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Dateline Seattle: Having a friend is a mark of being human

In an article about friendship that I wrote in this column months ago, one feedback I got was that my article was too broad. What I was saying was quite difficult to apply in one’s life. A friend suggested narrowing it down to make it simple and understandable. This revised version is an attempt to satisfy my friend’s request. For quite sometime now, I’ve observed how Facebook has redefined the meaning of friendship. With one click on the computer key board, one can easily meet new friends online. There is excitement in being able to chat and share experiences with another person one hardly knows, although at times information shared is not true but meant to deceive the other person. With the amount of time that so-called friends spend on Facebook chatting, there is no doubt in my mind that these persons will develop a bond of sorts. But sometimes I wonder if the bond will last, especially if one is not even sure if the personal profile one posts on Facebook is real or not. The same goes for friends we only see in social networking sites. If we never see our friends in person, we are not really sharing life experiences but just imagining each other, keeping ourselves updated of our separate lives. It becomes a relationship based on updates rather than shared experience—not bad, just not enough. Sometimes, I am even surprised that by just one click, one can unfriend a friend at any moment. It tells me that they are not really friends but just pretenders. The kind of friendship that the social media are promoting these days is a far cry from the kind of friendship that I consider the ideal. Wikipedia defines friendship as a type of relationship between two people. I find this definition quite dry and simplistic because it doesn’t do justice to the concept of friendship. Two people may have a relationship like the relationship that exists between an employee and an employer. The relationship is real, but it does not automatically mean that they are friends. Some people might act “friendly” with someone but not consider that someone a friend. But take the following examples. A friend remembers your first day at work and gives you encouragement. A friend is the first to text to ask how you did in your test. A friend takes time to invite you for lunch even if the former is busy. From these examples, one can infer that friendship is more than a relationship. As these examples show, friendship can be defined as simply “being there” for each other, like the person who takes time just to hang out with one’s friend. True friends do care for each other and showing concern for each other is essential to the relationship. During our high school reunion last year, I noticed with my high school friends their need to feel connected. They enjoyed talking about their shared values and interests. They enjoyed drinking together. It is as if they wanted to just hang out with one another and spend time together. How does this kind of friendship start? Friendship is often based, or should I say, starts with common connections and common experiences. Then it develops into what I can do for the other person. I call it a blessing if the doing-to-the-other-person stuff is mutual and lasts forever. But sometimes it doesn’t. There are the fair-weather friends who flee at the sight of any problems or difficulties. When you need them the most, they are nowhere to be found. When it comes to finding friends, perhaps the first step is understanding what exactly friendship is. Does it mean that you have to see each other every day? Not really. Remember the saying: Absence makes the heart grows fonder. A relationship needs to have some key elements to be labeled as friendship. So what are the marks of a true friend? Here’s a list of qualities of a true friend that I’ve learned through the years, not ranked in order of importance. - A friend knows that being hurt by the other is a given. Because of this, one is always ready to forgive and forget. - A friend always leaves room for mistakes to be made by the other person without making any judgment. - A friend anticipates how the other person will react, positively or negatively, and acts accordingly. - A friend knows what the other wants. In a sense, this makes the relationship predictable. - A friend protects one’s friend from harm at whatever cost. What matters is what is in the best interest of the person. - A friend enjoys the company of one’s friend no matter what the circumstances are. - A friend listens regardless of whether one agrees with one’s friend or not. - A friend provides an unconditional support, sometimes acts tough but always understanding. - A friend does not play with the feelings of the other. There is no room for pretension to please one’s friend. - A friend talks about the past to gather strength for the future. There is wisdom in past experiences that friends can always learn from. - A friend is interested when you talk about your life and wants the best for you. - A friend is your partner in life’s twists and turns. As a friend facetiously puts it, “A partner in crime.” - A friend is a confidant to whom you can unravel some of your secrets and remain confident that you won’t be betrayed. Some are lucky to have friends – childhood friends, high school friends, and professional friends – who have stayed with them through thick and thin. They have become their drinking buddies, wedding sponsors, email and text pals, confidants, and supporters in one’s advocacies. They are true and tested friends who are always there for you in the best of times and in the worst of times. It was the late Muhammad Ali who said that “friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.” Indeed, friendship is not something that is learned from books. It requires the consent of two people who want to be friends. Sometimes, it involves taking risks similar to what an individual learning how to swim experiences when he/she has to jump into the swimming pool. It is something that is learned through experience. Thus, it is a process that takes time to develop. Friendship is the hardest thing to explain because it takes time to develop. It also takes patience, honesty and sincerity. It cannot be artificially