Real Talk: Choosing Friends

I am lucky in my friends. They span near and far. Some are close to my heart, and some are dear to my heart.

I was asked recently about things I think about when choosing friends.

Most often people just say “Well, you need to get out there and meet people,” but we all know it’s more complicated than that. Sure, if I meet hundreds of people, I’m bound to find a few that I click with. But especially since I turned 30, I just have zero time or desire to wander through the masses looking for superficial friends.

I pick exceptional people that inspire me, people I admire a lot, and people that I genuinely am true fans of.

Wondering How to Find Your Tribe?

For me, I can sum it up by saying that friendships are nurtured when we give and accept the freedom to be authentic.

Friendships are nurtured when we give and accept the freedom to be authentic.

Maggieothevalley.com

There you have it! Post over! You really don’t need any more than this to understand my philosophy.

But, if you do want more information, keep reading I’ll unpack this idea in the post below:

Authenticity: Both Sides of the Coin

Here’s a thing I keep in mind, and the good news is, it starts with someone much smarter than me.

This lesson comes from Dr. Maya Angelou. She said this famous quote:

When people show you who they are, believe them.

Dr. Maya Angelou

Notice she’s saying show, not tell. When people show you who you are, believe them. The first time.

So, I have news for you, and you might not like it. People are always showing you who they are. Let’s talk about this so you can see if you might just be overlooking some things in your circle.
Unless you change it intentionally, the framework of your relationship with someone now is the framework you will have for the entirety of your friendship with that person.

What to Expect From Their Side

This does not at all take into account what you may or may not bring to a friendship. This is just something to consider when you are evaluating the messages that your friends or prospective friends are bringing to you.

  • Friends with a gossiper? They are going to be involved with gossip for as long as you know them. When you stop gossiping with that friend, do you think they’ll still feel as close to you? No way! Gossip is part of the framework of your friendship. And here’s the thing: a gossiper is a gossiper. How much do you want to bet that person gossips about you? If you’re going to remain friends with this person, you’ll have to stunt your maturity and remain a gossiper forever, which does not sound like a very fun idea to me.
  • If you are friends with someone who doesn’t initiate communication, you need to know that in your friendship, you will not be able to rely on that person calling you first. Ever. Being occasionally delighted and/or surprised by a call? Great! But that’s not the default framework of your relationship with that person. Knowing that could help you accept and love them better, or at least prevent you from feeling embittered or embarrassed if you’re always the one reaching out. The framework is the framework; if you’re going to remain friends, you’re signing up to be the one to call first, period. My artist and musician friends are so very much like this! I find it a charming part of their free-spirited character. Creative types really suffer with these types of expectations, so I place none. This is how you accept this person for who he/she is, and give them the respect and freedom to be who they are. Your choice of behavior should honor who YOU are, so react to this accordingly.
  • If you’re friends with someone who refers to you as her “best” friend when she’s lonely, and then simply a “good” friend when her other friends are back from wherever, you need to know that’s a framework of your relationship. Is this person still your friend? Heck yes! But it could be that this person is still figuring out what friendship means to them. That is ok! You can accept and love this about her, maybe even help her explore what friendship means to her! Be a buddy. I have friends like this, and it’s not because of any other reason than they don’t keep “best” friends, they keep honorary sisters, and that’s a truly high honor. It’s also something I relate to. Conversely, I have other friends like this, and the underlying issue is that they often feel burdened by what other people think, and it makes me feel that they must worry about what I think a lot too. If this is who you’re dealing with, why not give them the great gift of freedom from having to worry about what you think? Why not just accept and love them as they are? When you offer this, they’ll sense it, believe me. It’ll be like giving a thirsty person a cool drink of water; sweet relief from the pressures of what other people think.
  • If you have spent quality friendship time with someone but they still don’t find reason to share the things that are going on in their lives with you, chances are they never will. It’s not a part of their framework. Hey, they have every right to decide that with you! Just like you’d have every right to decide that for someone else. If you remain friends with this person, just know they like having their own world that you’re not a part of, and they’ll tell you they’re “fine” when you ask how they are. If you want to know more, you’re signing up to be the one to ask! And if you don’t that’s your call too. I have ended friendships with a person like this simply because I felt after ten years of trying to reach out in friendship, he should be able to tell me basic things about his life, but that’s my standard–one that I am responsible for. I have also ended friendships with people like this who have not only not offered anything about their basic day-to-day, but when asked, they have lied. That’s not the sort of garden you want to water, if you know what I mean. You just don’t need a friend like that.

These are just a few examples of literally millions of possibilities out there. Evaluate the people who are influencing you in your life. What can you learn about them based on what they show, regardless of what they say?

Some Good News

  • If you have a healthy friendship framework with someone, it is more likely that you will be able to keep it healthy, no matter what life changes come your way.
  • If you have a healthy friendship framework with someone, it can grow and change without becoming lost. This is because you have been able to love and accept them for who they are, but also, you’ve found someone who is willing and able to do the same for you! Way to go, both of you!
  • Healthy friendship frameworks don’t falter with distance or time. These are the kinds of friends we can love all throughout our lives.

More Good News

It’s not a one-way street! I’ve talked a lot about which friends to choose, which to hold on to, and why.

You want a healthy framework for friendships with people? Make one! You’re half the equation, after all.

BE AN INTENTIONAL FRIEND!

If you want to meet interesting people, you can start by being interested in people.

If you want to be a friend that is cool to be around, learn to accept people as they are. You may not like the framework you have with someone, and you’re not obligated to invest in a friendship that your heart isn’t in. But you do have the power to let people “do them,” as they say. Accept them. Appreciate what there is to appreciate, and keep yourself moving right along. Don’t gossip.

