Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Who to Choose as Friends, Part II

Continuing from yesterday, Singletude completes the list of characteristics to look for in a friend:

3. Your friend has firm roots, rain or shine, and if you need to lean against him, he won't break.

No matter how sparkling your friend's personality, no matter how much the two of you have in common, if he isn't dependable, he's not a good friend.

When you make a plan with a good friend, he shows up. He doesn't keep you waiting for an hour or cancel at the last minute because he found something better to do. If she gives you her word, she keeps it; she doesn't make a habit of breaking promises. If you tell a good friend something in confidence, you can trust her not to gossip. And if he has a problem with something you've said or done, he'll take it to you before anyone else.

If you've had a bad day or you're in a bind, you can count on a friend to come to your aid. This isn't a privilege you should abuse--then you wouldn't be a good friend--but if you occasionally find yourself in hot water, a true friend will grab your hand and help you out.

A good friend is stable enough that you're not thrown off balance by his giant mood swings. You have the sense that you know who he is. He doesn't continuously contradict himself, she doesn't change personalities like sweaters.

Real friends should be reliable enough with their finances to pay their own way most of the time. They shouldn't ask you for favors they never repay.

All these things contribute to your friend's dependability, and dependability is an integral part of friendship. In its absence, resentment builds and can topple a friendship that otherwise would have been strong. Once in awhile, everyone slips up and forgets you had plans for dinner, leaves their wallet at home, or gets into a car accident and needs a ride. But if your friend is habitually unreliable, it will take a toll on your time, your bank account, and most importantly, your faith in people. The last is especially true if your friend is personally unreliable and can't be trusted to keep a secret, protect your reputation, or follow through on his word.

Unreliable people tend to out themselves early, so watch for the above behaviors, not just in your own friendship but in how your new friend treats others. Weed out the undependables and nurture the friends you can rely on to go the distance.

4. Your friend is like a strong, healthy tree in bloom--pest-free, disease-free, and no signs of decay.

Some years ago, I became close with someone who was just not healthy, although I didn't see it at the time. (We'll call him Nathan.) I thought he had gone through some rough times, that he was improving, and that I could help him by being there for him. As the years passed, though, Nathan only got worse, spiraling downward until it was apparent that not only couldn't I help him, but he was going to take me with him if I didn't get out. While I'm not going to give you the Us Weekly version of events, I will give you a list of unhealthy traits I learned to avoid, either from direct experience or by inference:

--Drug or alcohol addiction
--Criminal behavior
--Severe psychiatric disorders (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, debilitating depression or anxiety)
--Financial instability, including gambling, overspending, and long-term unemployment
--Violent or uncontrollable temper
--Pathological lying
--Manipulative behavior
--Inability to set or accomplish life goals (i.e. chronic quitter)
--Inability to maintain good relations with family, friends, romantic partners, and coworkers

Obviously, you'll have to use discretion when applying this list. There are some wonderful individuals who are recovered alcoholics or medicated manic-depressives, ran into trouble with the law in their teens, or took a long time to find their career niche. But when you meet a person who is still struggling with one of these issues--and especially when you can run down the list and check off multiple problems--that person may need a counselor more than a friend.

Quite a few of us singles are people who have a lot of love to give, and some of us can't wait to give it to anyone who needs it. So when a troubled individual wanders into our lives, we see him as a withered plant. We think if we could just give her enough water or sunlight or Miracle-Gro, she'd perk right up like the other plants.

What we don't understand is that people like this are suffering from something systemic, a blight that extra food or water won't cure. And we're not arborists. We don't have the expertise to diagnose the problem or the resources to treat it. And so, even as we're knocking ourselves out hauling big buckets of water, setting up heat lamps, and checking the pH of the soil, the blight begins to spread.

Troubled people need love and affection. Absolutely. But much of the time, they're not able to receive it, nor can they return it. What's worse, instead of absorbing our love like oxygen and breathing it back into the friendship, these people tend to absorb the oxygen and give off carbon dioxide, returning our affection with toxic doses of vitriol, dishonesty, manipulation, and even violence. Eventually, they'll either overgrow your beliefs, values, and conscience until you're a prisoner in the game, or you'll get out. Either way, you'll be brutalized, and it will be a long time before you can recover from the devastation. Although I escaped Nathan with everything but my trust intact, some people lose friends, go bankrupt, or land in the hospital due to their encounters with "bad seeds."

So what makes a person "healthy"? Try reversing the list:

--Uses alcohol or drugs sparingly or not at all
--Has not had major trouble with the law or, if so, was never arrested for a violent crime and has had a clean record for at least 10 years
--Has no major mental health problems or has been in treatment for at least several years
--Has a steady income and spends wisely
--Is calm, reasonable, and nonthreatening
--Is a genuine, honest person
--Does not manipulate or "play games"
--Sets goals and pursues them
--Has good relationships with a network of long-term friends, family, and co-workers

If your friend displays all or most of these traits, you can be pretty sure your friendship will thrive and blossom.

Since I've been accused of being "too picky" with my friends in the past, I wondered if this series of posts would get some rebuttals, but apparently not. What do you think about today's criteria for choosing friends? How do you choose your friends?

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doubtful dater said...

I've had a few friends that have had mental disorders and addictions who have been great people. I do think as long as the person is willing to admit that they need help and have taken the manditory steps to get such help, the best thing you can do as a friend and/or human is to support them. I tend to meet people and become friends with them after I have a strong connection to them. A lot of my friends I have met when they had the more unhealthy traits. It has never been a huge issue between the ones that are closer to me. I have had to let go of a few friends but mostly it was because of distrust, horriable fights or subbornness from both parties on life style choices and such... I liked this series though, very good topic!

Clever Elsie said...

Glad you liked it! And thanks for sharing. :)