When I was in 1st grade, my BESTFRIENDINTHEWHOLEWIDEWORLDOHMAHGOSH broke up with me on the bus on the way to school. Her name was Whitney. I was devastated. I came into my classroom dazed, full of confusion and vulnerability and fear that I would never again find another friend never ever ever forever.
(We made up at lunch. Whitney was mad because I took the window seat on the bus. She let me have her Oatmeal Cream Pie.)
Well, I’ve matured (slightly) over the past 24 years, but friendship is still a place of insecurity and vulnerability. Sometimes it’s confusing. Sometimes it’s scary. “Did I say the right thing?” “Are we close enough friends to tell her this?” “Will she make fun of me if I confide this in her?”
It can be a relatively vulnerable path, making friends. But there are some KEY elements that will help you develop deep friendships along the way.
Now, do I profess to be the Master and Commander of what a great friend is? NO. I’m constantly plagued with “I should’ves” and “Well, huh, I kinda sucked in that moment.” But I am mucho, mucho grateful for good friends who teach me how to be better the next time.
So, here are some important tips to be the friend that people actually like:
1. But first, a foundation of trust.
One of my friends mentioned, “If you can find someone you trust, everything else comes later. You can be yourself around someone you trust.” In fact, out of all the individuals I “interviewed” for this article (as in, I sent out a mass text and promised treats in exchange for information – I’d do well in the military intelligence field, I think), the topic of trust was first and foremost the most important trait a genuine friend should have. Think about it this way: Trust includes loyalty. Having a confidante. Being comfortable with showing vulnerability, which can be incredibly excruciating. That trust is the strongest link between two people. Being a trustworthy friend shows GREAT integrity – don’t ever underestimate the power of that.
2. Friendship is an investment in time.
Someone once told me rather eloquently, “Ya gotta date yer friends.” While I’d never turn down a nice night out and some bundt cake, I think what this means is: Spend time with your people. Whether it’s in the form of an informal chat, a drive to the mountains, a beverage party, a dinner out, a basement viewing of your favorite British mini-series, or a million somewhat random texts back and forth to a dear, dear friend who lives 849 miles away (I totally Google-mapped that), the time spent investing in each other MATTERS. You are [insert made up percentage here] more likely to remain deep friends when you invest the time. See? It’s science.
3. It’s about engaged listening.
Here’s a little vulnerable secret about me: I TALK SO MUCH (I could probably get an award for it, and I’d give a super kick-butt acceptance speech). Active listening has been on my “What Should I Improve Now” list for years and will probably remain there well after some future apocalypse. But I am learning two things: One, don’t interrupt others. The other is that if someone comes to you to talk, they may just want you to listen. They might not need you to fix it. Not to give advice. Just to listen to them. To acknowledge their concerns and fears as valid and real. Too many times we listen with the intent to respond. I know I do. Instead, really focus on what they’re saying. Stay clear of distractions. Really try to see how they feel. It takes practice, but you’ll get better every time.