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How to be a Best Friend Forever
By John Townsend
WORTHY PUBLISHINGCopyright © 2011 John Townsend
All rights reserved.
Fs, BFs, and BFFs
A friendship should add great things to your life: trust, companionship, and shared experiences, for example. But it will also cost you something: time, energy, and commitment. Even the most easygoing friendship requires some effort and investment. Given the energy involved, it leads to the question: should all BFs (best friends) also be BFFs (best friends forever)? Ideally, I think so. That depends on how life and circumstances go. Few things on this earth will last forever. But the second "F" in this title has to do more with the reality that the best friendships are open-ended about time and do not come with an expiration date. If we know that we will be moving to another town in a year, it will be hard to deeply engage with someone who lives there, though it is possible. So as you explore and engage in your relationship, you are most likely operating as though you will be BFFs.
Let's understand our terms a bit here. A friend once told me, "I know so many people who make a BF out of someone they have known for a week, and there's something weird about that." While such a move is usually made due to a lack of information, or a crisis, or desperation, it is not how we are to develop friendships. We are to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23) and spend time and energy making sure anyone we let in our lives and hearts really deserves to have a place there. A BF is a kind of friend, so it is important to understand the "F" part of the word.
"Friend" is an extremely popular and broad term. When you read the checkout stand magazines, or google the word, it is a hard concept to pin down. Most of the descriptions are either very general or very anecdotal:
Someone who shares life with you
A person who accepts you as you are
An individual you can say anything to and be anyone with
Someone you look forward to sitting down with and talking about what you've been up to, as well as your joys and your struggles
These are descriptive, but they don't identify the essence of friendship in a way that presents clear lines about what it is and isn't.
After spending time researching this topic, I've come to the conclusion that at the DNA level, a friendship must have three elements: knowing, liking, and presence. These seem simple, but they are the three key components that are universal in friendships, from neighbors to church relationships to work connections.
1. Knowing. You have objective information and personal experience with the person. You know where they live, their marital and parental status, what they do for work, their hobbies, their faith. On a personal level, you may know their history, their likes and dislikes, and their dreams and hurts. Knowing provides the foundation of whether or not this relationship will be a friendship, and how deep it can go. And if what you know is scary or toxic, you need that information as well.
2. Liking. You want to spend time with each other. You are drawn to each other's presence. When life happens, for good or bad, you want them to know about it, and you want to know about their life. You don't have to make yourself call or visit because you should, or because they are good for you. It's about a want to, not a have to. The liking aspect also helps when you have conflicts or problems in the relationship. It serves as an anesthetic to get over rough patches. And if you don't like someone, it is hard to call your relationship a friendship. A duty or a professional acquaintance or some sort of an obligation, maybe. But not a friendship.
3. Presence. Friends spend time together. That is how knowing and liking happen. It may be a phone call, a lunch, an evening, a bike ride, a vacation. But time together is essential. The more time together between two good people, the better the relationship. There is a mutual commitment to be with each other, and you gladly pay the price for its benefits. Sometimes people move away and don't see each other much. That doesn't mean they aren't friends, just that it is harder. But if the time was put in prior to the move, like making many deposits in an investment account, it is much easier to stay connected.
Think of your BFs now. You probably can recognize the presence of these three components in different amounts. But you have to have all three. They are the basics that define a friendship and also a best friendship.
Now to your best friendships, a special category. If a friendship is when someone has access to the information that is you, then best friendship is when you hand over the key to the vault. That is, you let the person know you at the deepest and most vulnerable level. You invite them in to what is most important to you, your
Vision for Life
These are not easy things to let others in on. But they are essential for having close friends. Handing over the key to the vault means you are saying, in essence, I entrust you with myself. Be safe for me and also help me be a better person. Just as a bank vault contains precious investments, your personal vault is something to be both preserved safely, without condemnation, and also developed and grown over time into something much richer.
A friend of mine attended a coaching team I was leading for professional people. He signed up for business growth with a personal twist. He didn't know anyone on the team, yet a great deal of the time the team members spent with each other consisted of connection, honesty, and challenging each other to excellence. Over the months, he began developing relationships with these people, and he and his wife would go to dinner with other members and their spouses. The group became part of his normal network of friendships, as well as friends on a deeper level.
