Still thinking about people and relationships. Here’s a follow-up post to Two Kinds of People.
Friendship is an elusive category. Not only de we have a difficult time perceiving people’s true intentions and motivations, we also find it difficult to sustain the friendships we aready have. Confession time: I am not the world’s greatest friend. I will let months pass before I make contact with people dear to me all the while believing the relationship won’t suffer. It’s a serious emotional “blind spot.” Fortunately, many of my closest friends understand this about me and continue to initiate conversation. Thank God for good friends.
There’s an old adage that says, “If you can count the number of true friends on one hand, you’re a fortunate soul.” I am very blessed to have more than a handful of people who care deeply about me. Some of them are longtime friends or relatives. Others are ministers – mentors and peers – from all over the U.S. And then there is a group I just “click with.” They “get” me. At the risk of sounding hokey, I think part of this is due to spiritual connection…a shade of explanation often lost when talking about why friendships last. I’ve also had people disappear from my life that I thought would be there forever. Though none of this is new to anyone, I’ve narrowed down friendship to three basic kinds. Understanding these has helped me define relationships and temper expectations for friendship. I thought I’d share them with you:
1) Friends of Mutual Accommodation - This the broadest field of friendship and may be little more than acquaintances…but often times there is more to it. By mutual accommodation I mean that these friendships are only as stable as our ability to meet the other person’s need. Once you can no longer provide the “upside” you once brought to the relationship, then the relationship fails. Sadly, most people come to friendship with the perspective that a friend is only as good as his or her ability to make us feel popular, attractive, or important. But none of these things has anything to do with real friendship. Our culture drives these shallow friendships.
2) Proximity Friends - I remember the first time I left a work environment. I assumed that the friendships there would last. Barring the occasional exception, they didn’t. I assumed these were deeper friendships than they were. Then I began to think, “Maybe something’s wrong with me.” But actually they were just proximity friends. By that I simply mean that we gain friendships based on our access to people. Rotary, Junior Service League, co-workers, church, the gym, etc. These friendships last only to the extent that we are a part of someone’s everyday routine and location. When “ease of access” disappears so does the friendship. A hurried lifestyle and convenience drives these friendships.
3) True Friends - True friendship is not tied to a person’s “upside” or to convenience. In fact, to have true friendship, we must discard all the motivations that drive the first two categories. So, there’s risk involved. Friendship exists simply because of an acceptance and a commitment to someone. These are the friendships you travel to maintain. These are the ones where the “surface talk” disappears quickly and an openness pervades the conversation. There’s no need for masks – no need to pretend you’re something you’re not. Weakness and struggle are not taboo topics. These are the friendships that have progressed and changed as the people inside them have changed. Some of the best clues are when others comment, “I never would have thought the two of you would be such good friends.” Or better yet, when someone asks how you became friends, you stare at each other and say “I’m not exactly sure…”
Circles of friendship and influence ebb and flow – that’s part of life. But don’t let anything hinder those true friendships God has placed in your life. They are the bedrock of a fulfilling life.