By Joy Birnbach Dunstan, MA, LPC, MAC
The Magic of Friendship
A friend recently gave me a gift I proudly display on my desk. It is a plaque saying, “A good friend would bail you out of jail, but a true friend would be sitting next to you saying, ‘That was awesome!’” The best gift is the friend herself, but the plaque brings a smile each time I read it.
One of the greatest treasures of Lakeside living is the ease of making friendships. In an expatriate community, by definition virtually everyone here is from somewhere else. People are welcoming of newcomers and open to new friendships.
Not all friends are created equal. With some people, we are merely friendly, rather than friends. These include casual acquaintances like the proprietor at the corner market or the volunteer you work with Saturday mornings. We see these people by happenstance when we are doing a particular activity.
More important to us are companions; those folks with whom you share common interests and pursue shared activities. The person is secondary to the activity and if the person is unavailable, s/he can be interchanged with another or the activity cancelled or postponed until another time. Spending time with a companion is enjoyable, but conversation may be limited to small talk and impersonal subjects.
The most special and hardest to come by are true friends. Spending time together is primary, and the activity is secondary or incidental. It takes time to develop a true friendship. You can say anything to a true friend and just be yourself because “a true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked.” True friends are there in both good times and bad times, and you know you can call them at 3 a.m. if you’re in trouble.
What does it take to make a true friend? Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Friendship with oneself is all important because without it one cannot be friends with anybody else in the world.” It’s hard to build a friendship with someone else when you aren’t comfortable in your own skin. If you don’t like you, why would someone else?
It’s important to like who you are even if you don’t like everything you’ve ever done. Allowing ourselves our imperfections and mistakes makes it easier to be accepting of others. Being respectful and having a non-judgmental attitude is the foundation of true friendship. It gives us the safety to open up and share at a deeper, more intimate level.
Compared to men, women tend to have more and closer friendships. Recent research has shown that, under stress, in addition to the adrenalin rush that inspires a fight or flight response, women also release oxytocin. This hormone buffers the fight or flight response and encourages a woman to tend children and gather with other women. This explains why women tend to seek each other out in difficult times and has been dubbed the “tend and befriend” response. Men, in contrast, have a surge of testosterone under stress, which encourages them to go off on their own to deal with problems.
This inherent difference may explain the increased longevity of women over men. Research suggests that not having close friends or confidants is as detrimental to your health as smoking or obesity. Be a good friend to yourself by being a good friend to others. It’s a winning combination for everyone.