2 beautiful black men togetherLast week I was talking with a close friend. As usual, we covered a wide range of subjects. He brought up the subject of Friendship and suggested I write a column about it, telling me:”Friendship is severely underrated, especially among men”. A client of mine told me, “Lovers come and go, but friendships last a lot longer. I’d be sunk without my friends.”

What is a friend? Here are some definitions I like: someone who loves you and who you love. Someone you respect, trust and enjoy spending time with. Someone who forgives you, tries to help you when you need it, and tells you when you’re being stupid without making you feel stupid.

And, my favorite definition: someone it’s okay to fart in front of.

I asked my friend why we are still friends after meeting many years’ ago. He said, “We have a core appreciation of each other, despite our differences.” You may not agree with a friend, or like what they say. You may even think they sound like an idiot on a given subject, but you still respect them.

In a friendship, mutual intimacy invites openness, vulnerability and feeling accepted. A friend told me that he used to be afraid of being intimate and vulnerable, but decided to risk it: “I was afraid to let people really see me. But, I realized, what do I have to lose? I’m already sad and lonely. I want friends.”

Good friendships have depth: there is more to your relationship than common interests or similar personalities. There is history, understanding and acceptance. You’ve seen them at their worst (and vice-versa) and you still love each other anyway.

What do you want from a friend? It’s good to be clear about this. As we move through life, we usually want different things at different times from friends. What you want from your friends at age 27 is probably quite different from what you want at age 72.

Or not.

Making friends is a risk-taking activity. People may reject you. People may flake out on you. People may not be who they present on first meeting. So what else is new? Making and cultivating friends is a process that unfolds over time. We’re all bound to go through some bad matches before we get to solid gold.

Real friendships grow slowly. Too many of us scare potential friends away by telling them too much, too fast. Slowly open up to someone: if you feel safe and appreciated, a budding friendship may begin. If you feel uncomfortable or anxious, this person may not be right for you.

Lasting friendships have realistic expectations. Like you, your friends screw up from time to time. Like you, they don’t always say the right things or show up when you need them. All friendships go through rough times. No matter how much you love each other, friends inevitably get on each other’s nerves. What do you do about it? Give up and dump them, or hang in and work it out?

To cultivate great friendships:

keep your word and do what you say.

pay attention. If you’re texting or checking out everyone who walks by while a friend spills her or his guts to you, you are not paying attention.

friends have to be able to say, “Yes, I can do this for you.” or “No, I can’t”. It’s normal for a friendship’s boundaries to shift over time as adjustments are made (by both of you).

How to screw up a Friendship:

lying, backstabbing, manipulating.

expecting a friend to “read” your mind.

unattended friendships die like neglected flowers. On the other hand, an obsessive friendship sucks the life out of you.

We may only need one partner, but we sure need more than one friend. I think everyone needs two or three intimate friends, some friends to just hang out with, and lots of friendly acquaintances.

I invite you to examine what you want from your friends and then experiment: see what you have to give (and receive) and allow your friendships to unfold. You might be surprised how much deep, intimate friendships can change your life.

They sure have changed mine.