
Another important and related request is that you assume the best and give your friend the benefit of the doubt. If you’re quick to assume the worst and ready to lay down blame, you’re not going to be the kind of friend that anyone wants for the long haul. We have to prove ourselves often enough on the job and in other situations; don’t make friendship a proving ground, as well.
4. Don’t talk behind a friend’s back.
There’s no rule that says you have to love what your friend is wearing, who your friend is dating, how your friend is raising her kids, or any other choices your friend is making. However, there is an unspoken rule that you don’t bash your friend’s choices to others behind her back. Gossip is a dangerous tool that women use to cement their own standing in a social setting. Gossip began as a tool that was used to protect people from making mistakes that others had made before them — Kind of like warning a friend, “Tammy cheated on her exam, and she ended up having to totally retake Algebra,” or “Matta ate the berries from the plant with the scratchy leaves and almost died.” Gossip was borne out of the desire to protect others, not harm the subject of the gossip. Unfortunately, gossip today is designed to damage the reputation of another, which is a 180-degree turnaround from its original purpose.
5. Respect your friends — and their boundaries.
Respect your friends’ boundaries as well as their stories. Some friends may have a difficult time letting people get close to them for fear of being hurt. Don’t crowd your friends — give them the space they need to feel comfortable, and let the relationship deepen over time. The beautiful thing about strong friendships is that they provide the freedom to communicate openly and honestly. However, being too quick to jump in and say exactly what you think — without taking time to reflect on whether or not you’re about to show judgment or efforts at controlling a friend’s responses — can do long-term damage to the relationship. While honestly is essential, tact and diplomacy are also important elements of upfront conversations.
6. Forgive where you can — and seek forgiveness when you screw up.
When you expect more from others than you expect from yourself, your relationships are not going to be nearly as enduring as you might hope. No one promises to bring perfection to a relationship, so being willing to accept and forgive the shortcomings of others makes it much more likely that you’ll build the kind of friendships that will last. It’s also important that we are able to acknowledge when we make mistakes, as well. If you’re able to admit when you’ve failed to hold up your end of the relationship, it’s a lot more likely that a friend will be able to forgive and move forward.