Friends. What would we do without them? Relationships with people are one of the best things about our human existence. Some friends knew you before you even knew who you were going to be when you grew up. They shared all of the growing pains of your childhood… the boyfriend dramas, and the tears.
Some friends you meet in college or at work but not all last once life takes a different direction. Some friends are situational because your kids are in the same class, you work on the same volunteer committees, you’re neighbors, etc…but once the situation is over, so is your friendship.
True friends are ones who go through life’s ups and downs with you, weather marriages and divorces, babies and infertility but are still there for you to offer an ear, advice or a pot of chicken soup. In fact, hard times reveal who your true friends really are.
Hard Times Reveal True Friends
Back when I was a single mom of 3 kids, life was not easy. There were some things in my life that were way better than being in a contemptuous, difficult, and at times dangerous marriage. But, the real struggles of raising kids, one with extra needs, while working full-time and taking care of a household by myself, were very overwhelming.
At this point in my life, I had a job as an on-site corporate travel consultant. My responsibilities included taking care of the top 10 executives for their travel to and from Paris on the Concorde, and other international trips. I loved my job! But not why you may think I did.
Booking travel arrangements wasn’t as glamorous as I had envisioned it would be. In fact, I really didn’t like that part of my job at all. What I did like, and what I was really good at, was keeping my clients happy. I loved the customer service and problem-solving aspects of my job. My clients knew that wherever they were stranded in the world, I would be able to get them on an oversold flight, that coveted aisle seat, or that upgrade to First Class…whatever it took.
My experience of being a single mom of three taught me how to be resourceful.
You may realize that when a mom needs to figure something out for their kid, especially one with extra-needs, you become very creative. Realizing that you can figure out almost anything with perseverance and tenacity, was my biggest strength.
Besides helping stranded executives, what I loved most about my new job was making new friends!
For the first time in my adult life, I found a new set of people who had the same values, aspirations, and sense of fun as I did. Up until that point in time, I shared my friends with my ex-husband. Of course, I didn’t get along with him and didn’t really care for most of his friends either. We had been together since I was 17 years old, and most of his guy friends were just his drinking buddies.
Working my now full-time job to support myself and three kiddos opened up a new world for me. I met some great friends who changed the trajectory of my life.
One of the executive women I met at work (who was actually a few years younger than me and brilliant) invited me to the Old Town Art Fair. The Art Fair is a must-see, thing to do every summer in Chicago. So I went and met up with her and her friends, and the rest is history.
These new friendships taught me things I never experienced before as an adult.
In the past, if I was up after midnight it was because I was feeding a baby. Hanging out with them was an absolute blast! I ended up meeting my husband Peter while out with these girls at the Blue Note Ball, (fundraiser for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra).
Top Characteristics of a True Friend
What are the characteristics of a true friend that can stand the test of time?
Trustworthy and Dependable
A true friend does what she says she will do. If she says she will be there at the book club, she doesn’t bail at the last minute. If she says she will water your plants when you’re out of town, she doesn’t blow it off. You can count on a true friend. You know you can share your deepest secrets with her and it won’t go anywhere.
A true friend is not afraid to tell you something that you may not want to hear. She sees your blind spots and loves you anyway. Having a friend who is not afraid to tell you that you have broccoli in your teeth or that it’s time for a haircut, is very comforting to me. Honesty makes it easy to know where the other person stands. This is one of the things that attracted me to my husband Peter. He is brutally honest. He has softened up a bit over the years, but I like the fact that he’s not a game player and is not afraid to voice his opinion. You don’t need to be rude and obnoxious to be honest. But if you’re really someone’s true friend and fan, you will let them know if they need to know something.
They Do Not Judge You
A true friend is someone you can be your authentic self around and they are okay with that. They try and give you different perspectives to see a side of a picture that maybe you cannot since you are involved. They understand you and all of your quirkiness and still embrace it.
A true friend doesn’t talk behind your back. She has your back. She doesn’t use you to social climb or use you in any way. She’s your friend because she cares about you and nurturing your friendship.
A true friend supports you in trying times but she’s also your biggest cheerleader when things are going well too. A true friend is excited when you get that promotion, lose those 10 pounds, or find the man of your dreams. She’s not jealous but happy for you.
