Author: Alzeyne Ghadialy

Friendships in our lives

Friendships in our lives

By Alzeyne Kaizad Ghadialy

Psychologist

There are days dedicated to different relationships and one such day is friendship day. Since friendship day is around the corner, I thought it would be appropriate to write about friendships.

Coming from a very crowded city in a populous country, as a child I would often wonder, why is it that so many people exist but we talk to and interact with only a select few, and we form a closer bond with even fewer people. This got me to observe people closely and reflect upon different relationships in my life.

With this post, I hope to share my understanding of this ever-evolving relationship, state certain observations about it and provide insights and my own learnings along the way. I hope this article encourages you to reflect upon friendships in your life.

Let’s try and understand friendship further by answering some of these questions – Who is a friend? What is friendship? How are friendships formed and maintained? What role do friends play in our lives? How have you been as a friend and what do you want from a friend?

Who is a friend?

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

What is friendship?

Friendship is a mutual affection, trust and support between people.

The interpersonal bond, which develops between friends, is stronger than one which builds up due to an ordinary association with another person.

How are friendships formed and maintained?

There are various mediums to meet people. It could be through an institution, like a school, college or workplace, or by connections established via family or common friends. We could also make friends with people who we share a hobby with or by being in an interest group. We may also end up making new friends via social media and the Internet. The potential avenues to meet people are plentiful.

Whenever we meet someone new, our instinct is to look for commonalities and notice how we are similar or different from the other person. A connection may be formed based on commonalities in nature, values, interests, attitudes, habits, mannerisms, lifestyle, outlook or common circumstances. Usually for a friendship to develop there needs to be a mutual liking for one another.

As we go through life, people make and keep friends in different ways. Some of us choose to continue to maintain ties with our old friends throughout our lives, while others choose to be independent and have many acquaintances, rather than deep friendships. Some of us could fall in a category where we continue to try to be close to old friends, while also actively making new ones.

The role of friends

In the hierarchy of relationships, friends are usually at the bottom. One’s partners, parents and children seem to come before friends. This could be because the friendship equation is less formal and less structured.

Friendships are unique because unlike family relations, we choose who our friends are. There are certain things which friends understand because they may have been through a similar phase as us. We may not share such a common journey with our parents or siblings, which means they may not always understand or be able to relate to our thoughts and feelings. Studies and research over the years have shown, that friendships contribute towards our happiness and well-being.

To have friends who have grown up and lived in a very different setup from yourself can be liberating, challenging and mutually gratifying. Friendships also make you far more tolerant and accepting of differences.

A friend is someone who you can talk to, depend on and whose company you enjoy.

They are a great source of laughter and adventure – by helping us explore things we may have never tried and their company can be fun.

How does the role that friends play in our lives change over time?

Friends play different roles in different phases of our lives.

For a child, a friend is a fun playmate.

For an adolescent, a friend is a confidant. He or she acts as a support system, who you can share your thoughts and feelings with. Friends help in this phase of self-identification, sharing and learning what intimacy means.

Young adults are more secure and tend to look for friends who share their values on important things.

Middle adulthood brings on other responsibilities and priorities like marriage and parenting or a focus on building one’s career. It’s in this phase that people make other kinds of relationships, such as with colleagues, or with parents of your children’s friends. This is the phase which sees the most transition, from making new acquaintances to least focus on friends.

Old age brings with it reduced responsibilities and more time on hand to spend with one’s friends and maybe even reconnect with old close friends. Friends at this phase of your life can play the role of a companion.

Online friendships help to maintain a stable level of support and closeness, even though it may not be a highly involved relationship.

It is unrealistic to expect our equations and relationships to remain unchanged across different phases of our lives. To avoid disappointment, it is useful to remember this reality when we attempt to relive a past phase in our life.

Now that we have understood who friends are and a few of the many positives of having a friend, let us explore the spectrum of friendships that exist.

What is the difference between an acquaintance, friend and a close friend?

People with whom you exchange pleasantries, or someone with whom you may have an occasional exchange of observations, are your acquaintances.

In our casual interactions with acquaintances, our thoughts could get challenged with a different point of view, and we indirectly become more aware of our values, thoughts and feelings. They help us understand where we stand in the world. Sometimes maybe their default presence in our lives could bring a smile to our face – for instance when we receive a ‘hello’ from our neighbour or a work colleague.

Then there are people who are there for you if you reach out to them. People who are happy to provide advice on subjects when asked. People who display some extent of care for you. Such individuals are our friends. There is a sense of being in a comfort zone with them and we would not hesitate to reach out to them. They may not know everything that is going on in our lives and vice versa, but there is some extent of fondness, understanding and commonalities.

A close friend is someone who truly cares for you. Someone who is protective of you, someone who checks on you. In a close friendship, there is mutual liking, respect and trust.

Close friends could potentially leave whatever they are doing to be there for you when needed.

They can help boost your confidence and be a great source of encouragement.

They may also be your true critiques, providing constructive feedback, which is coming from a warm and caring space.

They are willing to give something a shot if it matters to you.

They are thoughtful and remember your likes and dislikes.

They enjoy your company and you theirs.

With close friends, there is a certain comfort which allows you to share your apprehensions, fears and frustrations, without worrying about them being judgemental of you.

A close friend would be able to gauge if you are happy, worried, tense, angry, upset and care enough to probe further and do whatever he or she can to make you feel better.

