Most of us, I hope, have experienced the gift of a true, genuine friendship. Perhaps some of you have several, or even many, good friends.
Friendships ebb and flow. Some are decades long, and others are intense for a shared experience or period of time and grow more distant with time. Some are short-lived and transient. I have experienced each of these, some healthy and some much less so. I am one of those for whom a few close and deep friends are my safe place. I have not ever had one friend I can identify as a “best friend:” I have several close friends I am fed and edified differently by, each of whom knows me in a unique way.
During the first year of our collaborative, I wrote a blog on Navigating Toxic Relationships. As I think back on that writing experience and on those relationships in my life which qualified as toxic, I think about how much I (eventually) learned from them. Some are resolved, some will remain unresolved interpersonally but will only realize resolution within myself. While in the midst of these environments, we may not see the impact they are having, but once we are out of them and able to process the wounding and pain, we have a choice: to move beyond them, or to wallow in the effects.
For many of us, perhaps a challenging or traumatic relationship in our early life hinders our ability to recognize and nurture truth and trust in friendship. It took me quite a few years, and often several attempts with the same person, to come to realization of what a genuine friendship is and does.
1. A genuine friendship has the foundational base of a shared worldview or experience.
For me, my deepest friendships have been based on a shared foundation of Christianity. I also have good friends who may not share my Christian beliefs but share my depth and passion for lifting the underserved and most vulnerable in our world, regardless of spiritual persuasion. These are friends with whom I know that I am understood for who I am at heart, the identity and approach I have to meeting people where they are and loving them simply because. These are the people with whom I feel safe and am unafraid to share my deepest thoughts and opinions.
2. Genuine friendships are truthful.
They are honest, authentic, real and supportive. No judgment exists in a true friendship, and each individual feels safe being vulnerable and open. There are no other motives present in these friendships: they are authentic, and neither person feels the need to strive, or earn, or qualify for the other’s love and respect.
3. Genuine friendships are reciprocal.
Both friends are invested in the relationship, and each gives and takes. There is shared commitment, and each makes time for the other to grow and nurture the gifts brought forth from their connection. When one person in the friendship is investing all of the time, effort and commitment and the other is not reciprocating or feeding the relationship in the same way, it might be worth taking a step back and considering whether this is a healthy friendship.
4. This is a biggie: Genuine friendships are HEALTHY.
There is a shared understanding of boundaries and each person’s capacity to be available to the friendship. This can change based on circumstance or life events, but it is very important to know what the boundaries of a healthy and mutually good relationship looks like for our friends. There cannot be the expectation of perfection or the existence of codependence in true friendships. Each friend cares for the other in equity and mutual desire for the other’s good. Healthy friendships are flexible, and resentment is not a part of the relationship. Each friend feels safe to share their challenges or burdens with the other, not for solutions or for the other person to “fix” or “rescue,” but to share experience and be called forward in healing, reminded of our capabilities and our inherent goodness. We cannot take on the yoke of another, but in sharing it we can collaborate, encourage, and perhaps make it just a bit lighter.
Codependence: physical or psychological dependence on someone in an unhealthy way. One person is the caretaker, and the other person takes advantage of that caretaking. This is a very common phenomenon in relationships where one party has issues with substance abuse.
5. Genuine friendships allow for accountability.
It is not always honey and sunshine, as we well know, and one of the most challenging parts of life is hearing hard truths from someone we love and who knows us. To accept constructive criticism or be called forward when we have strayed from our good, from the tenets of our beliefs or from what is right for ourselves is not easy. *This is often when I would despair and become confused, thinking that if I have disappointed a friend, that meant I was a disappointment and the friendship was doomed.* Truth in friendship means holding the other person accountable to themselves for the mistakes we inevitably make, and reminding the other that he or she is worthy of goodness, of restoration, and of healing. This is always done in love.
It also comes back to truth in vulnerability, sharing the painful and raw, messy parts of ourselves that we feel are not worth loving or seeing. It is crying together, learning what experiences have brought us to the places we are with each other, and being tender with the wounds that are perhaps new, perhaps festering. It also means respecting and understanding when certain subjects are not to be broached or pursued.
6. Genuine friendships are edifying.
Real friends want God’s best for the other. They encourage and affirm each other, loving and praying for the other and supporting the other in their healing, decision-making and growth.
7. Genuine friendships are enduring.
I am a strong believer that friendships evolve, and that some may be stronger during a certain life stage and then grow more distant. Others tend to stick around through many of life’s changes. But the most meaningful friendships endure.
An enduring friendship understands the ebbs and flows of life, and allows for room to grow and develop with realization that the closeness felt a one point in life may not exist during a different season. (Again, there is not room for resentment in a true friendship). Enduring friends remember special occasions and life events, and celebrate or grieve each other’s gains and losses (and anniversaries of those events). These friends understand the love language of the other, honor that, and encourage the gifts with which the other lightens the world.
These are the qualities I have identified of a genuine (authentic, true, pure) friendship. In my middle age, I am most grateful for the precious women in my life who I consider to be my shelters, my safe spaces for being, stretching, processing and becoming. I hope and pray that you are able to identify and celebrate those in your life who exemplify these attributes and love you so well, and that we can be shelters for each other.