Life can be a very long and very lonely journey and while we might have a wide range of people who come and go from our lives over time, most of the time we are alone within ourselves dealing with whatever life throws at us. Life is a singular journey; however, we do have the privilege of selecting friends to join us and help us so it’s not so boring and lonely. That’s why the whole notion of relationships and connection with people is so critical, they help us live a life that is fun, full, and rewarding. Connection with others gives us context and meaning and helps keep us grounded. The people we associate with, who we call friends, are those we relate to the best and usually the most. The Oxford dictionary defines friends simply as:
a person you know well and like
That is not to say friendships are always easy, or that they last forever, or that they are always positive. Friendships usually ‘just happen’. You don’t do any planning or develop any strategy, people just come into your life, you seem to like each other, and they end up being a friend of some shape or form. And the friendship grows, or it doesn’t, maintains or not, ends abruptly or just fades away, such is the nature of friendship.
We have different kinds of friends
Friendships can fall into three basic categories:
- Acquaintance — usually we have literally hundreds of people we know who fall into this category, people we get to know briefly through school, work, sports, our children’s school etc. If you see them at the mall or at a function you would recognise them and say hello, but you never really spend much time with them.
- Familiar — these are people you know quite well and for one reason or another you regularly spend time with. You might play sport with them, or your kids might be friends and you becomes so by virtue. You know them, have quite a bit in common and readily refer to them as a friend.
- Intimate — don’t be afraid of this word, it just means those people who you would call your ‘best’ friends. You have known them for quite a while, and you have a lot in common. You share common values and interests, you have shared experiences that connect you, and you spend a lot of time together. You actually seek out their company on a regular basis because being with them adds value to your life and makes you feel good.
We tend to have a lot of acquaintances that we pick up along the way that can easily run into the hundreds or more. We have a smaller number of familiar friends, maybe 15–20. This is the group of people you call to go on a camping or golfing weekend, you all basically like the same things and get on really well. Intimate friends are a far more exclusive package all together. You usually only have 2–3 intimate friends who I like to define by this question, ‘If you found yourself in a skanky jail cell in an obscure South American country and you had one phone call — who would you call?’. These are the people who would move heaven and hell to get you out. Intimate friendships are rare and are most often built over long periods of time and are tempered in the fire of hardship and difficulty. You have a lot in common including shared values, likes and interests.
We need a mix of all of these types of friendships in our lives and we should proactively seek to nurture them.
The benefits of friendships
Developing a range of friendships as described comes with a lot of positive benefits. A recent study be the National Centre for Biotechnology Information has verified that there is positive association between our ‘social capitol’ meaning our social network of friends, and our levels of life satisfaction. In other words having a good range of friend help us have a full and satisfying life.
- Having friends we can talk and laugh with helps reduce our stress and anxiety
- Groups of friends learn from each other and how to cope with difficult situations
- Being part of a group of friends gives us a sense of belonging and positive self esteem
- Friends give us confidence through their acceptance and good will
- They makes us smile and laugh helping to ease the tension of stressful situations
- They provide us with a broader perspective and a sense of realism relating to emotional problems
- Friends protect us from ourselves and help us see the more positive side of difficult problems
It is very easy to underestimate the value friends add to our lives.
Check out your ‘friendscape’
What does your friendship landscape look like? I’d like you to consider three questions about your friendships that might challenge your thinking but will definitely help work out whether your ‘friendscape’ is working for you and providing the value you need.
Do you have too few or too many friends?
I think we would agree that having friends is a really important aspect of a healthy life but often life can get in the way of our friendships and ruin the balance. Things like work for instance, as you take on more responsibility and become more established in your career it can start to get in the way of catching up with your friends. Which is OK but you can lose a lot of the benefits we have mentioned above. Or what about partners and/or family and kids. I’m sure you know of more than one friend who has ‘fallen of the radar’ after settling into a permanent relationship. I get it, life gets busy and it’s hard enough spending time with your family let alone announcing that you are spending a night with the ‘gang’. But you must insist, you must make that time available because without it you will lose so many benefits that will ultimately add so much value to your relationship.
