Sunday, September 1, 2013

5 kinds of friends you can't live without

[Photo: Asparagus flowers, which most people don't see unless they go to the source—a garden or farm.]

This has been a challenging year for my family. Just since April, we've seen my brother take "Go west, young man" to heart and move to Colorado; we've dealt with scary health issues for my dad; I've had surgery myself; I've changed jobs; and the family animals (who are family members on four legs) are showing their age with health problems of their own.

Thankfully, things seem to be working out positively in nearly every scenario (knock on wood), but it's been a year of wondering, "How much more can we take?"

Through it all, these experiences have given me a new appreciation of friendship. While it's easy to be a friend when life is sailing smoothly, the more challenging times unavoidably reveal the true depth of a friendship. This year has revealed a lot, but it's also taught me to be a better friend myself. And that, to me, is one of the most valuable things that I've gained from this year.

I've realized that there are certain kinds of friends that everyone should have. Different people may fill these roles at different stages of your life, but we need these people around us:

1. The one who's actively supportive when you're having a hard time. This is the friend who doesn't shy away when you share bad news. It's difficult to know what to say or do when someone is under a lot of stress or is grieving, but I've learned that the "right" words themselves aren't that important. A simple hand on the shoulder with a look of understanding can work wonders for the person who feels alone. Receiving a text message or email a few days later that just says, "How are you? How is it going?" tells us that we've not been forgotten. Those friends who stick around and just show you that they care are invaluable.

2. The one who's really honest. Each of our friendships gives us something different. And while you should feel free to be yourself with every friend (the ones worth keeping, that is), some people are just naturally more at ease with that than others. My conversations with one of my girlfriends, who I've known for nearly 10 years, are some of the most honest exchanges I have. While interactions with other friends aren't untruthful by any means, this friend is just especially honest and open about what she's feeling, and that encourages me to be the same way with her. It reminds me of this clip from Sex and the City 2, and it makes me appreciate it more:

3. The one who asks tough questions. You could call this the "gut-check" friend. I'm a big believer in trusting and following your own gut instincts, but it helps to have some support outside your own head, too. This is the friend who challenges you to think of every angle, who plays devil's advocate, and who challenges you to not avoid a subject because it's uncomfortable. This friend asks questions others are afraid to ask. I have one girlfriend, in particular, who's marvelous at this, and it means that conversations with her are often very thought-provoking and cerebral. She brings an academic, and often progressive, point of view to the discussion. 

4. The one who's been there and truly understands what you're going through. Some people are very good empathizers, but nothing replaces the friend who's personally been there. Finding one of these friends may take dedicated effort when you need it, but it's worth it.

5. The new friend. While old friends are irreplaceable because they've seen you through ups and downs, and you know they're worth keeping in your life, I love the joy that comes with finding a new friend. You meet someone who matches you—whether it's in similar interests or experiences—and you can pass countless hours just talking and getting to know this new person. In many ways, it's a lot like dating, but without the awkward "So, where is this going?" conversations. You get to just enjoy each other. And eventually, this new friend may become a life-long friend. Awesome.

These kinds of friends have risen to the top this year, and I have come to appreciate each of them in new ways. I'm now challenging myself to learn from their examples and make myself a better friend to them, in turn.

What friends have you realized are invaluable, and how have they made you a better friend? 

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