True Friendship

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t believe in the benefits of having friends, particularly true friends.  And yet, over the past decades, friendship studies have continued to reveal a disturbing trend toward unfulfilling, inauthentic and nonreciprocal connections. For example, adults were surveyed in a recent study about how close they feel to one another. Only 53% of the time were the feelings mutual. That is, someone you deem a good friend might not even like you very much.  Or a mere acquaintance might consider you a BFF.  Why such a gap between perceived and actual friendship?

It seems we’re confused about how to define a friend, who to call a friend — and especially the importance of, and how to be, a real friend? Many definitions of friendship exist out there.  Ronald Sharp, a professor of English at Vassar College defines friendship powerfully by clarifying that a real friend is..."not about what someone can do for you, it’s who and what the two of you become in each other’s presence.”

In contrast to Sharp's definition, our modern society often reinforces shallower, safer, and often more self-serving friendship ties. On some level, we think we can live without intimacy and are easily lured into the safe zone of casual relationships lest we expose our vulnerability. We fear we will lose something by revealing or by giving of ourselves. 

From psychologists to medical scientists, sociologists to spiritual masters, no one argues about the core and essential value of developing true friendships. Yet many of us take this powerful bond for granted, especially in today’s time. So the first step is to raise our awareness, to increase our desire for a friend, to learn how crucial real friendship is for us.  Let’s see why.  

On a physical level, research has shown that having a friend reduces the fatal effects of loneliness and isolation. Basically, human connection feeds the life in us. Scientists have found a dramatic positive impact on blood pressure regulation and other health indicators resulting from social connections. Same with mental acuity, coping with rejection, self worth and stress.  Friendship has also been shown to significantly exercise the vagus nerve which is responsible for creating a sense of emotional ease and safety. That is, friends protect us from anxiety. 

Most spiritual paths in this world share one common theme: We are here to practice how to truly love and care. Friends give us this opportunity. As hard as it to get out of ourselves and our own needs, when we truly care for another person, bond with them until their pain is our pain and their joy is ours too, we transform ourselves and become the beneficiaries of this level of love and commitment. 

On the other hand, paradoxically, we need to be a friend to ourselves first. That is, when we are okay with being alone and when we can be honest about our shortcomings and still believe in our greatness, then we can best offer true unconditional love and acceptance to someone else. Otherwise, we go into the friendship with a sense of lack and we'll have an agenda hoping they will fulfill.  

So from within a committed and unconditional friendship bond, rooted in the foundation of self-acceptance and self-love, we start to teach and to learn from each other. The commitment to help each other grow turns a relationship into a true friendship, including our marriages. We carry important messages to one another to help us transform into our best and most and happiest. A true friend is not afraid to be honest and challenge us, out of love and the desire to help us reach our next level in our lives. 

One might say, "Wow, true friendships take so much effort."  You bet they do...  and you’re worth it!