• We often get so caught up in our work, social media, and other things that we tend to neglect building and maintaining true (AKA close) friendships, as they are becoming more and more scarce.
  • The word “friend” has multiple implications, many of which don’t represent true friendships.  The hallmark of a true friendship is loving the person at least as much as you enjoy the time you spend together.
  • It takes time, work, and perseverance to build a true friendship, and it can be difficult sometimes.  Hence, so many often forego it.  However, the benefits are immense, and we often overlook them.
  • There are many ways to build a solid friendship.  All require a significant level of commitment and.  Fortunately, much of it can easily happen in the background of other life’s activities.

Let’s start with the question: “What does it mean to have someone as your friend?  On the surface, it seems like a very basic question, which it is.  However, when I ask it of myself, I can think of a multitude of scenarios that start with “It depends…”.  I believe this is actually a very natural and healthy response because there are different types of friendships, and the word “friend” is often used very loosely.  In many cases, these people are just acquaintances, if even that.  Such could even include our casual friends.

For instance, I’m sure we all have Facebook “friends”.  Some might be our closest and most dear friends whereas others might be people we haven’t even met.  Then there are the situations in which someone with a similar view or perspective might be referred to as a “friend”.  For instance, in the corporate world, we might say something like “…our friends in the Purchasing department…”.  For the sake of this writing, we can exclude these casual uses of the word “friend”, so we can focus on those situations in which there is truly a one-on-one relationship between two people who call each other true friends.

I believe the best place to start is to describe the basic types of friendship.  Then we can hone in on the friendship relationship that results in the closest, most enduring, and most fulfilling level of friendship.

The Three Major Types of Friends

The well-known Greek philosopher, Aristotle, described the three basic types of friends that we often have.

Friends of pleasure:  These are the people whom we enjoy doing things with, such as going to sports events, going hiking or simply “hanging out” with.  Such friendships are based on common interests, and these are often people whom we enjoy being with.  For instance, a good conversationalist or someone with a good sense of humor might make a good candidate for this type of friend.  These friendships are good in that these are the people we enjoy talking to, trade stories with, and sharing fun experiences and laughter with.  However, such friendships often languish with time as our interests often evolve with time, and such friendships are built mainly on the strength of living/experiencing the shared common interests we have.

Friends of utility:  This type of friendship is somewhat like a quid pro quo situation (but always in a good way) or a business deal, such as “help me install the new fence in my backyard, and I’ll help you with your kitchen remodel”.  Naturally, these friendships tend to fade as well because they are usually based on the benefits that we receive from each other more than anything else, and we usually don’t need each other’s services indefinitely.

Friends of virtue (AKA “close friends” or “true friends”):  These are the true friends that I’d like to focus the rest of this article on, as they stand out in many ways.  These friendships are all about our genuine interest in and love the other person.  We don’t care as much about what we do together and who does what for the other.  Instead, we care more about the other person and his/her well-being.  As Aristotle says, these are the people whom we share life’s ups and downs with.  As the recent article “Curing the Crisis of Real Friendship”,  by Dr. Christopher Kaczor, our true friends are those who know the worst about us but think the best of us.  Such friendships take time and effort to develop, but they are clearly the most fulfilling and will most likely endure over time.

Just to be clear on how all this relates to romantic relationships; this article is really about the platonic friendships that often appropriately exist outside of marriage and can actually indirectly benefit one’s marriage.  Meanwhile, I would hope that one’s romantic relationship also becomes a true friendship as well, at least once the two people reach the point of marriage.

Today’s Situation

I’m sure most of us have friends of pleasure and friends of utility.  However, sadly many are lacking true friends, and the situation is trending the wrong way, especially with men.  According to aforementioned article written by Dr. Kaczor, the number of men without any true friends jumped 5x from 3% to 15% in the past 30 years.  There is a similar drop with women, but it’s not quite as pronounced.

So, why is this happening?  There are multiple reasons:

  1. People’s work-life balance is continually tilting in the direction of work.  This leaves little “free time” for family, oneself, and friends.  Since we so value our family time and time in solitude, time with friends tends to get squeezed out.
  2. Our culture, particularly with younger folks, is becoming one of interiority.  This is has its good points, as St. Augustine articulates.  And I believe this is especially true in today’s era of hustle bustle and information overload.  However, if taken too far, it could easily cut into our social lives and impede our ability to establish quality friendship relationships.
  3. Social media can and often does polarize by enticing us into one or more of the many “Hatfield versus McCoy” rivalries, which is a force that’s counter to friendship.
  4. We often don’t understand the ramifications of not having any true friends, so we tend to believe it’s alright if we don’t.
  5. In our quest for peace of mind, we often cut ties with certain people in order to avoid toxicity.  Yes, we should avoid toxic people who tend to consistently drag us down.  However, unfortunately, we often throw the baby out with the bathwater by cutting certain ties unnecessarily.

Hence, we can see that this is trending the wrong way and that we need to reprioritize our efforts to have one or more true friends.  In the following section, I’ll explain why it is so important that we all have at least one true friend, and I’ll talk about how this can be achieved.

