Those who have studied and published on the subject are almost uniform in their assessment that when it comes to staving off loneliness in children and adults (young and old) it is the quality and not the quantity of friends that matters most. In fact, many researchers believe that as few as 1 – 3 close friends are all that is required to minimize, if not eliminate, the risk of loneliness. Viewed from this perspective, our war on loneliness seems eminently “win-able” save for one fairly significant obstacle: People seem to have forgotten what it means and how critical it is to be a true friend.
Friends take the time to get to know one another. They take a genuine interest in learning each other’s likes and dislikes, their interests, the things that matter to them, where they’ve been, where they are and where they aspire to be, the things that make them angry or sad – and, most importantly, the things that bring them joy. They appreciate the fact that getting to truly know one another takes time and patience, but they also realize how essential this step is in building the foundation of a lasting friendship and to their ability to support, encourage, comfort, understand and enjoy each other’s company down the road.
Over time, friends learn to trust one another – implicitly – and to value and honor that trust. They would never consider disparaging one another behind the other’s back or, worse yet, breaching the confidences with which they have been entrusted. Friends are loyal to and respect one another. They don’t make plans to do something with one another and then cancel for no reason or simply fail to show up, without an explanation, having forgotten they made plans at all. When they make a commitment to each other, friends follow through on it, absent a compelling reason, because they understand their value to one another.
Friends don’t support unhealthy behaviors in one another – even if it is one they may share. Instead, they care enough about each of other to work to be an instrument of change in the other’s life. They support each other. They are always seeking first to build the other up, rather than searching for ways to (or through their indifference) tear the other down. Friends are sufficiently comfortable in their own skin to be able to share in each other’s joys and successes – without jealousy. Friends understand the importance of truth telling and of communication – it is the cornerstone of their relationship. When they communicate, they do it lovingly – not with hurtful words.
Friends are grateful to have someone in their life with whom they can feel comfortable sharing their problems and frustrations, even if they pertain to one another. But, they never take that gift for granted and they certainly don’t abuse it. To the contrary, friends are just as focused on giving as they are on receiving in all aspects of their friendship, but especially when it comes to being a loving (and non-judgmental) listener, someone who is fully present when it’s the other’s “turn” to speak, when their friend is in need, when their friend’s heart longs to express itself. Simply put, friends understand (and embrace) the importance of selflessness in relationship.
Forty years ago (really, Don – it was 40 years ago?!?), Carole King wrote “You’ve Got A Friend.” In it, she observed that: “People can be so cold. They’ll hurt you, yes, and desert you. They’ll take your soul if you let them. Oh, BUT DON’T YOU LET THEM. You’ve got a friend” – someone who is committed to being there in the barrenness of Winter, in the creativity and newness of Spring, in the sometimes seemingly unbearable “heat” of Summer and in the beauty of Fall. In short, someone you can count on to be there in every “season” of your life. Maybe that someone is already on your “List.” Maybe it’s someone you will meet today. If not, keep searching. It’s important.