The Heart of a Friendship

To have a friend and be a friend is what makes life worthwhile. ~Unknown

February is the month of the heart, the time when we celebrate love. We buy chocolate, flowers, jewelry, and greeting cards to profess our undying love to that special someone. But, in all the hoopla of the season, perhaps we forget to honor the affection provided by the people that sustain us and enable us to thrive – our friends.

We hear so much about marriages, committed relationships, and romantic breakups, but I believe we neglect to truly understand the dynamics of what may be the most important relationships in our life – friendships.

Boyfriends come and go, spouses are replaced, children grow up and leave the nest, but our friends will be by our side through it all. If we are blessed, some of them will be with us from childhood until death; and these people know us better than anyone else.

We all have friends. Fate brings friend to friend, then leaves the rest to human nature. We have best friends that stick with us forever, and we have friends that come into our life for a brief period and then go on their way. Whichever role they play, you can be sure they serve a purpose.

According to experts, friendships have a major impact on our health and well-being. Friends help us celebrate good times and provide support during the bad times. As philosopher Aristotle said, “In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge.”

Friends prevent loneliness and increase our sense of belonging and purpose. They boost our happiness and improve our self-confidence. They help us deal with our mistakes.

So … if friendships are so great, why do they cause so much pain?

The word friend is defined as “a relationship of mutual affection between two or more people; a person whom one knows, likes, and trusts.”

We all have a preconceived notion of what a friend should be; we place expectations on relationships based on our needs. But sometimes we use the word “friend” to describe anyone with whom we have contact. We project the intimate bond we desire onto a person where no deep bond exists.

To avoid the pain of an unrequited friendship, it is important to recognize that there are different kinds of relationships and varying degrees of affection attached. When it comes to friendships it’s not one size fits all. Some people are great for Friday night outings. Others are partners for work events. Some people are not willing and/or able to commit to a relationship on a deeper level. And then there are the people who offer unconditional love and trust – they are always there, no matter what. They are the ones by which we set the standards for everyone else. But, they are a rare gift, not the norm.

Each of these relationships has a unique purpose for our life and as such should be valued. Just as a financial expert advises to diversify investments, the same is true in friendships. Invite people into your life that bring different personalities and skills to the table – they will broaden your horizon and enrich your existence. But, to avoid heart break, see each relationship for what it is. Just as you wouldn’t rush into a romantic encounter without some courting, don’t place too many expectations on a friendship without getting to know the person. When you take it slow, you will be able to objectively evaluate the relationship and the role a person will play in your life so you won’t be disappointed.

Even if a friendship doesn’t develop the way you want, acknowledge that you simply have different needs. Treasure the relationship for what it is and release your expectations; value the gifts it offers.

Through the pain and through the triumphs, friendships are the treasure of a life well lived. As Emily Dickinson said, “My friends are my estate,” and I couldn’t agree more.

 

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