If you want authentic friendships, go for quality, not quantity. It’s far better to have four quarters than it is to have 100 pennies. Don’t get me wrong–you might wind up with 10 or 20 quarters, and boy oh boy, that’d be reason to celebrate!

How about being a friend to yourself first? It’s that age-old rule, you can’t give away what you don’t have. Make sure you love yourself, and if you don’t yet, then start by respecting yourself.

Be a Fan

Giving and accepting the freedom to be authentic means you’ll probably start to genuinely appreciate the friendships you do have, and that’s a win! You might not encounter a bunch of people you’d want to have as friends. The thing about freedom and authenticity in friendship is, when you do find excellent people, you’ll genuinely and sincerely admire them. You’ll be able to wish them well and mean it. You’ll be able to encourage and pump them up, and mean it. You’ll be able to be happy for them, to want to help them, and you won’t ever have to worry about “keeping score.” You’ll just think they’re awesome!

Feel shy about meeting people? I bet you wouldn’t if you had the mindset of truly appreciating people in this way. Think of all the people out there just waiting, whom you are going to find truly awesome and inspirational? And I mean it, you’re going to think they are the bees knees!

What If I Have Friendships That I Want To Improve?

We never throw people away. I’ll repeat: we never, ever, ever throw people away. Got that?

We can decide to eat at different tables, and that’s ok. That doesn’t mean you deem someone as worthless or meaningless.

The only exception to this is if you are dealing with someone who is abusive. If you are friends with someone who is abusive, I’m sorry but that is unacceptable. It will never improve. Got it? Never. Eat at a different table. And they are not allowed to sit at yours. That is the line that can’t be crossed, capiche?

If you have healthy relationships with people but you need a tune-up in your framework, you’ve got options. You can:

  • Tell them about what you want to change in your friendship, and what you will be doing going forward. They can accept this in you, or not. They have a right to either.
  • Put that friendship in a “time out” category. That means you’re going to take some distance, and you will return at a later date to rekindle the friendship under terms that you feel are more appropriate. You are taking on the acceptance that you won’t know what is going on in their lives during this time. And, they have a right to accept your new terms upon your return, or not.

Summing Things Up

People are good. People are best when they are free.

If you want to be a good friend, let people be free with you, just free to be who they are, how they are.

Call them if you want, show them the kind of love that you know how to give people, as best as you can, and do better when you learn how to love better, yes?

If they need freedom to go be who they are, give it to them, and use the time to love, nourish, respect, and be a friend to yourself. Peace is possible, and it’s all good.

Good friends kind of take care of themselves in this way: with this mindset, I find that I sort of naturally gravitate to people who are interested in life, and who only make time for things that are authentic. I find that these types of people are closer to me too. Inauthentic folks, or folks who aren’t ready to be real, simply aren’t interested in me, which is ok because I don’t have time for that anyway. Wish them well, and let them go.

The Right People Will Stay, and the Wrong Ones….Won’t.

I have a different understanding of what you might call “best” friends. In regards to the folks in my circle, if they weren’t the absolute “best” people I knew, people who were authentic and accepting, around whom I could be myself, an extension of my family, part of the village that I found, and people who helped me be closer to God, they wouldn’t be in my circle of friends in the first place. They are my friends, and this fact just shows that there is no higher compliment that I could give them. I truly admire them, I’m their biggest fan, and I feel happy for them totally sincerely. They’re the family I’ve found so far in my life, and they make my world so much bigger. It’s such a blessing. I’d be such a self-centered person if not for them. They make me feel so very grateful. Plus, these are people who feel as deeply as I do about friendship, which means I am given the grace to contribute good things to their lives, too. It’s an all-around blessing. We are kindred spirits, and that is so very valuable to me.

And for the folks I’m not meant to have a kinship with, honestly they just aren’t much interested in me, nor I in them. I have reached an age where I’m really no longer concerned with what others think about me, and you shouldn’t be either. If people are going to talk, they’ll talk, no matter what you do with/for/around them, so you’re better off just being you. Things will happen naturally from there. They’ll zig. You’ll zag. No problem. Wish I’d known that when I was 20, believe me.

A Tribe Just for You

You may think that this limits you to only having a few good friends. My answer to that is: well yeah, maybe. If that’s the personality you have, the life you have, the friends you have, then maybe that’s your circumstances, and that’s all good.

Maybe you’ll have a life that leads you to real, authentic, meaningful friendships with lots of people, and that’s entirely possible too!

You might even experience both sides of this coin over the course of your life! Life changes, and we all go through periods of loneliness. That’s a part of life, and it doesn’t mean you are friendless. You are transitioning. You can still make a tribe wherever it is that you’re going.

My point is, don’t limit other people with rules that really don’t mean anything, and don’t limit yourself with ridiculous conventions, either.

If you go for what is authentic and see people for who they are, you’ll wind up liking all kinds of different people. Some of your new friends will be married. Some will not. Some will be mothers or fathers. Some will not. Rich, poor, fat, thin, from your country, from not your country, your same sexuality, not your same sexuality, from your religion, from a different religion, inter-abled. You can make friends and neighbors of them all by having the courage to be uniquely you, protecting AND expecting the freedom to be authentically individuals with everyone you are friends with.

Just love people. Expect what is good within them. Treat people with respect, and you’re more likely to get respect back. Value differences. Assert yourself. Avoid saying anything to your friends unless it is useful, fun, or a value to them. Take no crap.

And most of all, be grateful for the friends you do have, while you search the world for more. Your tribe is out there, yes, but the secret that I want you to remember is that your tribe is already forming around you.

Resources

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As a former bookseller, you guys know I often look to books to help me explore ideas in just about everything. Here are my book recommendations for learning more about friendship!

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