Why Do We Need True friends?

I believe it is common knowledge that we were created to be with each other, not alone.  Yet we tend to place more emphasis on other facets of our lives, which is a trap that I know I have fallen into myself.  So, let’s start with some key benefits that true friendships have to offer.  “6 Reasons Why Friends are important” by verywellmind sums it up nicely:

  1. Friends are a known stressbuster.  We all go through difficult times in life, and there is no way around it.  However, a best friendship will definitely help reduce that stress.  In fact, studies have shown that the companionship of a true friend lowers the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.  I know my stress level falls like a rock whenever I’m with a true friend because he/she is someone I can trust and take refuge in.
  2. Having true friends has other physical health benefits, including lower risks of heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.  I believe much of this stems from the lack of loneliness that even just one true friend offers.  Also, as we know, with physical health also comes mental health – more brain power and less dementia risk as we age.
  3. True friends encourage healthy behaviors.  True friends, because we have a genuine interest in the other’s well-being, hold each other accountable by encouraging proper diet and exercise.  We also call each other out when we spot unhealthy behavior, such as smoking or drinking too much.  I have personally found it easier to engage in healthy behavior by having a “gym buddy” to exercise with, eat with, etc.  It’s all the more meaningful when that person is a true friend.
  4. True friends can give us the needed emotional support, especially during trying times.  I know having that “sounding board” and encouragement goes a long way with me.  Plus, happiness among friends is very contagious.  In fact, studies have shown that HS students undergoing depression have a much better recovery rate if they have happy friends.
  5. Friends help build confidence.  This is a big one for me.  It seems we’re always questioning our own abilities and motives, and I have consistently found myself to be my own worst critic.  A true friend will help put it all into the right perspective and help me to see my true value.  I believe this is important because we often add value to the lives of others without even knowing it, thereby selling ourselves short.
  6. True friends challenge and push us to be our best.  They know and love us for who we truly are, and they challenge us (in a loving way) to become that person we so long to be.  In a similar way, true friends also lead by example – by practicing virtues that we tend to pick up and incorporate into our own thoughts and actions.

Also important, especially for us guys:  You can be yourself!  This reminds me of the old 1980s Dockers commercials that said “relax, you’re among friends” (who are also wearing Dockers clothes).  Thankfully, our culture has evolved such that men can be more expressive and show their vulnerability to each other – something that women seem to have been able to enjoy all along.  So, guys, let’s leverage that with our friendships!  The more we share about ourselves, the more others will open up to us. And this vicious cycle only brings us closer together.

So How Do I Make True friends?

This is a pursuit that will definitely require time and commitment.  In an Atlantic essay, Julie Beck notes, “One study estimates that it takes spending 40 to 60 hours together within the first six weeks of meeting to turn an acquaintance into a casual friend, and about 80 to 100 hours to become more than that.”  So, I believe that translates to 40-60 hours to make friends of pleasure and/or utility and 80-100 hours to make a true friend.  This is no small endeavor, but it is also something that could and probably should happen concurrently with other things that we do.

IOW, if we go out on a “mission” to make true friends, it would likely be a very tiring task that would distract us from other important things.  However, it doesn’t have to happen this way.  The true friendship relationships that I have established over the years have happened as part of these other activities, including work, church, and volunteering.  Also, pleasure/utility friendships can evolve into true friendships.  The only two key additional ingredients that I found necessary were:

  1. The genuine desire to establish a true friendship relationship with that person.  And that desire is required both ways.
  2. Willingness to go beyond the activities/interests we have in common in order to nurture that friendship relationship.  Again, both parties must share this commitment.  This demands a commitment to the other person, not just to the activity that you have in common.

Either party can initiate the above.  To quote the words of my dear belated mother: “If you want a friend, be a friend.”  That simple phrase sums it up, and I found it really works in many cases.  We have already talked about what it takes to be a true friend, so just start making that investment in someone whom you believe might be a true friend candidate.  Then see where it goes from there.  If someone approaches you in the same way, then its your decision whether or not to reciprocate.  Looking back, I have found it to be a very fun and rewarding adventure, and I know I need to do it more.

Although this article is dedicated only to platonic relationships, I do find that the process is not much unlike that of initiating a healthy romantic relationship.  First, you meet, then mutual interest ensues.  After that comes the courtship – getting to know each other and doing work/recreational activities together (e.g., going to the movies, taking a scenic drive, etc.).  Then the romantic relationship starts to develop from there and you enter into a dating relationship.  Pretty much the same goes with a platonic friendship relationship (less the romantic attraction).  We must take one step at a time and assess/discern/adjust as we go.

The good news is that this process tends to happen by itself after a decent jump-start.  We just need to adequately prioritize these true friendships when allocating our time and energy to life’s pursuits.  And, BTW, it’s all to easy to let our romantic relationships, jobs, etc., overtake our best friendships.  That might be OK to some extent, but I believe it’s paramount to keep everything in balance.  Else we risk having that best friendship get squeezed out.  By being mindful of this and acting accordingly, I am fully confident that we can buck the current downward trend in true friendships

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