Mutual Affection

Amid my struggles with sadness earlier this year, I’ve thought a lot about friends. I’ve pondered, “What is a friend to me?” and “What defines a friend?”. Is a friend someone who helps you? Is a friend and an acquaintance the same thing? I feel like everyone has different opinions or definitions of what a friend is. Does the frequency or means through which you interact with someone determine whether or not you are friends with them?

Friendships can be quite volatile. So, what do we do when something doesn’t go as planned in our friendships? Do we withdraw silently? Do we confront that friend? What happens to the relationship? Who is owed what? That last question may be the most important. It involves expectations, which are often at the core of disruption in relationships.

With so many different personality types, people deal with conflict in so many different ways. It is complicated! It’s layered, like an onion! The thing we absolutely cannot do is expect others to react the way we would. In most cases, the other person involved is simply not going to react as we would have. We must try our best to see things from the perspective of others. This doesn’t mean, we accept toxic or abusive behavior, but as a first step, we should try to understand how they see the situation. Then we can make a call on whether or not it’s healthy. Often times it is not healthy, but that can’t be determined from across the river. Assuming you agree with me on that point, my next question would be, “How do we hold others accountable in friendships when things do go bad?”

Alas, we arrive at this mysterious, transparent thing in relationships commonly referred to as “boundaries”. Boundaries are important for many reasons. One reason is that not only should we handle our relationships with care, but we have to take care of ourselves. In this breathe, we set boundaries so that we can accomplish this. Boundaries go hand in hand with friendship. What you deem acceptable may not be acceptable to a friend and it’s not your job to determine whether their boundaries are appropriate. If you feel like the boundaries that are set by a friend are inappropriate, then as friends you’re certainly within your right to discuss it, but to carry an expectation that a friend should adjust their boundaries to suit your feelings is irrational at best.

A Google search for the definition of a friend yields the following result.

A friend is a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.

This makes sense to me as a simple definition, but in reality a friend through and through can be summarized with a bit more explanation. There’s also the the age old debate on whether someone is a friend or an acquaintance and perhaps this is something that an individual defines for themselves. Of course, a friendship involves more than one person, so we absolutely have to consider that each person in the friendship may have varying definitions of friendship. Take for instance a relationship where one person’s definition of acquaintance is actually in the range of the other person’s definition of friendship. Expectations could vary greatly in such a situation, thus allowing conflict to more easily enter.

Ultimately it’s not my place to define what friendship means to another person. I can however, define what friendship means to me. In other words, I can tell you the expectations I’ve placed upon myself as to how I treat my friends, so that’s what I’ll do.

As a friend, I expect myself to comfort you, show you respect, help you with self-improvement, have a good attitude toward you, and build you up. I’m to make you feel wanted. I’m not to create conflict with you or give your misery or heartache. In no way should I create toxicity in your life. I’m to honor you and show as much courage as I can with regard to the relationship. I’m to be brave, honest, and transparent, ensuring that you are taken care of. Christ said to love our neighbors as our self. This seems to be the basic foundation of a friendship. As with strangers, I’m to show my friends empathy, sympathy, compassion, humility, and forgiveness. Above all else, I’m to put my friends and their well being ahead of my own. Selflessness is the cornerstone of any good friendship.