The opposite is true of course. It is possible to have too many friends on your list and too many social events going on, so the imbalance goes the other way. Determining the balance is up to you, but you have to find that balance and make it work.
Are you giving your friendships enough time and value?
It’s been said, and it is a valid point, ‘you get out of a friendship what you put into it’. Friendships are a two-way street, they can neither be all giving or all receiving. For friendships to work there must be an exchange of value between each other, you have to be prepared to invest in your friendships otherwise it is really just a waste of time. Ralph Waldo Emerson put it this way:
The only way to have a friend is to be one.
Take the time to analyse your friendships. I wouldn‘t worry about the amount of time you spend developing your acquaintance group, they just happen and really need little or no nurturing. Your familiar friendships is often where you find your long-term intimate or best friends, so it is certainly worthwhile investing time in that group. These are friends from work or your basketball team, they could be friends of friends who you camping with other parents you hook up with to take your kids trekking. You don’t need to be a die-hard and attend everything that comes up, but it is good to show up, get involved and contribute on a regular basis. The familiar network is great for support in borrowing stuff, getting help with big house projects or moving. Your intimate or best friends are the ones in which you really need to be sure you are investing the time and effort. These are the peeps who are going to get you out of that Guatemalan jail remember. Now I know a lot of men don’t talk too openly about their problems and that we have this thing about being tough and seen to be able to handle everything life throws at us — right? Wrong! That’s bullshit and you know. If we just bottle those emotions up until we can’t hold it in anymore then we usually do something stupid. That is why male suicide rates in the US in 2019 were 3.63 times higher than women. THAT is why you need a small group of best friends, so you can open up and share the things that are worrying you, then let those friends support and encourage you and find some solutions. We all know someone who has not been able to cope well, someone we have lost before their time, having best friends can go a long way to helping us avoid this.
It might be time to cull your ‘friendscape’
That sounds harsh right? But at certain times in your life, you have to ask yourself if you really have the right friends? Someone once wrote:
Show me your friends and I will show you your future.
The problem is we don’t really pay too much attention to how we select our friends. Often friendships just happen, and that’s OK, well until it isn’t. As you grow and mature and your life begins to change direction, sometimes we no longer hold to our old values which often means we become out of step with old friends. That is when you have to make some hard decisions about the amount of time you spend with people who no longer provide a positive influence. In fairness this does apply to our close friends, but it also applies to anyone and anything in our life that unduly influence our behaviour in a negative way and distracts us from being our best. Arrgh…should I mention them? Ok just a few…like, excess alcohol, gambling, drugs, strippers, porn. I know I just lost a bunch of readers by casting dispersions on all of our favourite vices. But let’s face it, all of that stuff is so 1990s. Men who are stepping up to play a positive role in 21st century masculinity need friends who share the same values.
We need to treat your friendships like a garden that regularly needs watering, weeding, and replanting.
Choose your friends based on the quality of their character not how well their man cave is decked out.
A recent article in Psychology Today lists 13 qualities we should be looking for our friends to be:
5. Easily able to trust others
8. A good listener
9. Supportive in good times
10. Supportive in bad times
12. See the humour in life
13. Fun to be around
Not a bad list to start with. Be bold, take a good look at your friendships and see how they shape up, then weed out those that don’t serve you any more or could end up getting you in jail in Bogota. Then you might want to find some new friends to plant in your garden.
Remember friendships are a really important part of our lives and are worth fighting for. To have great friends you need to be a great friend, make sure you are investing your time and effort in being a good friend. Be a bit more strategic about how you select your friends, think about the quality of their character not just the size of their fishing boat…although. Friends are not forever, sometimes you need to cull your friends and get some new ones, especially if those friends are influencing you unduly and causing you to head in the wrong direction. And be the kind of friend those close to you can open up to about their darkest fears and know you will listen with empathy and compassion.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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