What is an Ideal Friendship?

Image taken from David Hughes. Available at Empire under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

As painful as living can be sometimes, what keeps us moving onward with life is connection – real, and intimate human connection. Being heard, understood, cared for, and supported by another person is uplifting in itself; returning the favour is rewarding in its own right too. But the funny thing about connection is that it doesn’t always come to us easily. Sometimes we need help. We need an idea or a baseline for what constitutes real human connection.

I’m no sage or self-help guru, but I do know this: friendships compose the majority (or at least a good chunk) of our social circles. They represent a rudimentary form of connection, and are vital to our happiness. The ideal friendship may sound like an abstract idea, and maybe it is, but it’s certainly worth exploring. So here I present four qualities:

(1) Ideal friends listen

One truth you may be uncomfortable with is that humans are innate narcissists. We enjoy talking about our ourselves, and stride at the opportunity to flaunt our own thoughts and experiences in conversation. But we talk about ourselves in an effort to connect, not to boast; we find solace in mutual understanding. By actively listening to others, especially in times of distress, we can foster the trust and kinship humans need to flourish. Being genuinely interested in the problems, sorrows, and anxieties of a friend in need, lays the foundation of an ideal friendship.

(2) Ideal friends are vulnerable

Within us all lies a tempest that rattles and stirs the more we bottle it in. To be vulnerable is to expose the storm bare to another person. At this fragile state, we open up and lay out our skeletons for another to see. And it’s certainly not easy. In an ideal friendship, painful memories, personal failures, and awkward thoughts are confessed in confidence, and listened to without criticism or judgement. By confessing to our friends we reach out, and by listening to others we empathise. We’re all troubled deep down, no doubt. But vulnerability allows us to affirm our human imperfections.

Artwork by Edward Hopper. Available at wikipedia.org under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

(3) Ideal friends stick together, through thick and thin

It goes without saying that life is a constant, twisting rollercoaster of ups and downs. We all need to find a place in this world. And though we tackle this endeavour alone, having good friends by our side makes the ride a lot more bearable. Every year we meet new people and form new bonds, expanding our list of Facebook friends and Instagram followers in the process. Most people we meet come and go eventually, but ideal ones stand by us along the way. They’re with us at every point, in moments of joyous celebration and icy despair.

(4) Ideal friends help each other grow

For the most part, people aren’t static; I believe we exist as a spectrum of possibilities. We can all learn to be more confident, courageous, empathetic, or open-minded for example. Imperfect as we are, we have the power to become better people. Knowing this, the ideal friendship should be symbiotic, in the sense that both friends grow through mutual encouragement. Pushing you out of your comfort zone – whether it’s encouraging you to ask your boss for a raise, or to talk to that girl at the bar – may seem uncomfortable at first, but know that it’s done with your best interest at heart. Ideal friends should support your growth into a better person, and not stunt or diminish it.

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