Forming Genuine Friendships

Just admit it. You enjoy spending time with certain people and you avoid those who you don’t enjoy. You have friends, maybe even best friends, and you also have those lesser bonds that we call acquaintances or do not even bother to label at all.

Those who we call friends are the people that we enjoy being with the most and they too enjoy time with us. Together, friends care for each other, are understanding, and are also quick to forgive. We enjoy being with them because we are welcome to be ourselves when we are in their presence.

Since the above seems the case, I would venture to say that we avoid those who are not our friends because we simply do not feel welcome to be ourselves in their presence.

But sometimes it takes us a while to figure out who it is that we are comfortable with. A person that we initially see as a possible friend may turn out to be someone we cannot open up to, but we may still pursue that friendship without realizing it.

I often feel like I am in the middle of this tension with some of my friendships. I’ve seen someone that I desire to be better friends with and I pursue them by starting conversations with them or even setting dates to get to know each other more. But amidst all of the attempts at forming a comfortable friendship with someone I fail to see that I have never been myself with this person nor enjoyed all of the time that I have spent with them. On top of that, the sentiment that I have expressed may not be returned.

All of this factored together leaves me hanging onto some small hope of a friendship that will probably not turn into anything else than what it already is: A performance.

My initial desire to forge a friendship has caused me to so desperately want to impress my potential friend that I have forgotten to be myself. Yes, being friends with someone means that you enjoy their company and enjoy who they are, but it also means that you enjoy who you are.

I cannot enjoy myself if I am constantly performing.

When I forget to enjoy myself I prevent my friendship from developing further since I cannot be genuine and therefore cannot genuinely care for the other person.

It is the people that we do not at first anticipate pursuing a friendship with that we often become the most comfortable with because we do not set ourselves up for a performance.

These are the people that we may at first think are lame, not worth our time, or we don’t even remember meeting, but we soon find that these people are who we can really befriend. We’ve never tried to impress them or changed who we are for them and because of that we are not debilitated from forming that friendship.

The result is an unanticipated friendship in which both parties not only enjoy each other but also enjoy themselves when they are together. This allows them to be genuinely careful of the other.

This unplanned sincerity is what allows us to rejoice with our friends and also mourn with our friends in true sympathy. They are the people who we care for and care for us, and they’re probably in your life right now whether or not you know it.

So stop and look around.

Sometimes in my goals to make new friends and pursue new relationships I begin to think that the friends I already have are not good enough for me. Since many of my greatest friendships were unplanned and unexpected I forget that they are most times better than any friendship that I have by my own power tried to create.

In light of this new realization of how to enjoy one’s self and be genuine in their attitudes towards their true friends, we ought to realize that these friendships that we did not at first expect are the ones worth maintaining.

The beginnings of a friendship with a lot of potential have now become clear, but how do we maintain a friendship that we so passively began?

This is where being genuine comes more into play. Sincerity is what first allowed us to break down the wall between two people and it furthers a friendship to allow two people to both build each other up and tear each other down in a (hopefully) constructive way.

Friendships are not effortless to maintain, but by recognizing your own feelings within a relationship and remembering that with comfortable relationships comes genuine ones we can see who it is that will be a lifetime friend.

If we can be ourselves in a friendship, then we can also be much better friends.

  • Mark

    Hi Elizabeth,

    There are some real insights here. But to be honest, I think there are some idealizing aspects here too. If you’ll permit me I think it is fair to say many aspects of this account are a distinctly feminine understanding of ideal friendship. As a man, and an introvert, I’ve endured years of idealized treatments of friendship that made me think my friendships and my life were just not what they should be. And yet, when I could get outside the idealized understanding they seemed not so bad. At the end of the day I decided that there was something wrong with the idealized accounts.

    And men are very different creatures, so I’m not sure how much we can really generalize across gender lines on this subject beyond truths about being ourselves and allowing others to do so. Anyway, I think Christians should study friendship as historically understood from ancient times to present. It would be quite revealing I think, particularly for men in this day and age.

    Ancient understandings of friendship, the effect of the Ciceronian account during the Renaissance, the rise of Christianity and companionate marriage, and the feminization of the culture all figure into this in my opinion. But the clues for me that there is something to be investigate here is the difference between theory and reality. Accepting myself for who I am, and my friends for who they are, has involved turning a very critical eye on idealized accounts of friendship. I suspect I’m not alone. Bluntly stated, fully appreciating the qualities of my friends, and even accepting the fact that I have few (I’m an introvert after all), involved ditching idealized (and therefore unrealistic) aspects of friendship as it has come down to us. Here are some books that have meant a lot to me recently. The last two are either quite expensive or unobtainable, so interlibrary loan is a must.

    -Friendship: An Expose – Joseph Epstein
    -Male Friendship in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries – Tom MacFaul
    -One Soul in Bodies Twain: Friendship in Tudor Literature and Stuart Drama – Lauren J. Mills


  • Mark