When I meet someone I have things in common with, it all seems so easy. I don’t have to censor myself around them. They understand me easily. It feels so refreshing. But is it friendship?
But I cannot say that it is yet, because friendship is not all about easiness. It starts with things being easy. It starts with things in common and easy conversations. Then life gets in the way.
Life is not easy. I am not saying that it is all bad. Life can give us wonderful things, but it can also give us challenges which are not always easy to react to in the right way. Sometimes, a person may hurt themselves and/or people around them, and not realise what they are doing.
I have had a few of these negative times in my life. And what did my friends do that others did not do? They told me the truth, even if it was not nice to hear.
To survive the acid test of friendship, you need two things:
(1) The guts for friends to tell each other when their decisions are hurting themselves or others
False friends can say negative stuff about while you are not present. (i.e. backstabbing) They won’t say stuff to your face. This is not being a friend.
Some friends stand on the sidelines watching you hurt yourself or others without telling you. This is better than backstabbing, and where a friendship is not strong enough, or a person is unsure of the whole situation, this can actually be the best course of action(*). If I don’t know a person well enough, this is the action I have to take. But I will want to be there for them if things go really badly.
However, telling someone when you see them hurting themselves or others takes guts, and if you are close enough friends with them, it is the best idea. Yet it can ruin friendships. It is not the easy thing to do, but it is sometimes the best.
Yet if you only have (1), it won’t be enough. I have been told that I am stupid/being dumb and a litany of other things by people within an hour of meeting me. This is not friendship. This is negging. I don’t like gender stereotypes, but this almost always done to me by men looking for sex.
Therefore you also need:
(2) A relationship where you respect each other enough to listen to negative feedback about each other
This means that constructive feedback can help, rather than make the recipient annoyed.
If you don’t have (2), what people say will be regarded as an insult, and it will be ignored. I have been in some situations where people thought they could tell me my real and imagined shortcomings, and I realised that I did not respect their words enough to actually listen to them, so it ruined bludgeoning friendships(**). This was not always because their words upset me. It was often because they were not even true, or showed a gross misunderstanding of me as a person.
I have received upsetting but true feedback, so I am still friends with the people who gave me that feedback. In fact, they could only give me that feedback because those friendships are strong, and are actually stronger because they cared about me enough to tell me the truth, even though they knew it would hurt me. I know they are in my corner looking out for my best interests. I know that they are not afraid of hard conversations.
To me, this is the acid test of friendship(***).
(*) If you don’t know a person well enough, you may not have all of the information to be able to make a judgement, and give feedback. It is a tricky balance.
(**) No regrets.
(***) And romantic relationships as well.