Lily Tomlin was asked in a TEDWomen Talk with Jane Fonda, in a celebration of female friendship, what she looks for in a friend. She said:
I look for someone who has a sense of fun, who’s audacious, who’s forthcoming, who has politics, who has even a small scrap of passion for the planet. Someone who’s decent, has a sense of justice and who thinks I’m worthwhile.
Not a big ask really 😉
In an article in the Atlantic, William Rawlins – the Stocker Professor of Interpersonal Communications at Ohio University – says that in talking to people of all ages there are three consistent expectations we have of close friends: somebody to talk to, somebody to depend on and someone to enjoy.
This pretty much sums up (in way more accessible terms) the longer list I’d come up with:
- get and give in relatively equal amounts, albeit not necessarily at exactly the same time
- ebb and flow – able to accommodate the vagaries of busy midlife without the connection falling away
- the capacity to really listen without judgement or offering unsolicited advice
- a belief in me, my gifts and my potential, even when I may temporarily have lost sight of this myself
- the capacity to help me put things back in perspective when I may have momentarily lost it
- a sense of humour about themselves and life in general
- the willingness to be vulnerable and share their own questions and fears
- a willingness to actively reflect on their own journey, learn from life and continue the quest to be the person they are capable of being
- show an interest in the areas that are of most importance to me
- tolerance for my imperfections as a friend
- to be there physically and emotionally in a crisis
(And I thought Ms Tomlin was asking a lot!)
Looking at this list I realised four things. First, I expect a lot from my friends. Second, I’m blessed to already have friends that meet all these criteria. Third, I’m not investing nearly enough of myself in nurturing these relationships. Fourth, by turning my own criteria on myself I know what I need to do to be a better friend.
For as David Whyte has so eloquently written:
… the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.
And that has to be worth the investment.
And you, what do you expect from your friendships? We’d be delighted to hear your thoughts in the comments below.