Fun To Be Around
A true friend laughs with you at all the right moments. She doesn’t roll her eyes when you say something in jest. You share the same sense of humor and enjoy the same activities together. Or at least are open to trying new things together in the name of fun.
I met my friend Joni at work one day when she came into my office. Joni put her boots on my desk, and said, “What’s your sign?” I just about died laughing because I’m totally into astrology too. She’s a Sagittarius with Cancer rising and Taurus Moon, and I’m a Cancer, Libra Rising, with a Virgo moon, in case you were wondering. Joni is still one of my favorite people on the planet. I love her confidence, style, and sense of humor. It’s always fun to be around Joni.
A true friend feels the pain too when you’re going through a scary diagnosis, are on the brink of divorce, or are struggling with a difficult child. She’s there for you because your pain is also hers. Having a true friend when going through a life-quake is like having an angel here on earth.
A true friend can talk to you about deep issues. She’s not surfacy and wants to know the deep layers you are all about. I don’t think it’s even possible to become a good friend with someone unless you have had some deep, authentic conversations anyway. Do you?
How Can We Be A True Friend During Hard Times?
In the very polarizing and difficult climate of the world these days, I’ve heard of several friends taking a break from one another because they don’t see eye to eye.
Having a friend who is on the opposite end of the political spectrum then you, makes a lot of people think that they misjudged who their friend really is.
That’s not necessarily the case.
We all have different life experiences that give us different perspectives. We all think we are right in our views, but I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. So how do we bridge the gap in the divide?
Wellness and meditation expert, Deepak Chopra offered up some advice in the New York Times this past weekend that I am going to apply when talking to a life-long friend, before arguments boil.
Step #1 Choose if you want to engage
Sometimes walking away to cool off is necessary. Both parties need to enter into a discussion when they are willing to calmly listen to the other side.
Step #2 If you decide to engage, Listen.
Listen to get to know why they stand where they do. If you’re not aware of what is going on in their mind, in their life, or in their personal experience, where is the solution?
Step #3 Learn about the other person’s values.
Knowing what is meaningful to them aside from the argument at hand, can help you understand that yes…this is still the same person I have grown to know and love as a person. They are still a good person, even though they may not see things the same way as I do.
Step #4 Try Awareness and Pause.
After listening, learning and gaining some perspective, you still may be angry. When a person is feeling challenged, Mr. Chopra said a natural reaction was “fight-flight-freeze” mode. This reaction makes it impossible to be calm and collected.
Instead tackle a disagreement with insight, intuition, inspiration, creativity, vision, higher purpose, or authenticity integrity. What that means is moving past fight-flight-freeze and taming the ego enough to advance to other options. Also known as taking the high ground.
Taking the high ground.
Step #5 Don’t engage in black-and-white thinking
Saying to someone, that it has to be all or nothing, this way or the highway doesn’t solve any problems. It’s like what Nelson Mandela said, “Having a grievance or resentment is liking drinking the poison and hoping it will kill the enemy.”
Step #6 When Confronted, stop, take a deep breath, smile, and then make a choice.
Ask yourself, “Am I going to be nasty? Am I going to be reactive? Or is there a creative solution to this?
Step #7 Don’t try to prove someone wrong.
Mr. Chopra said that you could slap another person-figuratively-and they might forgive you, but if you proved that person wrong, you would never be forgiven. Then nobody has won.
Step #8 Be prepared to forgive.
You may not feel that the other person in a disagreement deserves forgiveness, but consider it for the sake of your own peace. Forgiveness frees you from the weight of judging someone else’s past behavior. Never carry that around with you. This is also drinking the poison and hoping the other person dies. Doesn’t work. I’ve tried it.
Having a grievance or resentment is liking drinking the poison and hoping it will kill the enemy.”
Step #9 Make a gentle joke.
The world would be a happier place if people laughed more. It’s okay to bring humor into tense conversations as long as it isn’t cruel or demeaning.
Having a true friend is worth all the gold in the world. Realize that everyone is struggling in some way now, and it affects people in different ways. Look back at all the commonalities and things you have shared together with your friend and try not to let the undercurrent of the times take that away from you. If you take the high road and really try to listen to the other person’s side, you may not think of them as the monster you are making them out to be. If you can’t find your way back to the center then maybe they weren’t the true friend you thought them to be.