HOW TO BE A FANTASTIC FRIEND
By Jo McCarthy
How many friends do you have? Are they the same friends you had at school, when you first moved away from home or when you first had your kids?
Are your family your friends? Do you have a best friend? Do you have boyfriends or girlfriends or a mixture? Do you go for quality over quantity?
Whatever your circle looks like, you’d no doubt love to be known as a fantastic friend. With a bit of extra effort, you can have rewarding, uplifting and healthy relationships that stand the test of time.
Firstly, accept that friendships are important
Having friends is good for you; being lonely and isolated can have seriously damaging effects to your physical health and emotional wellbeing. Having a support network – especially as a mother – can be one of the most rewarding parts of life.
However, for some people, acknowledging that they need or deserve friends in their lives can be a huge challenge. Angelina from London has had this issue: “We might quickly dismiss the idea of longevity in a new friendship. I can’t work out how to have meaningful interactions without surrendering or investing too much. I catch myself questioning the motives of new friends.” Hurtful past experiences may mean that letting people into your life is a serious hurdle – why allow yourself to be let down again and again by other people?
If this is you, take some time to think about all the good qualities you have that you can share with others. Write them down if that helps. You really do deserve to have supportive friendships and there are people out there who would be lucky to know you. Start to re-build your confidence and start to believe that you are capable of being a fantastic friend.
What kind of friend are you?
Being self-centered, demanding, jealous, overly-sensitive and boring as heck will see you quickly losing your friends. Qualities like loyalty, forgiveness, respect (including independence and mature boundaries), a good sense of humour and compassion will help you to be a valued friend. If you’re not sure what kind of friend you are at the moment, ask someone in your circle for honest feedback. Be brave and accept their comments! It will help you in the long run.
Work out how much you have to give to other people, how much of yourself you want to share and what kind of people you need to build you up. There is some vulnerability in friendship; you won’t get it right with everyone, and it might take longer than you hope to develop a relationship, but it’s worth the effort.
Tell your friends how much you appreciate them
I remember reading Northanger Abbey at school and being struck by this line: “I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” It was spoken by Isabelle who, it turned out, was not much of a friend, but the sentiment has stuck with me ever since! If you genuinely value and appreciate someone, don’t allow too much time to slip by without telling them how you feel.
This doesn’t have to be an extravagant outburst of emotion, it can be in subtle ways. You could write a meaningful text that’s more than a string of emojis or a quick ‘LOL’. You could take time to choose and then write a card. In her book the Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication, Margaret Shepherd writes that "the handwritten note has been around for hundreds of years, and it's not going to die out just because some of its everyday functions have been taken over by e-mail and voicemail.
Adapting to the needs of every fresh generation, it continues to connect people ... a note in the mail brightens a dreary landscape of junk mail, form letters and prefabricated greeting cards and it shines through a virtual blizzard of abrupt digital memos and disembodied voice chat."
Maybe you’ll find it easier to tell a friend how you feel about them face to face. The saying ‘throw kindness around like confetti’ can most definitely extend to paying your friends compliments, telling them how much you appreciate them. There might be some cultural barriers that mean you find this hard to do, but pushing through them is worth it to let someone know how much they are cherished.
Use technology to be a fantastic friend
Mobile phones have become a crucial part of everyday life, although they often get bad press. Psychology Today commented: “when we rely too much on our screens instead of our faces and voices, our interactions can be dehumanised. Face to face and even voice to voice contact bring a level of spontaneity, warmth and engagement that our souls were not meant to be without.”
Clearly, you need to find your balance. Many people like to use apps like WhatsApp, which can be lifelines to keeping in touch with others, especially when friends and family are scattered around the world. Knowing that you can easily share a story, a video, a photo and a voice message means the world can feel so much smaller and less lonely. If there are older people in your life who are feeling isolated, perhaps you could show them how to set up a group with friends and family?
Social media can widen your circle of friends and bring you into contact with people who share your interests. Stylist Sophie Warren Smith is based in West Yorkshire and content creator Barbora Kurcova is based in Oslo, but having met via Instagram the two are now firm friends and colleagues. They chat every day via the app and have regular Skype chats. In March they will be hosting regular live chats on Instagram around being an ‘honest creative’. This kind of collaboration would simply not have worked without the technology we have now.
Meet your friends in real life
There are so many ways to spend time with your friends in real life. Don’t let a busy schedule or a lack of money get in the way of making memories with people who really matter. Try some of these ideas:
Invite your friends to your home – don’t think you need to make it an elaborate affair; this can be as simple as a quick coffee after the school run is finished. Will your friend notice that you haven’t done the washing up from last night? No, she won’t. She hasn’t done hers either. Just relax and enjoy being together.
Run your errands with friends – ask your friends when they normally do the food shopping, walk the dog or pop into town. Can you do all the boring jobs together? Can you meet up halfway through for a quick coffee and a chat?
Cook together – if you can’t physically be together at the same time, use FaceTime to cook meals at the same time. Prop your phone or iPad up on a kitchen shelf and natter away whilst you are preparing food.
Plan things last minute - having arrangements in the diary for weeks or months ahead can work for some people, but no one likes cancelling at the last minute when life gets in the way. Instead, if you find yourself with a bit of free time, ask your friends if they are free ‘right now’! Being spontaneous means that there is no pressure but your friends know you are thinking of them even if they can’t join you.
Join a club or take a class together – sometimes we lack the confidence to join an exercise or craft class on our own; join up with a friend and make it the special thing you do together.
Friendnap – I started surprising friends with spontaneous trips out of London and it’s become something I love to plan. It’s not kidnapping, its ‘friendnapping’! Tell your friend to book an afternoon off and surprise them with a treat. You could even squeeze in a quick trip out of the city whilst the kids are at school!
Embrace quality friendships
Ditch the superficial, time-sucking friendships that don’t bring you joy and invest your precious time in people who genuinely enrich your life. It’s so much better to go deep than to go wide. Maintaining toxic friendships where you dread spending time with a person will eventually drag you down.
Focus instead on the people who bring positivity to your life, even if they are people who you wouldn’t expect to be close to. If you need to pull away from someone, Ellie Barker has some tips for you in her article ‘How to Deal with a Bad Friend.’
Let your friends be themselves, especially during the tough times
Part of being a fantastic friend is allowing people the space for their personalities to flourish. Stifling a friend or wanting to change them is not healthy for anyone. Let your friend know that you love them, quirks and all.
Angelina, mentioned earlier, said that when she did allow a friend into her life, it was a liberating experience. “She allows me to be the freest, happiest version of myself. When I went through a breakup, her care both broke my heart and mended it back together.”
Try to really be there for your friends – emotionally and physically, if possible. When my dad died very suddenly at the end of January, I was astounded at the practical and emotional support I received from my friends.
My best friend travelled for hours by train to be with me when I needed her the most (leaving behind her three kids and her understanding husband!). Having her literally by my side was the boost I needed when my resources were depleted.
She stayed with our other best friend who had herself cooked meals for my family to ensure we ate nutritious, hearty food. They both listened patiently as my voice wobbled and gave me practical suggestions on how to cope with my mixture of emotions. They didn’t force me to act in a certain way – they let me be me.
Friendships go through so many transitions; try not to be rigid. Let your friendships ebb and flow and people will appreciate you for it. Being a fantastic friend takes effort, but it's worth the investment.
Do you have a fantastic friend you want to celebrate? Tell us what’s so great about them in the comments and we’ll choose one person and send them a gift on your behalf!