What are "Friends"? Or rather, who exactly are our "Friends"?
Aristotle defines it as such- "What is a Friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies." Well, this, I would believe he meant the very close friends, probably the soul mates? Elbert Hubbard sums it up very aptly, "A Friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you."
We make and shake (away) friends along the way as we grow, as we age. Sometimes, we make bad judgment calls and acquire unworthy friends, but life has its tests and trials to show us who are those worth keeping around.
Also, we should not confuse "friends" with "acquaintances" - we need only one true friend, but may have a hundred acquaintances. It is when one falls into the well someday - and the one who lends a hand or tosses a rope in, that is a friend who cares (about a friend in need) indeed.
As the famous saying goes, "No man is an island", we all need someone - to pacify us, to share our joys and woes, to listen, to accompany us and to understand us - it does not matter if one is married, successful, unmarried, failure. Helen Keller once summed this necessity up by saying "Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light".
With the right friends, one can get through many things in life; one could get far if fortunate, too.
We started making friends as young as probably in kindergarten? Or even before that - the neighborhood kids we used to play together with. When we were young, making friends was a breeze, was it not? We clicked with anyone who would play with us, do projects with us, stayed back with us in school to eat, and would laugh together with us (not at us!).
We discovered the wonderful thing about friendship, having like-minded friends who would stick by us, eat with us, whisper to us during lessons, and share silly secrets with. They accept ecerything about us - the buck teeth, the adolescent pimples, the tantrums, the sloppiness or even the talkativeness. Like Jim Morrison says,"A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself."
But of course, if "being oneself" means hurting a friend, then that is not to be reckoned with, as well.
Then when we come out to work, or join a new activity such as sports, hobby or religious group, etc, we make more friends all around. These are the kind of stages, though, that one has to choose their friends carefully.
Until they have proven themselves worthy of genuine friendship, they should only remain an acquaintance. Collecting too many acquaintances may be tiring, due to the time and efforts spent at maintaining them, catching up and having them remember us.
Anyway, as we journey along life's complicated paths, we tend to shed some friends and bring the remaining ones with us. Along the way, we change; friends change as well. We grow up with different needs and expectations, different aspirations and experiences, even different achivements. Love, new friends, looks, status, money etc all slowly begin to come into play.
It is here when we slowly start to realize that friendships do drift apart too.
Some friends get into tiffs because of differences, or worse, because of comparisons or romance.
Some friends move on to different social circles or lifestyles, and no longer keep in touch.
Some friends focus too much on work or their families, that they do not bother to make time for friends anymore.
Some friends have proven themselves unworthy to be friends because of betrayals, because they always only receive and not give of anything at all, or because they have simply shown their true colors as being merely a fair-weathered friend (a friend who was there when you were rich, successful or famous, but once you lost all that, they disappeared).
There are friends who bring nothing but hurt or harbor malicious intent - we need to learn how to detect before its too late. Then there are the friends who are only around for benefits, and to make use of their friends - we need to identify such and kick them away before they suck us dry.
Yes, we win some, we lose some. We need to learn to accept the fact that some friends - even if they have stuck around for a decade or two - if they are meant to exit our lives, we need to let go.
Oscar Wilde has a meaningful quote for worthy friends, "Anybody can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathize with a friend's success."
What makes a Friend a Keeper?
Yes, what makes a friend a "true friend" indeed?
No, it does not mean someone with whom you hang out with everyday, it also does not mean someone whom you've never had disagreements with before.
A true friend sticks around through all thicks and thins, lends their support and assistance when needed, and even though you may not have seen them for years - you know that they will be here in a heartbeat once you are in trouble.
Have any friends been through these trials and tests with you before?
My Circles of Friends
I have many close friends, and I am really grateful for this collection of great friends from all walks of life, regardless of gender, race or nationality. Those whom I term "good friends" are people who have been around for at least five years in my life, have seen me at my best and my worst, and wordlessly lent me their ears when I needed them.
As the saying by George Herbert goes, "The best mirror is an old friend" - someone who is not afraid to tell you the truth, and look at you closely enough to spot your flaws.
Life has not always been kind - when times were good, these people stuck by and we had a lot of fun times eating, drinking, laughing without a care in the world. When times were bad, they toughed it out with me, giving of their time and comfort freely, regardless of what the circumstances entailed, even if I had caused my own downfall indirectly.
The female friends readily advise, comfort, and ask questions to understand each situation more clearly, trying to soothe and support in their own sweet ways. The male friends seldom asked much questions until I volunteered information, and offer logical, practical analyses that is both comforting and serves as wake-up calls. No matter what changes I underwent, they were there, and I am sure they would still be there for many years to come.
Thank you darlings, I am blessed.
Of course, sometimes, when certain friends do not bother to make efforts to stay in touch, or have done unforgiveable stuff such as betrayals, breaking value promises etc, I would not hesitate to shed them as well. It is not worthwhile to waste time and energies on the unworthy friends, it does not matter how long the friendship had lasted.
After all, we keep meeting new people and making new friends as we move along.
To Be or Keep Good Friends Around
That said, how to be a good friend so that we may keep our good friends around?
Firstly, remember, never take your friends for granted. Take some, give some. You should not always be the one who needs help, a listening ear, or their attention. Make sure that you are there when they need comfort, concern or cheering up as well.
Secondly, make efforts to meet up, no matter how busy you are - if you value the friendship, you will find time, because time is how we manage it, not the other way round. Catching up also bonds the friendship, so you are kept abreast of what's happening in your friends' lives.
Lastly, be honest. Not sharing some information is fine, but do not let dishonesty or lies seep into the friendship. If you make a promise, abide by it. If there is something you are uncomfortable with telling your friend, just let them know. Do not concoct lies to brag or hide the truth, because if the trust is breached, it may never be regained again. And no trust means no love, no friendship.
To quote William Shakespeare, "Words are easy, like the wind; Faithful friends are hard to find."
Good friends aside, it is better to have more friends than foes, anyway. Abraham Lincoln once said that "Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?"
Having more friends (even false friends in certain circles / circumstances) makes it easier for you to get things done, i.e. a task on hand, a favour. It makes you feel happier as well, not having to guard yourself against all the foes (even though we need to guard ourselves against certain friends too), and being gregarious make you look better in front of everyone.
Once again I reiterate on the importance of friendship, of acquiring and retaining it. Keep the acquaintances at bay as well, they are our network, but no one that we should sacrifice too much for.
The worthy acquaintances may slowly grow closer and make their way into your circle of close friends one day, who knows?