What is a friend?

According to the dictionary, a friend is “a person you know well and regard with affection and trust.”

I think that it’s significant that the definition includes two parameters, affection and trust.

All too often we have affection for people we cannot trust and want to think of them as friends. You can love someone and have zero trust in them and their ability to do what they say, follow through, etc. So you call this person your “friend” and because you have such strong affection for them you continually extend the hand of trust – only to have it consistently and regularly smacked and bruised.

You do this over and over again – because affection is a powerful emotion – until one day you realize, “I’m never getting any reciprocation. I can’t trust this person.” At that moment, you realize that this person is no friend to you – at least not at this point. Your have two options:

  1. Ignore this epiphany, keep calling this person your friend, and continue to get hurt as your trust is abused.
  2. You reset your expectations, step back, and realize that this is not a friend to you at all.

The hardest part is when you allow “extenuating circumstance” to validate this person’s behavior. “He had a hard childhood.” “He’s seeing a therapist.” Eventually you make excuses for his behavior and even assume some of the burden of the problem, “I know how he is – I have to accept him for who he is.”

Wrong. You don’t. If someone is going to call you “friend” there is a certain minimum expectation. Friends can, and will, hurt each other. They will fight. They will argue. They will disagree. They may even disappear for years at a time.

There’s also one other thing that all friends do: they TRY.

When you continually try to keep a friendship alive and the other person rebuffs you over and over again – it’s time to stop being a friend. It’s like an abusive relationship – familiarity and fear of the unknown keeps you tied to an unhealthy situation.

Until the day you decide you don’t have to take it any more. Then, you just reset your expectations. You say to yourself, “this person isn’t a friend of mine.” And you move on – you find a friend that will try – that you can trust. If you’re like me, you don’t do it silently – you tell your “friend” that you’re moving on and you tell them exactly why you are doing so. You tell them that life is too short for false friends and that you’re going to find a true friend and stop wasting your time with him.

And they’re out there.

The problem is – you’re so incredibly sad when you do this. You hope against hope that this, final, gesture will open his eyes and that he will step up and start being the friend you always hoped he would be.

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4 Responses to “What is a friend?”

  1. An interesting post. Did you recently lose a friend or give him an ultimatum?He didn’t live up to your expectations and the constant rebuttal you mention may indicate that he saw the same.Affection and trust come in many layers. In each you can get closer and closer.Friendship also has layers. Loose associates to best friends.Expectations usually have a much higher level than you think they have. Of all the attributes mentioned here, expectations are the greedy glutton of them and become vastly inflated beyond the dimensions with which we regard them. Often we fail ourselves in living to a set of standards and expectations which we set for others. Expectations are something to watch carefully. Over inflated balloons have a habit to burst.But you are you and friends are usually the people who like one or more thing they see in you and some friendships, such as those at work, form from familiarization.Sometimes it pays to look at ourselves as much as we look at someone we call friend. If we do that before we open the book of judgments we may not be so harsh.

  2. Hi Jazz;Wise words. Yes; I had a friend who the only expectation I had was that he live up to his word, at least occasionally. He’s a great guy – and I have more affection for him that I can say. He has his personal demons to fight and he wants to fight them alone. Maybe one day, when he’s faced his demons down, he’ll be able to rejoin our friendship. Until then, lest I continue getting hurt, I need to step back and let him face those demons alone.

  3. BittersweetBachelorette Reply January 26, 2009 at 10:10 am

    Particularly thought-provoking post. I’ve often operated by Option 2; to me, it seems fair to demand a seemingly-reasonable expection, not to lower my standards, and not to settle for less. To others, my behavior along those lines usually just looks bitter and spiteful, and I find myself with little more than my conception of “integrity” to keep me company. From what I can see, most members of society operate by Option 1, and they fault me for the harshness of opting out of that.Somewhat related to Jazz’s point, I read a magazine article while I was out on vacation last month. It was sort of a social commentary piece in a women’s interest magazine like Allure or something. It was about how flaking out on people is becoming a national epidemic, and the themes put forth by the author were very familiar to me. When someone disappoints me by flaking out on plans, I lose faith in concepts like friendship and community. Then, I sulk in a fit of anti-social behavior, thus flaking out on someone else–kind of a domino effect. It’s like the inverse relationship to hugs. (“The more you give, the more there are of them.”) The less friendliness I feel come my way, the less friendliness I put out there. The problem with that line (or circle) of thinking is that it kind of puts you facing Option 1 again. I don’t have an answer, but I’m guessing it’s somewhere on the spectrum between these two…kind of like what you told me about finding the right balance in romantic relationships so that expectations don’t cycle into impossible expecations and co-dependency. (Haven’t got that one figured out yet either.)

  4. I wish I’d had this at my disposal a couple of times over the past couple of years. Friends try. It took a long time before I understood why I was so frustrated with the people I hung out with, then. Very insightful.I think I still harbor the hope that the couple of guys I used to see immense potential in will break out of their self-destructive lives and find something approaching normalcy. But, heh, fool me once shame on me, fool me again… fool me a second time… if you fool me one time you can’t fool me again.

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