The Three Fundamental Pillars of a True Friendship
Think back to your first day of kindergarten, how long was it before you bonded with someone who had the same backpack or who also loved the same TV show? I’m not even sure I can remember making my first friend. It feels like it was just ingrained in me to form connections.
As cavemen and women, friendship was integral to our survival. However, long gone are the days of hunting for our dinner and friendship exists for an equally, if not more important reason; to accompany us into the different stages of our lives. Humans are social beings, we need to build friendships.
Friendship takes many forms, both positive and negative, and each friendship serves a different purpose. Each type of friend shapes your life in different ways. Amongst these different types of friendships, some might serve more superficial purposes, while others might provide an overall deeper value; someone who can support on multiple different levels, this is what I call a true friend. So, how can one recognize a true friendship? In my opinion, there are three crucial pillars of true friendship: acceptance, trust, and support.
Acceptance: We love our friends the way they are
You choose friends based on mutual appreciation, despite sometimes differing in life views and values. We accept them the way they are, as they accept us the way we are. Without acceptance, a true friendship is difficult because we’re constantly being judged or held to a standard we can’t possibly meet. In this situation, it’s hard to feel supported or truly comfortable being your authentic self.
Acceptance is not a blank cheque though. It’s great to be agreeable and flexible but don’t let anyone, friend or not, cross your boundaries. Growing up, I had a friend - let's call her Diana here, who was chronically late. She would make plans for 2:00 p.m. and show up at 2:45 p.m. with weak excuses of ‘I needed to help my mother take the trash out’ or ‘a family friend showed up last minute and I needed to stay home and speak to them’.
The lateness was a sign of the lack of respect she had for my time. If she had called me to push back our meeting time, or even just let me know she would be late, it may not have been such an issue but she had little regard for my schedule. After years of her inconveniencing me, I eventually put my foot down and let her know that this behavior wasn’t working for me anymore. In a true friendship, setting boundaries and saying ‘no’ to a friend won’t make them dislike us, but will strengthen the friendship.
After speaking up about my issues with Diana’s lateness, she began to accommodate me and my time. She started actually arriving on time or would call ahead to ask if we could meet at 4:00 p.m. instead of 3:00 p.m.
We accept our friends’ flaws, but we need to distinguish which of those flaws are a detriment to us and our well-being and work to overcome those. Otherwise, we would just be selfishly trying to change the person for our own good.
Trust: Opening up and building connection
There’s a well-known trust exercise, popular in corporate retreat circles, where one person falls back and another person is there behind them to catch them before they hit the ground. Although kind of a cheesy cliche, the exercise does stand as a good example of trust, an essential piece of any true friendship.
Trusting someone else puts yourself in a vulnerable position. You open up, share secrets, feel safe, and relaxed. You have to wholeheartedly believe that they won’t hurt you. The trust exercise points this out perfectly. You have to trust that the person behind you literally won’t hurt you. It’s a leap of faith.
It takes time to build trust and mere seconds to destroy it. There’s no assurance that there won’t be a disappointment when we open up to someone, and that can be a scary step!
Trust is essential when starting or maintaining a friendship. Without trust, you don’t feel comfortable enough to truly be yourself, so how can the connection be truthful or genuine? Though it can be nerve-wracking to open up, when you do and when you fully embrace the trust between you and someone else, that’s when a true friendship blossoms.
Support: Being there in the hard times
Philosopher Aristotle reminds us of the importance of cultivating true friendships: “in poverty as well as in other misfortunes, people suppose that friends are their only refuge”.
A fair-weather friend disappears during the dark times (i.e. when we’re sick, going through a tough time at home or work) and reappears when the troubles have dissipated. I don’t think you get to choose when or when not to be a friend. I don’t think you can pick the most convenient times and back out when the going gets tough.
Frankly, being let down by a friend sucks. It hurts. Especially when you’re in a tough spot and in need of someone to talk to, or a shoulder to cry on. It’s important to remember that behavior is how people feel about themselves - not you.
These friends who aren’t there when you need them to be, are not a true friend. True friends take your needs into consideration. This can mean giving advice without judging, providing words of encouragement, or just listening. It’s during the bad times that we discover who our true friends are.
True friendships aren’t automatic. They’re developed with time and shared experiences. Not all true friends are the same, however, the first step in a true friendship is always the same - making that connection. Remember that first day of kindergarten and bonding over backpacks? Well, that’s why Panion exists. You may not be bonding over backpacks (but hey - if that’s your thing, go for it), but bonding over a mutual love for mountain biking, cooking, or traveling helps you to secure that connection that can lead to a true friendship.