Sunday, December 14, 2014

How Do You Define Friendship? Results From My Friendship Survey

Friendship is kind of like love. You know it when you see it but trying to come up with a clear and universal definition can make your head ache. As a psychotherapist, I hear people talk about relationships all the time, but I found myself wanting a broader understanding of people’s views on friendship. So, I put together an online survey about it. It’s clearly a topic near and dear to our hearts because over 600 people responded. I asked a lot of different questions about friendship and got hundreds of detailed responses. People shared their most interesting and poignant perspectives when I asked them to write about how they defined friendship.

photo courtesy of Robin Smirnov

Some noteworthy comments about how hard it is to pin down a good definition include:

'Friendship' is a weird, nebulous concept. I wish I had some good theory of friendship, but I mostly just know it when I see it.

I don't have a great definition, but I know it's critical to my life.
Friendship comes in so many forms today it is difficult to define.

Trust and authenticity came up over and over:

Friendship is having someone you like, respect, and trust who likes, respects, and trusts you.

Friends are the people you trust enough to be yourself with
Friends should be trustworthy, honest and supportive.
A friend should be authentic, available, committed to my spiritual, mental and emotional growth.
A friend is someone who trusts me, and is trustworthy.
The level of trust changes and the conversations become deeper, a great need to keep in contact. Levels of intimacy in sharing, confiding, being there.

Connection and acceptance were considered crucial for close friendships:

Friends accept and acknowledge each other's differences as a part of who they are, and only try to change them if they actually want to change.
Friendship is about accepting, I think. It's about sharing some value or interest or goal and seeing that shared piece and treasuring it.
I define friendship as enduring and non-judgmental but I'll tell you the truth, it’s about connection.
Friendship is a bond between two people that fosters intimacy and connectedness.
I know I have a friend when I can be myself 100%.
Those that accept and embrace weird personality quirks and don't shame each other for them.
I would hope that unconditional affection and love, caring and compassion are all part of it.

Comfort and joy in each other’s company, doing things together, and having shared interests were also highly endorsed:

Friendship is someone you do things with like going to dinner, lunch, or shopping in your free time. I find it easier to maintain a friendship with someone who lives close by, has the same relationship status, has children similar in ages to yours, and has similar interests.
You should be able to relax around a friend and they should make you feel positive about yourself.
My friends share my interests, values and goals. They are responsive, respectful, and keep their judgments to themselves.
Friendship is when two or more people mutually enjoy the presence of one another. It is something that happens naturally. You cannot force it. Traits that I prefer include being a good listener, great with advice, emotional support, as well as being able to open up to me in return. I know I have a friend when I can be myself 100%.
Loyalty, honesty, sense of humour, ability to listen as well as converse, warmth, ability to give feedback in a kind manner.
Feeling comfortable and enjoying another's company. Trust, honesty and integrity. When you feel truly comfortable spending time together.
A friend is someone who is non-judgmental towards me, shares some interests, is interested in me as a person and someone I enjoy spending time with.
Friendship is enjoying the other person's company, bonding with each other and being there emotionally.

Loving and having affection for one another was also a common component:

I would hope that unconditional affection and love, caring and compassion are all part of it.
What I look for in a friend is someone who likes me, of course. Someone that's easy to talk to and who I can get along with really well.
The comfort, enjoyment and ease of being in anothers' company. Joyful anticipation of meeting/talking, taking a genuine and heartfelt interest in the other person.
A friend cares.
A friend is someone that you go out of your way to make time for, do things for, and care for. It is born out of love and care, generally through time/experiences/circumstances. It is work to be a good friend, and the rewards are similar to completing any difficult project/goal.
Friendship is having someone you like, respect, and trust who likes, respects, and trusts you. Trust, love, kindness, patience, sharing, related interests, support.
Trust, love, kindness, patience, sharing, related interests, support.
In our friendship, we have each other's backs, trust each other and love each other.
We are friends if we love each other. We are best friends when I love them more than myself, and vice versa.

Knowing each other well, being able to count on one another and supporting each other during the hard times were frequently cited:.

Friends support each other in hard times and celebrate together in good times.
Friendship is the ability to count on someone for both practical and emotional needs.
Friends hold you up when you can't hold yourself up. They have your back at all times but also hold you accountable. They're loving, compassionate, firm, and constant
Remembering what/who is important for them.
Friendship is being available to someone when they need you no matter how long it has been since you have seen or spoken to them.
Once you feel like you can call someone if you need help without feeling as though you are a burden, that's when someone becomes a friend.
Friendship is helping each other out, just because you want to. It's taking an interest in another's life.
A friend is someone who can be counted on to be there when the chips are down.
Friends are close. They know me. They understand.

People also made some interesting points about those who seemed like friends but weren’t. The popular term for this type of person is a frenemy. It’s clear from some of the responses that frenemies have caused considerable pain to those who thought they were really their friends.

I've had friends where we constantly bump heads and it's almost as if the friendship was a competition and I don't think that's healthy.

Someone I thought was my very best friend told me after my divorce that my depression made her depressed and she didn't want to be around me.
People have become selfish and have misplaced values.
It is hard to see that long-term friendships can still end. I thought that after age 50, our friendships were cemented for life, but was recently dropped by two women I thought of as good friends.
Compassion, empathy, open-mindedness are important but often lacking in society.
By my own definition, trust is the key variable in friendship, so I'm not certain anyone I don't trust can possibly be a friend. I'm a bit sad to reach that conclusion, especially since my own struggles to trust those around me may prevent close relationships.
A friend is someone you can share secrets with and know you won't be judged by labels, but just by your character. A friend is someone who is there for you through successes and failures but doesn't use it as gossip material.
Because of social media, friends of friends are more able to cause trouble with other friends, causing an uprising in cynical activities.
Some of the characteristics of a true friend include trustworthy, kind, considerate, caring, not controlling, secure personality, available, patient, encouraging, rejoices in your success- not jealous.

I want to express my most sincere gratitude to those who shared their opinions and stories about friendship with me. Check back for future blogs where I will be exploring the topic of friendship further and sharing more results from my survey.

Here is the link if you would like to respond to my friendship survey: