Over the summer, our church did a series on friendship.

It left me wanting something more though.

We talked about loving strangers; we talked about same sex friendships; and we talked about opposite sex friendships, which was actually just friendship in marriage.
And that’s what it always goes to doesn’t it? Romantic relationships. Marriage. Finding a better half.
“Perhaps I’m just seeing it from one (skewed) perspective” I thought to myself.
So I Googled “books on friendship”.
The first result was Charlotte’s Web.
Yes.
A book about a talking spider and a talking pig. And I think a horse that says Wilbur? I don’t know. I never read the book. Which could be why all this friendship talk is coming up. Maybe I should’ve just read Charlotte’s Web and I wouldn’t just now be digging into the foundation of friendship 20 years later.
My point is this – as kids, we’re taught about making friends. We’re taught how to appropriately interact with other children. We’re taught what’s expected of us when we’re someone’s friend.
At that age, the expectations were like sharing our Ninja Turtles action figures and not pushing each other off moving bikes.
As adults, it seems that the only focus is about finding marriage and romantic relationships.
I remember my Interpersonal Skills class in college – the professor would talk about success testimonials from past classes every so often. Every one of them ended with, “and then they got married.”
There’s a million self help books on how to be a better wife, husband, or partner in romantic relationships – or even how to be a better person to those we don’t even know – but how many books are written on how to be a better friend? How many books emphasize the importance of friendship?
I’ve seen approximately none.
And my Google search proves that the last books on friendship are from 3rd grade.
This past year on my birthday, hundreds of people poured out loving messages, posts, texts, phone calls and emails wishing me the best of days.
I like to respond personally because it’s the one time of year it prompts me to reconnect with people.
But that actually made me have kind of a mini meltdown.
I got emotional about how many people I haven’t kept in close contact with – how many people I failed to check in with – how many dear friends were spread throughout the US and I had no idea what was happening in their lives.
Message after message I read – when I should’ve been feeling loved – I actually felt a lot of guilt.
They were saying sweet things that I didn’t even think I deserved – things about how much I meant to them and how much of an impact I had on them.
I knew in my heart that if any of them ever reached out for support or advice, I absolutely would be there for them and I’d love them unconditionally through whatever they were going through…unless they were considering rooting for Canada in the next Olympic hockey games. I would not love them through that.
So why did I feel so awful inside if I knew I still loved my friends the same and would still be there for them?
I still didn’t know why until recently when I made an important discovery.

THE FRIENDSHIP EQUATION

Some friends are amazing; some friends are worth fighting through anything for because they have rare and precious qualities.
And some friends just suck.
Some friends you can confide in them that you’re having a really rough time and that you’re struggling really badly and they say something like, “it’ll all work out. Let’s go get tacos.”
(That might be a bad example because tacos really do make almost anything better, but you get the point.)
These friends – the ones that only wanna hang out if everything is going well; the ones that talk about you behind your back; the ones that get jealous of you when you succeed – I don’t believe they’re bad people.
I think they just haven’t learned or developed the character traits that make a good friend.
Here’s what I started realizing – the qualities that make a good friend are the same qualities that make just a plain ol’ good human.
If you have a good friend who shows empathy in your time of need – do you think they’re callus to a stranger?
If you have a good friend who makes you feel safe – that means you feel that they’re loyal and honest, that they have your best interest at heart – do you think they’d be the type of person to embezzle from their company?
If you have a good friend who’s attentive to your likes and dislikes and has high emotional intelligence – do you think they’re dense in all their other interactions?
I don’t know what you answered, but I thought of the people that I regard as empathetic, safe and attentive and the answer is no. They don’t just turn those qualities on for me – that’s who they are as people and they bring it into our friendships making them “good” or “dear” or “best” friends to us.
You could be thinking, “well I do have some good friends that talk shit behind people’s backs but they don’t do it about me cuz we’re BFFAE (best friends forever and ever).”
I used to think that too until I painfully discovered through a lot of interactions that if someone talks trash about SOMEone, they’ll talk trash about ANYone. Including me when I’m not around.
Here’s what I think makes for a good friendship:
Character traits + connection = good friendship

ACTIVE VS. PASSIVE FRIENDS

Have you ever been to a wedding where the pastor talked about seasons of marriage?
My friend Max is a pastor.
I’ve heard him officiate several weddings. Is it called officiating? I guess you officiate a sports game…or do you officiate weddings too? I don’t know. He preaches and tells them to kiss each other.
Anyway.
One thing that always stuck out to me is how he warned the husband-and-wife-to-be of the different seasons of marriage.
He said, “⅓ of your marriage, you’ll be in love with each other. ⅓ of your marriage, you’ll be roommates, and ⅓ of your marriage, you’ll just plain ol’ dislike each other.”
That was the first time I could actually appreciate the standards being set for when you quite literally fuse your life with someone else’s. How COULD you like each other all the time? I don’t even like mySELF all the time, so how could I expect another human to?
But with marriage, you’re choosing that person.
You’re saying, no matter what – I got you. Through thick and think – I got you. When you need me – I got you.
There are simply seasons of marriage, just how Max described. Even if you work hard to be the best you can for that other person, there are still seasons.
It hit me recently, it’s the same damn thing for friendship.
That’s why I was so perplexed inside about whether or not I was being a “good friend”. I wanted to be the best version of me for my friends, but I just felt like I couldn’t keep up with so many people.
And that’s the whole point.
I can’t.
Not without missing the life in front of me.
Realistically, I can only give my focused attention to 2-3 people at a time.
Nope, lemme rephrase that – I only WANT to give my attention to 2-3 people at a time.
I’ve actually tried the other way – I tried to be everything to everyone, and it turned out to be stressful and overwhelming.
One of my good friends who used to be a professor of mine checked in on me a couple years ago and he wrote a really powerful line in his message: “you fill your life with so many people…but your happiness is not where it needs to be.”
What the hell.
He literally doesn’t live in the same state as me, we don’t talk often, and he knows only what social media tells him about my life.
But he was totally and completely right.
I felt obligated to be a “good friend” to everybody all the time and all at once.
It got so overwhelming that I wanted a hiatus from my own social life.
But feeling that way made me feel like I was being a bad friend if I didn’t always say yes to social engagements and didn’t text everybody back.
Recently I’ve been thinking about it on repeat.
Am I a good friend or am I selfish?
Then I came to define these 2 terms, or states of being, if you will:

Active good friend: having the character traits of a good friend and also having a deep connection with someone while being in constant communication, being intimately involved in the details of his/her life, and actively responding to his/her needs for support – for better or worse.

Passive good friend: still possessing all the character traits and connection you once had with someone, but talking and seeing each other more infrequently, though when you do – everything feels right still.

The reality I discovered is that I cannot be an active good friend to more than 2-3 people at once without completely derailing and devaluing my own self care and ambitions.
This discovery feels like operation freedom.
I feel like now I can be a better friend.
I feel like now I can finally balance living my life and loving my people.
Think about your relationships – who are your good friends? Are you in a season of active or passive friendship? Do you even agree with the concept of active and passive friendship?
I’d love to hear from you 🙂