What makes a good friend?

What makes someone a good friend?

That’s a question I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I’m not really sure why. Maybe it’s because my current lifestyle means I don’t see my friends as much as I used to anymore. Or maybe it’s just because I’ve got more time to think about random questions like this now…

Truth is, friendship has always been an interesting, but also often difficult, topic for me. I never felt like I had a lot of friends growing up. I was never a party girl and I never had the big social circle that everyone else seemed to have. Today I understand that’s part of who I am, part of being an introvert – and something I actually really like about myself. I have a small number of close friends but those are real, deep and lasting relationships! But as a 13 year old, I didn’t understand that. I just knew that somehow I didn’t fit in and didn’t seem to be making friends as easily as everyone else around me.

It’s only once I got older and especially after I moved to New Zealand, that I started to understand that when it comes to friendships, it’s all about quality not quantity. I started to find groups of friends that I really made me feel like I belonged. Today, I feel very, very grateful and lucky to say that I have an amazing group of friends.

One of the hardest things about doing life differently, about leaving Auckland to go traveling around NZ on my own, was that it meant leaving these friends behind. As much as I enjoy the solitude and solo-adventures, I do miss my friends a lot. But it’s about more than just missing them. Sometimes I worry that not being there will weaken our friendship, I worry about missing out on things, about not being part of the group anymore the way I used to be. I worry that they’ll ‘replace’ me because I’m not there – out of sight out of mind.

I think partly those are normal worries and even though I worry about it, I also know that the important friendships, the most valuable ones, won’t change just because I’m not around as much anymore as I used to.

But it has made me think about how important ‘being there’ all the time actually is when it comes to friendship. Do you have to be there to be a good friend?

In the past few weeks I’ve been randomly asking people what they think makes a good friend. The answers weren’t really surprising. However, something I thought is interesting is that most people answered the question in one of two, quite different, ways:

  1. The ‘feeling’ ones: These people talked about how good friends make them feel. Many mentioned things like, I feel safe with them, I can rely on them, they make me feel good about myself, etc.
  2. The ‘characteristic’ ones: The other group of people talked more about the traits and interests of their good friends; they have similar interests, they are smart/fun/loyal/etc.,  

What kind of surprised me is that hardly anyone talked much about more tangible things like good friends are the people who get in touch, always return my calls, are a part of my everyday life, etc.

That made me realise that maybe my own view of what makes a good friend has been a little bit too black and white in the past. For me, the main thing that makes someone a good friend is that I feel like I can really be myself with them, that I trust they will be there for me and support me just for being me (even if they don’t always agree with it). However, I have to admit that I’ve also always been very focused on the more tangible aspects and easily jumped to the conclusion that, if someone isn’t making an effort to be an active part of your everyday life and doesn’t get in touch, it means they are not really a good friend.

But maybe I’ve been a bit too narrow minded about this…

Last week, I caught up with an old friend. We used to be very close friends for a while but have drifted apart in the last few years. When we met up last week, I had been thinking about the friendship question for a while in my head and I was curious to explore it with him. I never really understood why we drifted apart and that had me questioning the whole friendship and whether we ever really were close friends at all. Because, in my black and white view, the fact that he never got in touch anymore meant he isn’t a good friend.

We talked for well over and hour about friendship and life and while I didn’t get all the clarity I wanted, I did get some answers. However, there is one thing from the whole conversation that really stuck with me and stayed in my mind for the next few days.

That one thing is how he reacted when I said I would like to ask him for a favour. I don’t often ask people for favours so he probably knew that it would be something that’s important to me. I can’t even remember anymore what he said. I just remember that his reaction made me feel like I could ask for just about anything and if it’s within his reach he would do it for me without hesitation. I didn’t really pick up on it in the moment but it kind of stuck with me. It wasn’t until I was driving across New Zealand in the pouring rain a couple of days later that it really sunk in and I realised that the feeling, the knowledge, that someone will be there for you when it matters is worth so much more than regular phone calls or seeing someone every day.

That day, somewhere between Auckland and Whakatane, I found the answer to the question of what makes a good friend: They are there for you when it matters!

BUT, I also believe there is something to be said about those people who make an effort to be part of your everyday life. The ones who call just to check in, the ones who include you in their plans, the ones who know about all the little things going on in your life. The ones you share experiences with – good and bad. The ones you call just to share a funny story or a weird occurrence – or just because you’re bored.

It’s great to have people in your life who will be there when it matters, but it’s the ones that care about the everyday stuff that make life more awesome!  And if you’re lucky, like me, you have a few friends that are both; there every day and specially when it matters :)