How many of you find yourself sometimes wishing you were closer to the friends you do have? Or, potentially longing for more quality friendships? Or, discovering that maybe a friend of yours isn’t who you thought they were (in a not-so-good way) and finding yourself disheartened and confused? Or, even wondering what it means to be a good friend?
I believe giving adequate thought and careful consideration to the people we chose to surround ourselves with is an incredibly important thing in life. It largely determines both the happiness and health of our lives.
Many of us do not pay nearly enough mind and attention to this as we should. And ultimately, not doing so can lead us down dangerous or even toxic paths, or, can significantly impact our overall life happiness in the long-run.
It's of deep importance to surround ourselves with both the “right” people, as well as people whom we like a lot.
Many people forget that merely thinking someone seems nice does not actually make them a great person. That is something you learn about a person, over time, and through careful observation. This will be revealed via their actions, not their words.
I watch a plethora of people gravitate towards others who are either outgoing, seem “cool”, or who are leaders and those who run the show.
Folks, this does not necessarily make someone nice, someone with quality character, nor a good friend.
I’ve worked alongside several snarky, entitled, though semi-popular colleagues over the years (including now) who think they walk on water, and numerous other colleagues think they are “great.” When in actuality, several of these people are not actually that nice at heart- which is plainly obvious when one considers the content of how they speak and act more carefully.
Thus, we are often not very careful nor skilled in our analysis of others. I’ve made this mistake myself several times.
I bet this is going to shock a lot of you (wink wink) but the art of friendship and relationships (how to be good at them, as well as how to choose healthy ones) isn’t something we are born knowing.
Instead, it’s something we all have to learn. Both through reading, as well as via observing others, and finally, through our own trial-and-error within actually navigating real-life relationships and friendships first hand.
Some of us will spend our entire lives struggling in these areas. Finding ourselves always befriending the “wrong” people, or feeling as though we are perpetually unlucky in love, or wishing we had more “real” friends but never feeling quite as emotionally close to them as we might like.
Others may feel they are well equipped in this arena and do not feel a need to work on themselves in this part of their lives (though I hate to break it to you, this is rarely an accurate way of thinking. People can always find areas in which to grow and self improve, even if they may be reasonably well versed and currently content in this area of their lives).
Even if we are relatively happy with our romantic and social lives as they stand now, we can always be a better friend or partner.
We all have weak spots, character flaws, and ways in which we could be better friends and partners. It is truly mature and impressive people who both know this and then act accordingly, with regards to ever seeking self-growth and continued learning.
This is one of our life's most worthwhile career paths. Continually striving to be both a great partner and friend to those we care for and love.
It’s a lesson of paramount importance. And it’s the surest one that, when you master it, will absolutely lead to a life of satisfaction, personal riches, and fulfillment.
How to do this? Here are a few of the ways.
Learn the gestures of love.
People who are experts at love know that emotions ebb and flow, and they look for gestures of love even when their emotions are on the wane.
What's more, they are never content with just telling those they love that they care. They show them.
Mark Twain once said, “Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of growths.”
A husband takes a long lunch hour and drives 20 minutes home to take his wife to her favorite restaurant. A man sees a new book in the shop, buys it, and mails it to his friend's office with a note. A woman hears a friend say she could eat watercress every day of her life, and she never has her for dinner without having watercress especially for her plate. Instead of jumping right into watching their favorite TV show once home in the evening, a sibling takes the time to write their brother or sister an email, letting their sibling know that they are thinking of them.
It is attending your friend’s poetry reading or taking the time to read their work. It’s showing up on time, and remembering the things they told you on the last occasion of your meeting. It’s asking about their work, really listening, and then asking follow up questions to make sure you truly understand. It’s being there for their birthday and remembering the big happenings in their life.
These are the gestures that bond people together and prevent fractures when the relationship is under strain.
They have a certain transparency, allowing you to see what is in their hearts.
