What is the definition of a true friend? In our increasingly lonely society, friendship matters more than ever. In this article, we’ll probe both of these ideas and give you tips on looking for a true friendship.
Making friends is something we typically learn to do when we’re young. In one sense, it’s easier to make friends when you’re younger for a variety of reasons. You’re at the same stage of life, occupied by and involved in pretty much the same things; you probably live close to one another, and you see each other quite often because of school and other activities. All this makes it possible to make friendships within your peer group.
These commonalities become more complicated the older you get. The guys you play ultimate frisbee with may be married or unmarried, divorced or widowed, unemployed, or have significant work. They may have kids, but also maybe not. Some may be Ivy League-educated, while others didn’t go far with school. They may live close to you, or much further off.
You may or may not be in the same economic bracket. Some may be believers, while others are staunch atheists. You may have people across the political spectrum in one team. In other words, there may be one point of intersection – ultimate frisbee – with a thousand and one other points of potential divergence. You can still make friends there, but it’s a bit trickier to manage than in grade school.
Americans of working age are often quite busy, finding themselves consumed by their work. The recent pandemic certainly did not help in our opportunities to retain and make new friendships, and in recent years there’s been an increase in friendlessness, particularly among young American men.
According to a recent study by Survey Center on American Life, “Americans report having fewer close friendships than they once did, talking to their friends less often, and relying less on their friends for personal support.”
According to that study, around 36% of young men reach out to their parents first when they’re dealing with a personal problem, compared to around just 17% in 1990.
Because of Covid, “nearly half (47%) of Americans report having lost touch with at least a few friends over the past 12 months” with almost 59% of women saying that they fell out of contact with close friends during the last 18 months or so. It’s never been more important to cultivate friendships and to understand what a true friendship is.
The Definition of a True Friend
These are some of the most important elements of a true friendship:
A true friend is a person with whom you have things in common. While friendships certainly do develop between two or more unlikely people, what we often find is that the group shares things in common, and they are able to carry on as a group by cultivating those things.
One of the most articulate expressions of what friendship is and how it grows was explained by C. S. Lewis. In The Four Loves, Lewis says,
“Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden).
“The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’ … It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision – it is then that Friendship is born. And instantly they stand together in an immense solitude.”
Friendship can be forged because you love the same authors, sports, movies, food, and many other things. That seed can be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
One of the ways a true friend shows up is that the focus isn’t solely on them, but your relationship has a strong core of mutual support. It’s a poor friend indeed who keeps the focus on themselves, or who makes the foundation of the friendship their own needs.
A true friend is there to bring out the best in you, just as you do in their life. You stand with one another in your seasons of need, joy, and mourning. Friendship is a mutual appreciation society – you appreciate the things you have in common with one another, and you appreciate each other.
Friendships can get complicated by distance. But one of the joys of a true friend is that they make a gift of themselves and their presence in your life. There is a huge difference between relating to someone through a screen versus them being physically present.
While we can gain much from our online acquaintances, there’s something about an embodied presence that simply can’t be replicated. When you’re going through a tough time, a text or facetime call from a friend will do in a pinch. However, their presence in the room with you is priceless. There is something irreplaceable about being together with your friends, about giving one another the gift of our presence.
C.S. Lewis also gives us this gem of a quote: “In a perfect Friendship, this Appreciative love is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before the rest. Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters. He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together; each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others.
Those are the golden sessions; when four or five of us after a hard day’s walk have come to our inn; when our slippers are on, our feet spread out toward the blaze and our drinks are at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim on or any responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had first met an hour ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life — natural life — has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it?”
The pandemic has certainly made it harder for us to be present for and with one another, but it has hopefully highlighted that it is more important than we could have ever known. We can be creative in how to be safely present with others in this season, but we have an appreciation for why it’s important to be present for and with our friends, to enjoy being in the same space as them.
Accountability and loving truth-telling
Proverbs 27:6 (DRA) reminds us, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” A true friend may wound us with their truth-telling, but we must remember that when the truth is told to us in love, there is no more precious gift we can be given. A true friend isn’t there to simply hype you up and sanction everything you say and do; they also challenge you to be a better version of yourself.
This vision of friendship is something we can better appreciate if we understand how it’s possible that God is using our friendships to make us into better people.
Again, Lewis’ The Four Loves helps us out here, “In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting–any of these chances might have kept us apart.
“But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ can truly say to every group of Christian friends, ‘Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.’ The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.”
Our friends can help to keep us accountable and bring out the beauty in us, and we do the same for them.
True friendship seeks other likeminded souls
Our hearts often want to cling to good things in a selfish way. We don’t always like to share, and that’s a common human foible. A good friendship, and a good friend, will not curve in on itself and become self-serving. Instead, we find that we enjoy meeting other like-minded people and bringing them into our circle. if we are secure in ourselves and our identity, bringing others into our friendship circles is something that brings delight.
What’s the reason for this? One last bit of wisdom from C. S. Lewis on this subject:
“In each of my friends, there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets… Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend. They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, ‘Here comes one who will augment our loves.’ For in this love to divide is not to take away.”
A true friend isn’t selfish in their love toward you. They know that the love of others can bring you more fully into yourself, and so there is always room for others.
Need help cultivating true friendship? You can meet with a Christian counselor for individual advice based on biblical principles to help you find a true friend.
“Friends in a Field”, Courtesy of Melissa Askew, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Buddies”, Courtesy of Helena Lopes, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Posing for the Picture”, Courtesy of Naassom Azevedo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Coffee Chat”, Courtesy of Prisiclla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License