When I think about true friendship, I think about middle school.
I think about the days of sleepovers and passing notes, nights and weekends of the same activities with the same group. My friends and I knew everything (and I do mean everything) about each other and shared the type of comfort that comes with years upon years of hang time. The closeness and loyalty was unmatched, and these were the days when no one was left out or left behind.
I still have my tiny circle of grade school friends and close group of college friends—the kind of relationships where you don’t see each other for months but when you do, everything picks back up where it left off. We’ve been with each other through the good, the bad, and the embarrassing. We’ve known each other since prom days, awkward stages, and Aeropostale polo shirts. It takes consistency and time to build friendships like these, and we had all the time in the world back then.
As we get older, we get careers, we get married, we have children, and we have less time. We all have to say yes to new friends in new cities and new jobs and try to enjoy our new adult lives, but friendship is an institution important enough to take a step back and define. What makes a real friend?
Photo by Scott Liddell
In a season of life where those who are closest to me are no longer close by, I’ve been building new friendships from scratch and trying to slowly make the foundations solid. I’ve dipped into the pool of shallow adult friendships and have had to remind myself that I prefer mine unforced with a side of sincere compatibility. Even though I’m never willing to consider someone a friend solely because I see them all the time (in classes, at work, etc.), proximity allows us to get to know people on a consistent basis and share the scarce time that it takes to establish a friendship.
Studies back this up, showing that we think what we have in common with a person is the most important qualification for friendship but in reality, it’s proximity, repetition, and consistency that’s crucial. Shasta Nelson, author of Friendships Don’t Just Happen and Frientimacy, wrote: “[Proximity is] why we are more likely to become friends with people at work that otherwise we’d probably never hang out with again if we just met them. We see them regularly and that makes all the difference. Consistency is the one requirement for a healthy friendship that challenges adults the most because we won’t feel close to new friends until we have some consistency under our belts.”
We need time to build consistency, and we need consistency to build depth. For depth to have a fighting chance, we also need support for each of life’s stages and the friendship itself has to get the upper hand over the ease of seeking out others who are exactly where we are in life. One study found that when we get a romantic partner, we lose an average of two friends. While there are unique challenges in being a friend to a married person when you’re single and vice versa, we cheat ourselves out of potentially wonderful friendships by being defined by and defining others by their season of life. If I’m your friend, I’m your friend because I like you for who you are. You are you before and after you have a marriage, career, or kid. C.S. Lewis explains it better than I ever could:
“In a circle of true friends each man is simply what he is: stands for nothing but himself. No one cares twopence about anyone else’s family, profession, class, income, race, or previous history. Of course you will get to know about most of these in the end. But casually. They will come out bit by bit, to furnish an illustration or an analogy, to serve as pegs for an anecdote; never for their own sake. That is the kingliness of friendship.”
Thankfully, as my most familiar and faithful friend, God hasn’t left me hanging or remained silent on what true friendship is. As I’ve matured and grown in this friendship with Him that exceeds them all in both depth and steadiness, the beauty of genuine friendship has become crystal clear and even more valuable to me.
Our friends aren’t our friends because we’re together every waking moment, but because we’re intentional about the time we do spend and cherish the memories made. Friends don’t need to have everything in common to be compatible; friends just have to show up and love us for who we are, time after time. Friends aren’t those we settle for and tolerate; our friends are the ones we consistently choose to build with and build up.
My friendships are a place for growth, grace, and of course, good times. A true friend is someone who’s constant and loves at all times—all kinds of times (Proverbs 17:17). A friend makes an effort and doesn’t abandon me in the ring to fight for consistency alone. A friend, knowing that I’ve professed to follow Christ, advises with candor (Proverbs 27:5-6) when my actions don’t look like Him and when I’m being passive about sin in my life (Hebrews 3:13). A friend includes me in plans, not because they want something from me, but because we give so much value to each other.
What matters to me now is that my old and new friends are committed to keeping it real. We’re all still trying to figure things out, but we can be solid gems in each other’s lives and have a good time on the journey as we walk through it together. My friends need to know that I’m in it for the long-haul—wherever that takes us—and I’m there for them. I’m there if they need someone to pray for them or with them. I’m there when life takes a good or a bad turn. I’m there when the weather’s fair and when it’s ugly. I’m there when the seasons change. What matters now is that no matter how messy my friendships are on the surface, there’s a foundation built on the freeness of transparency, wrapped in the understanding arms of grace, with deep, beautiful roots of love underneath.