by Claire van Ryn.
I have 551 friends. I have 822 followers. I have another entourage of friends, followers, subscribers and all-round likers on other social media platforms. That equates to about 2000 people in my friend circle. Not bad, not bad. Not as good as others, but not bad. As a measure of my friendship support, most would say I’m in a good position.
But what happens when things get tough?
Most of us don’t share the reality of life on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat… we share the highlights reel. And in this virtual world, many of our friends are like those noddy dogs on the dashboard of old folks’ cars; constantly agreeing, liking what you posts, commenting with little heart emoticons. We collect friends and likes as a hoarder collects things. They seem necessary. They make us feel good. But when when life gets hard, they are a poor substitute for quality.
Today is International Day of Friendship, so I’m asking you this question: What does it mean to be a true friend?
In a world afraid to say the hard things for fear of sounding judgemental, offensive or even tight-laced, I would venture to say that a true friend is one who is unafraid of speaking the truth, unafraid of jumping into the deep with you, and whose love is unconditional.
I want to be that kind of friend. It’s the difference between liking and loving. A liking friend will do whatever it takes to make you feel better, while a loving friend will take the time to look at the bigger picture with you and navigate the journey by your side.
The nodding ones are as common as dirty public toilets, but a friend who will sit down and listen to you, cry with you, and lovingly point out your blind spots; they are rare and precious as pink diamonds.
“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”
– Walter Winchell
How do I be a better friend?
ONE: Connect in real time. Visit, meet for coffee, call them. Ask them how they are and let them talk. We forget that there are nuances of expression and tone that are completely missed in emails, text messages and chat forums. When we’re sitting in front of them or with their voice connected to our ear, we can hear their emotion and respond to it immediately.
TWO: Don’t just nod. We all know friends who have careened off course, treading a track that everyone knew was wrong. But did anyone gently take her aside and talk through the repercussions? Did anyone bite down their fear and confront him on his actions? A true friend tells the truth, even when it’s not pretty. We are a true friend when we address the issue and then love them no matter what choice they make.
THREE: Put action to those words. This is the support factor, because what’s the use of connecting and talking with a friend if we’re not willing to give some practical support? Words are nice, but actions are where love is most evident.
So here’s a scenario that we hear of a lot at Emily’s Voice.
A woman finds herself in an unplanned pregnancy situation. She is distraught, full of fear for her future, for all her life plans which have just been upended. She’s scared of what people will think, of the impact on her career, of being a mother or of adding another bundle to her already-full household. She feels like abortion is the only feasible option.
She cries for help. It might be disguised: a post on social media, “Mega week. All sorts of bad news. Need a wine.” Some of us will see it and reply, “Hope you’re feeling better soon” or “Wine cures all! Haha!”. A true friend will immediately pick up the phone and ask what’s wrong.
She has been waiting for this, for someone willing to hear the whole narly thing, how it came to this and all the jumbled-up emotions churning in her gut. She even shares that she believes abortion is her best option. Some of us will nod, nod, nod and reply, “If that’s what you think, then that’s what you should do.” A true friend will listen hard, will cry and grieve with her over the things she is afraid of. But then, they will lift up her chin, her eyes, to recognise that there is beauty that can be found here. That she is only looking at the immediate repercussions without considering the potential for long-term joy. They will remind her that a baby is growing within her, relying on her already in the safety of her womb.
She feels a strange relief. Her burden has been shared, she has been heard and understood. But the practicalities of being pregnant, giving birth, raising a child – the financial burden, the time away from work, the childcare needed – they are still real and cannot be ignored. Some of us will say, “You’ll get through this. Things have a way of sorting themselves out.” A true friend will be sacrificial in their support. They will offer where there is need. They will open their wallet and home, clear their diary, research services with them, go out of their way for them. They will be the mum, the pregnancy support centre, the kick up the bum, the educator, the counsellor.
True friends save lives.
When we LOVE our friends, not just LIKE them, we enter into the mess and mayhem of their lives and offer meaningful connections that bring value to who they are. These relationships are not only good for mums and their unborn babies – they’re good for everyone.