He didn't expect this to happen, nor did he plan for it. But their shared commitment drew him in and an atmosphere of knowing, liking, and presence was created. The same thing happens every day in casual friendships that grow, in small groups, and in specialty groups sharing common hobbies and interests.
A best friend, then, is not someone who has some mysterious and unfathomable special quality no one else has. Rather, she is someone who ideally has become a high-priority relationship for you that you will invest in personally. You will find yourself wanting to know her at even deeper levels. You'll find a growing and great well of love for her inside you, and become fiercely loyal to and protective of your time together, for it is vital to you both. That is the way it should work, and the way it works best.
Best Friends Forever
How do we know if a BF is really a BFF? When we use the word forever, we mean, "I don't see an end to this relationship." This is someone who is so important and special to me that they are in my Hall of Fame. This is a person who I want to be a permanent part of my life. I want their imprint on me, their stamp on me, their effect on me, with no end in sight. They are that significant to me.
One or Several?
Is there room for only one BF, or can there be more than one? Some people believe this is a one-person arrangement, that a best friend means a number one friend. While we can have a closest friend, this is not always the way it is. "Best" simply indicates that a few relationships run deepest in your life and commitment. It is similar to best movies, restaurants, and sports teams.
The reality is also that we need more than one person to enhance the quality of our life and relationships. Different friends have different strengths that bring out different qualities. Variety helps. It is a good thing to be able to call several people "my best friends," and it is a good goal to move toward.
A woman I was counseling began to pay close attention to her best friendships, seeing how much of a difference they made in her quality of life. She made the discovery that one BF had the ability to draw her out, be vulnerable, and go deep about the emotional areas of life. She loved how her friend was able to be there for her, and it meant a great deal to her. At the same time, however, she had another friend who showed her love and care by practical means: advice, good ideas, financial help, and suggestions. Their conversations had a different tone, but the value was there, just the same. "BF" is a plural term.
Male or Female?
What about opposite-sex best friends? I hear this question a great deal. Many people are concerned that a close opposite-sex relationship is too dangerous because of the possibility that emotional intimacy will end up being acted out sexually. So, by that reasoning, we should limit our deeper friendships to the same sex.
There is certainly good reason to exercise caution. Billy Graham was famous for never walking into a hotel room until one of his staff entered it first, in case someone who didn't like him had set up a woman in a compromising stance with a photographer on hand. And many pastors and Christian leaders will not meet behind closed doors, or ride in a car alone, with a person of the opposite sex. There are situations that do require a certain amount of care and restriction, because of the dangers. Joseph, in the Bible, physically ran from temptation with Potiphar's wife (Genesis 39:12).
Having said that, however, women and men can be good friends with each other. They bring a perspective and a way of being to each other that can't really be replaced. The feminine and masculine viewpoints help balance us, grow us, and make us better people. Jesus himself had a deep and abiding friendship with two sisters, Mary and Martha, which also showed how he valued women in an age when women were seen as inferior (Luke 10:38-42).
Think about your family of origin. It was designed ideally so that you would be raised by a mom and a dad. Both contributed to your development and preparation for life. Does it make sense, once you have grown up and left home, to forever relate to the opposite sex in a meaningful way only if you are dating or married to the person? That limits a great deal of growth and friendship potential.
So evaluate your situation carefully. I have seen many solid marriages enhanced by opposite-sex friendships. The husband's female friend tells him he is entirely too left-brained and is not listening to his wife. She is an advocate and a guide for his wife and the marriage. The wife's male friend tells her that she doesn't let him have his "cave time" when he needs to be alone for a few minutes after work to recover from the day and transition into the family. He is an advocate for the husband and the marriage as well.
I recommend that both spouses spend time with the friend, so that the other spouse will feel more secure and know that he is safe, loved, and that everything is on the up and up. But the spouse who is feeling insecure needs to be heard and understood, because he or she comes first.
If, however, there is an ongoing character problem with opposite-sex relationships, things have to be different. For example, if a man tends to be flirty or sexually inappropriate with women as his norm, or he has been unfaithful, he needs to get counseling and help for those issues before taking a risk with a close female friendship. For the time being, he may need to be sober and stick with his male friends, not unlike how an alcoholic should avoid getting a job as a bartender.
The tricky question here has to do with the problem of a spouse who doesn't want her partner to have opposite-sex friends, but the issue is her fear and insecurity, not his character or love. In that situation, the risk is that he may curtail healthy, godly, and marriage-supporting connections so that she will not feel anxious, and then she never has to face and deal with her own fears and difficulties.
