Friendshifts: Keeping Close Through Life's Changes


Even if you are lucky enough to be raised in a very responsive and loving family, it is inevitable that you will someday leave home. But friends-old friends whom you have cultivated over the years or newer ones whom you develop in your new communities-will always be available to you for affirmation and companionship.

Friends can be a source of self-esteem, affection, and good times. In times of despair, friends offer hope: a class of youngsters in California in 1993 shaved their heads so their friend and classmate, who was undergoing treatments for cancer, would not feel self-conscious about his bald appearance. His dozen friends kept their heads shaved until they learned their friend's cancer was in remission.

Friendship. It's something many people take for granted. They are unaware how powerful and positive friendship can be, or they would take it more seriously. The right friends can help you feel worthwhile. The right friends can even help get you elected president. School, work, parenting, and even old age are better and more fun when shared with friends.

I asked 46 college students at St. John's University what factors must be present in a close friendship. Almost all agreed that trust and honesty (44 and 43, respectively) were paramount, followed by faithfulness, loyalty, and being a good listener (35, 32, and 3 1), and, finally, having ideas in common and love (28 and 24). Just one wrote that attractiveness counted; only two felt age was a factor; only 10 considered intelligence, and only 8 deemed being a good talker of any significance.

What a glorious relationship friendship proves to be, where trust, honesty, faithfulness, loyalty, being a good listener, having ideas in common, and love are what count. These are all traits or feelings you can acquire. Age, attractiveness, and intelligence, largely a question of birth and luck, are considered unimportant for a close friendship.

Similarly, you are born to a family; you can choose your friends.

You would probably agree that friendship is crucial for schoolage children or for singles who are between romantic relationships. However, friends count for even the happiest couples: friendship affirms and validates in a more distinctive way than even the most positive romantic or blood tie. It is now known that friendship is vital throughout life.

"You quickly find out who your good friends are when you are down or when you need them most," writes a 36-year-old married vice president of sales who lives in Cincinnati. "A good friend won't desert you when you are down," this mother of two preteen daughters continues. "Nor will she turn away in jealousy when you succeed."

Another theme of this book is that friendship, like love, requires an investment of time and effort. Even children need guidance in how to develop and maintain friends. Until they are old enough to make arrangements on their own, they need their parents or caretakers to set up play dates for them with their friends. Playing with the kid next door is fine, but it is not enough. They need to cultivate friendships based on likes and dislikes, not just proximity and convenience. They need to be taught how to keep a friendship going even if a friend moves away, or if they have a disagreement.

If you do have a mate or romantic partner, it is ideal to be best friends with your mate as well as lovers. However, even when you attain that ideal, you need platonic friends where shared income, living arrangements, or the roles of spouse or parent are less likely to complicate the relationship.

Furthermore, even if you are fortunate enough to have the most sympathetic opposite-sex relationships--spouse or friends---certain gender-specific experiences, such as the onset of menses, the physical act of childbearing, becoming a father, or menopause, can only be shared vicariously. Same-sex friends add a commonality of experience that enriches your life.
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