created by some social media tools like Facebook, where one’s photos, status or personal updates are given more emphasis and importance than what really matters like personal disposition or personal values. Friendship comes with being open to everything that could happen – good or bad. It is not, as someone anonymous said, “about people who act true to your face. It’s about people who remain true behind your face.” Aristotle, one of the greatest philosophers, once said, “Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods.” I can think of two reasons why friendship is at risk these days. First, people are impatient. Theirs is a quick-fix mentality where problems, personal or otherwise, must be resolved immediately. Life’s challenges are complicated and are not subject to quick fixes. When friendship becomes problematic, one has to be patient. Second, since society is image-driven, there is the belief that perception is reality. People sometimes fail to see the complexities of any relationship because they fail to exercise critical thinking. Friendship, on the other hand, requires patience because we are dealing with imperfect people who may be different from us in attitudes or temperament. It also requires the ability to look at things critically because sometimes the package is different from the product. There’s the need to separate the image from reality. One has to go beyond the image so that one can discover the beautiful soul inside. Back in his time, Aristotle had already thought about the power of friendship. Thus, friendship cannot be taken for granted. It serves like a well that one can draw support from. It can also serve like a spring that provides life, without which human relationship is devoid of meaning. Life without a friend is death without a witness, is how a Spanish proverb puts it. It is said that when a husband and a wife love and live together for many years, they begin to physically look alike. The same can be said of true friends. British writer Mark Vernon has the same observation when he wrote that a close friend is a mirror of our own self, someone with whom you realize that, though autonomous, you are not alone. Simply put, real friends begin to also internalize each other’s values and interests in many respects. He concludes that if we cultivate friendship, we can “lift some of the burden from our apparently unhappy, isolated selves.” Once we recognize and internalize each other’s values, we begin to know our friend better, almost by default. By knowing our friend better, we begin to understand, like and appreciate him/her better that, as a consequence, we do not hesitate anymore to express our feelings and emotions because we know we are on a safer ground, so to speak. It is a truism that being able to express our emotions honestly is a mark of being human. Close friends display strong support and affection. A close friend fills an invaluable role as a confidant, someone who listens and pays attention to you, and is willing to help you. Like any human relationship, friendship may vary in intensity depending on the individuals concerned and the circumstances. For example, there are some friends that we like more than others. We don’t invest much time with our so-called casual friends compared to our real friends. Does this mean that our friendship with casual friends is fake? Not really. It only goes to show that the amount of time we spend with our friends is directly proportional to how deep the relationship is. The social status of our friends, whether they are married or single, has no bearing in determining the intensity of our friendship. And this brings me to the question – which often is avoided or never asked – on whether true friendship between a man and a woman can exist. Dr. Irene S. Levine, author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, thinks that most adults are currently in search of new friends. She observed that it had occurred to her that she was making friends almost exclusively with women and gay men. She blamed herself for not reaching out to a straight man to see if he wanted to hang out with her sometime, grab coffee, just chill. Why not? Her advice in her own words strikes me: “You should pursue this friendship. Even if you thought this married man was incredibly attractive, I would encourage you to pursue it because you get to know another human being, form a friendship, and enrich each of your lives without leaving your husband or accidentally enveloping this new man’s dick. The way you become this man’s friend is the same way you’ve ever become anyone else’s friend. Show that you’re happy to see him. Ask him questions about himself. Start opening up emotionally to him. Answer his questions honestly. Take an active interest in his life, be sensitive to his needs, and do your best to contribute to and enhance his happiness. Treat him the same way you would a new female friend.” It’s definitely a good advice for women. But men can also learn from Dr. Levine’s advice; they better be, if they want to be fully human. Does friendship last? This is an appropriate question to ask because people’s priorities and responsibilities change. Friendship can be affected for better, or sometimes, sadly, for worse. The only predictor that I can think of whether friendship will last is if friends continue to mutually benefit from the relationship. Friendship that has turned toxic is not worth keeping. People make and keep friends in different ways. And some people do manage to stay friends for life, or at least for a sizable chunk of life. Once friends stop talking to one another for whatever reason, stop trusting each other, and no longer enjoy the presence of each other, friendship has reached its end. Whether people hold onto their old friends or grow apart seems to come down to attention. We need to pay attention to what›s going on in our friend›s life, seeking out and continuously remaining open to each other, and being able to confide deeply not only serious matters, but even trivial ones. If all this means anything, it means that nobody can drive us quite as crazy as a friend who is significantly and meaningfully important to us; someone we can share anything under the sun; someone we can truly call our “friendmate.”

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