Questions about friends

29 March 2021
Questions about friends

Marty Nemko, Ph.D :
Thomas Aquinas wrote, "There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship."
It may not be so black-and-white.
How necessary are friends? A small percentage of people are happy being quite hermetic, perhaps because friendship requires sacrifice: willingness to listen or do something when you'd rather not.
But most people want and, net, benefit from having at least one good friend plus others that will do in a pinch, for example, as an activity partner.
How disclosing should you be? Should you disclose a serious diagnosis? Your net worth? Your embarrassments such as a sexual dalliance or unusual predilection, or having screwed up at work, big-time? Weigh the benefit vs. the risk. Benefits might include catharsis and support. Liabilities might include burdening your friend with your problem and needing to keep it secret. And if you have a falling out, might your friend use your disclosure against you?
How tolerant should you be? Many people complain of friends who are unreliable, too critical, or ask too much of your time, for example, making you re-listen to their life's first-world tales of woe, and the latest on sports or pop culture, about which you could care less.
It's easy to get sucked in by high-minded definitions of friendship. For example, Oprah Winfrey said, "Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down." But doesn't that depend on the bus ride's length and frequency?
When should you give candid feedback, even if not requested? Let's say that your best friend praises a politician that you view as the anti-Christ. The chances of changing your friend's mind are smaller than of damaging the friendship. Even more dangerous is if your friend gushes, "I'm getting married!" and you're confident s/he'll be miserable. If you speak up, you could lose your friend, but you stay silent, it's a little like seeing someone about to get run over by a car and you choose to just stand there.
It may be wise to err on the side of kindly couched candor, for example, "Congratulations. Are you feeling unbridled joy or, like some engaged people, have other thoughts swirling around?' If that costs the friendship, while painful, maybe that person isn't worthy of you. A decision rule: How likely is that your candor will be so helpful that it's worth the risk of hurting the relationship?
Should you keep your pledge to be best friends forever (BFFs?) As in marriages, the intention is for permanence but in reality, breaking up is sometimes wise. Maybe that's true of your BFF. Perhaps your interests have diverged, for example, you now find that getting loaded has lost its luster. Or you've tired of being on the friendship's giving end. Or maybe you've just grown bored with the person and decided that your time could be better spent with someone else or another activity.
If you wouldn't argue for prohibition against divorce, shouldn't you feel okay about tactfully breaking up even with a "best friend forever?" Perhaps it's least hurtful to just decrease the frequency of your contact but in some cases, for example, the aforementioned asymmetry in giving, it may be worth tactfully mentioning it. That might even save the friendship.
Black-and-white assertions abound, including about friendship. But as usual, nuance is more helpful. Perhaps considering those five questions will provide that and help you find a good friend, maybe even a BFF.

(Marty Nemko, Ph.D., is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, California, and the author of 10 books).

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