Close friends can provide a shoulder to cry on. They may be going through a similar phase of life, which makes it easier to understand your thoughts and feelings.

They consider your troubles and problems as their own and try and help you out through their actions for e.g. If you suffer from gluten intolerance, as I do, you would be lucky to have a close friend who tries out different gluten-free bread/roti recipes with you.

A lot of you might wonder if close friends even exist and that this seems too good to be true?

Close friends do exist 🙂 We may have different people who become our close friends, in various phases of our lives. A person who was once a friend can now be your close friend or vice versa.

It is also a very gratifying feeling when we contribute to the happiness and well-being of someone who we care for, by being a close friend to them.

When I talk about close friends, to some of you, it could mean heartbreak and bring up negative emotions. You may feel it is better off not having any close friends since you often got hurt by friends in the past.

Let’s try and explore, through some thought provoking questions, our past decisions and actions, our present needs and requirements, and what is it that we can do to have more mutually fulfilling and functional friendships.

How have you been as a friend and what do you want from a friend?

What kind of a friend am I looking for and need in my life?

Try and assess what you need at this point in your life. For example, ask yourself questions such as – ‘Am I unhappy with my current set of friends? Am I looking for a fresh perspective in life?’

‘Do I need a mutually caring relation?’

‘Do I get enough fulfilment and happiness from being a good friend to others?’

It is important to realise that acquaintances, friends and close friends are all needed and are important for our well-being.

As I mentioned earlier, some of us may not feel the need to have close friends in our lives and may be perfectly content with our family and acquaintances. However, for others, close friendships can be very special, enriching, uplifting and meaningful, as I have described earlier in this article.

If you wish to have more close friends and feel that you haven’t succeeded on this front or that you have been let down by friends in the past, you may need to reflect on your past friendships and ask yourself the following questions:

Am I still rigidly holding onto my past experiences with people, to colour my present relationships?

Everything is interlinked yet transient, people change, their circumstances change. You are constantly changing and evolving. Although we must learn from any past adverse experience, it is important to continue to be positive and optimistic about the future. Give people a chance, be open to any possibility.

Have I considered someone to be a friend when I am only considered as an acquaintance to the other person?

The extent of investment and involvement in a relationship is based on how well you think you can connect with the person. Living in a fast paced, perception driven world, we may often misjudge people. Regardless of such errors in judgement, we need to remember that we often make such categorizations and we subconsciously or consciously give people more or less importance, based on our connection with them.

Unfortunately, sometimes two people may make different assessments of each other. As a result, one of us may adamantly pursue a different type of relationship, leading to annoyances, disappointments or maybe even heartbreak. For instance, it isn’t helpful to anyone, if we continue to try to become a close friend with someone who has already made up their mind that they would rather be an acquaintance with us.

We must realise that it is important to feel valued, cared for and trusted for it to be a mutually rewarding friendship.

Finding the right person who cares for you as much as you care for them is difficult. If you happen to have close friends you must consider yourself very fortunate.

Have I been a friend to others, in a way that I would like them to be with me?

Some of us may often expect the world from our friends – to do things for us, to be kind, helpful, caring and non-judgemental, but how often do we satisfy such requirements of our friends.

I would say – ‘Be what you want to see in others’. Lead by example. Don’t hold back and be yourself.

Sometimes despite your best efforts, your friendship may not get reciprocated. Don’t get disheartened, consider them as a friend who cares for you to some extent, and continue to be nice to them, but realise that this is a different level of relationship than you originally envisaged.

Don’t let such an experience affect your views on future friendships and the possibility of close friendships. Continue to be true to yourself and kind to others, and it is likely that you will eventually make a friend who will like you, care for you, trust you and value you for who you are.

Am I too focused on a small circle of close friends, where I leave myself no time to meet new people or make other friends?

Like most things in life, it is easy to slip into a comfort zone. A lot of us are so involved with our close friends that we just don’t give ourselves a chance to explore the potential in new relationships. We choose not to go through the grind of getting to know new people. We seem OK to be amongst like minded people and don’t want to challenge our status quo. What we fail to realise is that the more varied and diverse our friend circle is, the more enriched and fulfilled our life is likely to be. A new friend may end up being just as special or more, as your existing close friends.

It is therefore important to be open to new possibilities and new people. When you are more aware of your needs and more honest of the status of your relationships, you will be able to tune your mind and actions to work towards making and maintaining the friends that you desire.

Concluding thoughts

A lot of us may have lost a close friend or life’s circumstances are such that you may have drifted apart from your close friends (e.g. by having to move away from a town or country). Cherish the good memories, learn from the unpleasant experiences and understand that like most things in life, friendships also evolve and change with time. We need to realise that the memory and warmth in our hearts, which meaningful, close, mutually engaging friendships can provide, is nothing short of a blessing.

Each person – an acquaintance, a friend or a close friend, play a useful role in your life and you play a similar role in theirs. So acknowledge these different roles, act upon them, invest in them and you will feel more fulfilled in your personal relationships.

I would like to thank all my acquaintances, friends and close friends that I have ever had in my life, for everything that you have taught me and will continue to teach me. Besides my wonderful family, my friends have also taught me, what it truly means to care for another person, to be more tolerant and to understand the meaning of true acceptance. I am also forever grateful to my friends for showing me how gratifying it is to live beyond the ‘I, me, myself’ mode of existence.