In that sort of situation, the one with the problem never deals with it, and the one without the problem pays for his spouse's injury. One option in this case is that the wife gets help for the problem, and the husband remains sensitive to her feelings, supporting her growth, and being totally trustworthy. I worked with a couple in which the wife found herself intensely jealous of any attractive woman her husband talked to, from a neighbor to work colleagues. Yet he was insanely in love with his wife. The root of the issue was that she had grown up with a distant father who had cheated on her mom, and that nightmare bruised her ability to trust a man's character. Once she realized the issue, she revisited her past, grieved the losses she experienced because of her dad, and was able to feel secure in her husband's love, resolving the dilemma.
Finally, remember that "best" is not a morally superior category. Your best friend is your best friend because you and she are a great fit for each other, not because she is better than the rest of your friends. When you ask the waiter at the restaurant what he recommends, he may say, "My favorite is the steak or the pasta." Favorite is just favorite; it isn't superior. You and your BFs would not fit every other friendship scenario, so there is no better or worse here.
Remember the pain of junior high, when the cliques were in full bloom? There was a stinging moral tone to not being included. Stay away from that tone and be glad you're finding some great fits for yourself.
A Great Life Requires Great Friends
I have a friend who was struggling with a fragile marriage. Though she and her husband had been married many years, there was deep alienation between them. She was lonely and unhappy in the relationship and was considering ending it.
She had invested most of her life in her family and her job. The friendships she did have were more social relationships and neighbors; good people, but no one she really confided in about what was going on. This made the loneliness worse. She had never really known how isolated she was until her marriage began to go sideways, which became the tipping point that helped push her into finding some safe people to open up to.
When she formed these relationships, more from desperation than from anything else, she was surprised at their impact on her marriage. She wanted help for herself, but found that the marriage was helped as well. These people listened. They were empathic. They heard her experience at a deep level. But at the same time they didn't go the easy route and bash her husband, who was not present to defend himself. Instead, they encouraged her to grow, develop, change herself, while at the same time drawing clear boundaries with his behavior as well. Over time, she and her husband began moving toward one another again. This woman attributes a large amount of the marital growth to the impact of these "real" friends. Their support, unconditional acceptance, wisdom, and feedback were indispensable for her.
This is one of the many positive aspects of having best friends. They can make you a better person, enrich your life, and help heal other relationships in your life. We just have to recognize their potential value and importance.CHAPTER 2
The Accidental Necessity
Best friendships can go on a long time without yielding their potential and value, unless we put focus and energy into them. The less focus and energy you exert, the less good you will receive. You can be proactive and take initiative to be intentional about improving your friendships. Or you can be passive and go with the flow and let things happen. If you're a nice person, you'll probably have friends either way. But being passive will not get you the great connections that being proactive will.
Let me illustrate: As a family, we have two old Labrador retrievers—Heidi and Casey. They've had a good long run, and we are very connected to them. In these later years of their lives, they have less energy and make fewer demands to play. It's easy to be a little passive with them: say hi when you get home, pat them on the head now and then, and make sure they are fed. And we have done that, especially when we've been busy with work or family activities.
When that's all we do, Heidi and Casey slow down even more. They will sleep all the time, become lazy, and I will even see an increase in health problems. We're not being negligent or unkind to them. We are just being lazy ourselves. But when we make sure we're playing with them every day, walking them, and taking them on excursions, I can see a shift. When we are being proactive, the dogs have more energy, are more alert, and act younger than they are.
Friendships are the same way. You probably are kind and warm with your friends, but you can neglect the care and maintenance of the relationship either in quantity (not enough time) or quality (what you do with the time). You may not notice it immediately, but friendships will either improve or diminish, depending on how proactive you are. Take initiative, and you will reap the rewards.
A Chance Encounter
A BF relationship can begin in any number of ways, most of them accidentally as you are going through life. Your closest friendships probably didn't begin with an interview and a questionnaire, though the online age is changing all this. While you can post "friend wanted" ads on Craigslist, and people can request to be your "friend" on Facebook, most best friendships begin as we simply pass through life and meet someone we like.
Excerpted from How to be a Best Friend Forever by John Townsend. Copyright © 2011 John Townsend. Excerpted by permission of WORTHY PUBLISHING.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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