What is your definition of ‘friendship’? The dictionary has many different definitions but, to me and the people that I call friends, it is a state of mutual affection where either party is always available to help the other out in case of any emergency or even just somebody to talk to. There are no conditions on that friendship, no time limits. It is simply, ‘If you need me (for any reason), I am here and you only have to call. If it is an emergency, I will drop everything to help you. The only payback I expect is for you to feel and do the same!” Friendship is a two way street; both parties have to make an effort. That doesn’t mean that you have to be in each other’s pockets or in constant contact; it just means that you make some kind of effort to stay in touch.

In today’s world, there are, unfortunately, very few people who one can truly consider to be a friend. Most people we, collectively, know are either casual or very casual acquaintances who it is ‘fun’ to meet up with once in a while and who, at one time or the other, you will drift away from, either from geography, or from the oldest reason in the book, lack of contact.

Many people cultivate ‘friends’ who they think can be useful to them, socially, politically or economically and they like to be able to drop names. In my life, I’ve met many rich and/or famous people and I’ve had some terrific conversations with them because I’ve been generally interested in talking to them, not using them to get ahead and they knew it. I’ve even become friends with some of them but I’ve always made a point of not taking advantage of them or their situation; that means paying my share of the bill when we go out to eat and not asking for anything that would change the nature of the relationship. If somebody does me a favor, I make sure to say ‘thank you’ and to do something for them in return, not because I feel obligated but because I want to let them know that their ‘friendship’ is appreciated.

If you are reading this and you are rich or famous, here is an important tip that will serve you in good stead. Friends are not ‘yes, men’ who will tell you that everything you do or say is great and right. True friends will disagree with you and tell you that you are wrong. And when somebody does that, take it into consideration and re-think your position; you may well find out that you are, in fact, wrong!

If you go through life without deep friendships, you are missing out on much of the joy of life! There is nothing more fun than sitting down at dinner with close friends and just having a wide ranging conversation on different subjects, discussing and exchanging ideas. Just because you’re friends doesn’t mean you have to agree on everything. For example, I am an atheist and am quite outspoken about my disdain for religion and, yet, two of my closest friends are a Roman Catholic priest and a nun. We accept each other’s point of view and we tease each other.

That brings me to another point. You can’t have friends if you are judgmental or disapproving about their life or their choices; it’s their lives and you have to support them and if you can’t say something nice, then say nothing at all! If you truly disapprove of them, then disassociate yourself because you’re not a friend; you’re simply not in tune with them and they deserve better. You also can’t pretend to be a friend and then behave as if the other party is insignificant or too much trouble.

If you have a ‘friend’ who mostly behaves like you’re a casual acquaintance or that they’re doing ‘you a favor’, or is often in a bad mood then they aren’t a friend and nothing you can do or say, will change that. Don’t waste your time on or with them! (If you looked deeper into that person, you would find somebody who knows people for a short time only before those people get fed up and move on; they will never realize that they are the one who is causing it!) Remember the old saying “With friends like that, who needs enemies!”

If you have a ‘friend’ who likes to gossip, especially about other people that you know, avoid them like the plague. You can, safely, bet your life that they are talking about you behind your back to the same people that they were gossiping about with you. Gossips are generally mean-spirited and love to cause trouble, often claiming knowledge when they have none and trying to spread dissent. They do this because they, themselves, have extremely low self-esteem and see their role as trying to bring everybody down to that level.

If you have a ‘friend’ who says your important decisions are bad, they might be right but, more likely than not, they are just jealous of what you are doing and want to put doubt and fear into your mind. They are themselves so fearful, that what you are doing is beyond their comprehension, and they want to stop it somehow in any way they can. (When we made the decision to move to France, we knew who our real friends were because they all said ‘Great, go for it! The ones who tried to dissuade us are the ones we don’t talk to any more).

If you have a ‘friend’ who is fundamentally mean-spirited, jealous and unhappy with low self-esteem, you will find yourself being drawn into their misery and all of their problems will end up becoming yours, because you will try to help where no help is possible, and your efforts (or kindness or compassion) will be seen as a sign of weakness by that person, and they will despise you for it; it is their nature and they cannot be any other way. If you surround yourself with enough of these people, then you will become like them. Negativity is a very strong force; it is, to quote George Lucas, ‘the dark side’!

If you have a ‘friend’ who is constantly bragging about how great they are or how much they have, beware! This type of person has extremely low self-esteem and is constantly looking for people to boost them up by agreeing with them. Whilst a healthy dose of ego is almost always required to be successful in one way or another, people with huge egos are only ever thinking about themselves. And, people who only think about themselves don’t make good friends at all; they just gather in flocks and pat themselves on the back.

If you have a ‘friend’ who meets any of the above criteria, they will suck the life and energy out of you like a vampire, and, for a while, you will let them do it, making excuses for them, because you just don’t want to believe that people are like that, but they are! They are not, and never will be, a real friend to you, or to anyone. At best, they will be an acquaintance and when they disappear, like ships passing in the night, you can be sure that they will lay the blame for it squarely on your shoulders. After all, they are perfect, so how could they be the cause.

We all lead very busy lives and time flies by but you have to, somehow, find time to maintain friendships otherwise they will just wilt and disappear. There is nothing more guaranteed to give somebody a ‘warm and fuzzy feeling’ than a phone call from out of the blue and a voice saying ”I was just thinking about you and …” Friendship and procrastination are sworn enemies by the way. If you think of somebody, don’t say to yourself, I’ll give them a call next week, because next week will come and go and you’ll have other things on your mind. Pick up the phone there and then!

If you value people and friendships, you will have a richer life. Families come and go; children grow up and move away and often, the dynamics of a family lead to disagreements and conflict. You can’t choose your family but you can choose your friends. If you choose wisely, you’ll be a happier person and isn’t that a better way of living!

P.S. I wrote this piece back in 2011 and received quite a number of positive comments. It seems appropriate to re-publish it, especially considering that I recently lost two of my oldest friends; John Farrell (cancer) and Peter Ferrier (kidney failure). I hope it resonates with you. If it does, please share it.

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