People with deep, lasting friendships may be introverts, extroverts, young, old, dull, intelligent, homely, good looking, but one characteristic they always have in common is their lack of facade.
We all wear masks and facades to a certain degree.
But when we strip ourselves of these masks and allow ourselves to be fully known, following such a brave act and learning that you will still be loved on revealing yourself, there is something deeply powerful about this.
We are usually reluctant to show this side of ourselves to others. In other words, our “shadow side.” But generally, others are able to be more lenient with us then we are with ourselves.
A disclaimer: being “open” does not mean we should be argumentative or purposefully confrontational or difficult. Some who try to be “totally honest” give you their opinion on any and every subject you raise. This is foolhardy and can create unnecessary fighting and tension in relationships.
The second disclaimer, one should not allow their emotional life to be an open book wherever they go. Psychological nudity isn’t a virtue. It may actually signify a lack of control, self-centeredness, and a lack of boundaries.
But the overriding principle still stands, which is if you want to deepen your friendships, cultivate transparency and openness. Reveal yourself.
Dare to talk about your affection for others.
We often fear to seem sentimental or feel afraid of rejection, so we hold back on expressions of warmth and thereby, miss out on rich and profound connections and friendships.
We say “thanks” when we mean” God bless you.”
We say “so long” when we actually mean “I will miss you a lot.”
We say “I don’t care” when actually, we care deeply.
It would add immeasurably to the amount of love abroad if we would be freer in declaring our affections.
Employ the language of acceptance.
That does not mean that we approve of everything in the other. Acceptance is entirely different.
Without approving or disapproving, we can show those we love that we accept them simply by listening.
This looks like inviting those to be heard without judging or pushing advice on others when not asked.
Be cautious with criticism and feedback.
If you do this often without being asked, divert yourself from it as soon as possible.
When all is said and done, a large part of our success at love will depend on our ability to accept human nature as it is.
The judgmental temperament never generates much affection.
We need to strive for as much understanding of others as we grant ourselves.
Seeing no fault in others that one might not have committed themselves is an important way to view those we love.
Learn to TRULY listen.
Most people listen briefly, then immediately turn the conversation, in some way, back to being about them or connecting to them, to their opinion or their experience.
A truly good listener doesn’t do this. Or at least not very often.
Being an attentive listener is about trying to consider and even feel the other person’s experience, emotions, and situation. And allowing them to share that with you to the fullest.
The road to the heart is through the ear.
Good listeners are honored when someone lets their guard down.
Good listeners never break a confidence.
Good listeners listen with their eyes.
Good listeners dispense advice sparingly.
The best relationships have all weathered misunderstandings and trying times.
Some people assume that when their friend or loved one is angry with them, the friendship or relationship is over. Not necessarily so.
In fact, one of the secrets of good communication and relationships is the ability to accept such storms.
If you realize that every long-term relationship will have some difficult times and even some anger within it, you will be much better equipped to deal with it.
In order to repair your relationship when it is going through a challenge, here are some suggestions:
-Locate the trouble spot.
-Apologize when you are wrong (take personal responsibility. This is a crucial one. The ability to offer a genuine, heartfelt apology and to acknowledge fully and see when one is in the wrong. This is the glue that holds relationships together).
-Check to see if your own neuroses are spoiling the friendship (an important one, another taking responsibility point. Yes, sometimes it is you, and not the other person).
-Check to see if you employ old methods of relating to one another that no longer work. This happens frequently in familial relationships, such as with siblings or parent/child relationships. People tend to relate to one another as they always have, even as people are growing and changing.
Thus, this requires shifts and changes in how we relate to and communicate with these people in our lives. People who cannot make these accommodations and embrace these changes tend to run into problems, the relationship stagnating and struggling as a result.
Remember, love is not just a feeling. Far more so, it is something you do. Love is action. It’s a decision. It is behaviors and choices. Embody the lessons above and watch your relationships improve and even flourish.