The internet is an interesting place. Using various social media and other systems, you can meet people from all over the planet, talk to people ten thousand miles away, without leaving your chair. It’s fascinating how people who have never physically met can become the best of friends from hundreds, thousands or even ten thousand miles away.
I’ve gained many close friendships with people in other countries via the internet. These are people who are now part of my life and I treasure them and their part in my existence as much as my dearest friends that I hang out with regularly.
Recently, I “ran into” one such person, a beautiful woman from Romania of all places, during my travels through cyberspace. I would say it’s highly unlikely that I will ever visit Romania. While I am sure it has it’s charm, and I hear Bucharest is quite beautiful, it’s not a place that jumps to mind when I think of traveling to Europe. Thus, unless something unexpected occurs, our meeting will be in the realm of the light traveling over the fiber laid under the Atlantic ocean last decade.
So if we’re never going to meet, what, really, is a friend? What is this friendship thing anyway?
The absolute first requirement for friendship is simply this: I care. Or, to be more precise, I care on a deep level about my friend and about our friendship. I enjoy seeing my friends succeed, I take joy in their happiness and I go to efforts to help them when they are sad or having troubles.
A friend is someone I can talk to about anything without being concerned about how it will be received. The more I can just say what’s on my mind, the more solid the friendship. On the other hand, when I have to carefully pick my words, for fear of hurting or upsetting the other person, the less of a friendship I have. The “walking on eggshells or rice paper” phenomenon means there is no friendship.
In other words, real friends do not put up barriers to block communication between each other.
A friend is someone that I would never intentionally harm. It would never occur to me to hurt a friend. That, to me, is a very basic keystone to friendship.
Even more importantly, i would jump to the defense of a friend. Usually this involves understanding that gossip and chatter about a friend should not be tolerated.
If a friend is in trouble, my instinct is to want to help them out. Virtually always, that’s simply a matter of being a good listener, hearing what is troubling them, understanding what’s on their mind, and offering useful advice if needed. And my hand is extended to them if they really do need someone to be there for them.
On the other hand, and this is a very tricky line which must not be crossed, it’s important not to become an enabler. Giving a friend money or aid constantly is almost never a good thing; in general, people should not need help ALL the time. By the way, an enabler is someone who enables, or reinforces, bad or self destructive behavior. Paying someone to not work, for example, is a classic enabling technique. A more tricky example is buying an alcoholic groceries; this enables them to use their money for booze. The key question to ask is “am I really helping or am I just feeding their problems”?
A very good friend knows when NOT to help as well. Good parenting, for example, occasionally involves a dose of “tough love”. You might have to let a person work his own way out of a problem because that is the best answer. A good and true friend understands and recognizes that sometimes the best help is not the obvious help.
A friend is someone I want to see, someone I want to be around, and someone I take joy in their company. I never dread seeing my friends.
Trust is one of the most important building blocks of friendship. A friend is someone I trust. I trust them not to hurt me, I trust them with my confidences, I trust them not to want to cause harm, and I trust them to use good judgement in our relationship.
Friendship absolutely requires honesty. Lies are barriers to friendship. For example, in a romantic situation, “cheating”, the instant it happens, destroys the friendship. It breaks the basic rule of honesty and trust between friends.
I guess this all sounds somewhat complicated, but it’s really very simple. A friend is someone I want to be around and whose company I enjoy on many levels; I care for my friends, and want them to be happy and joyful; I want them to do well in life, which requires that I not enable their behaviors which undermine them doing well; I’m willing to listen and to help, and I am intolerant of others attempting to harm them in any way; I trust them, honor their foibles, and am as honest as possible with them.
Lastly, everything said here is true coming the other direction. A friend has to feel and act the same way about me. Otherwise, it’s not a real friendship.
And that, simply, is what friendship is to me. Distance, in time and space, doesn’t matter. What matters is the basic feeling and actuality of friendship