As we get older, our circles get smaller.
Most people I’ve chatted with agree that as we age, the friendships that remain and the types of people we surround ourselves with change drastically. Of course, this is heavily impacted by life events—careers, partnerships, children, and everyday life stuff all compete for our time and attention.
After all that, there’s no time to entertain fair-weather friends or frenemies.
When our relationships change or when we become parents, our friendships can change, too. Even if we keep in touch with old friends, usually our circumstances, distance, and the ability to drop in and visit really do make a difference.
Even though friendships can fade in and out right alongside the ebbs and flows of our lives, our closest friends are the people who we know we can rely on when times are tough and who we always share with when times are good.
Most of us have an instinct, a gut feeling, that tells us when someone isn’t really our friend, even when appearances say otherwise. They haven’t really done anything “wrong” but something feels off. And yet despite that, we struggle to decide if we want to keep this person in our lives or cut ties. Are we just being sensitive or picky, or are our expectations for a friend too high?
I checked in with Elephant’s readers to find out what qualities make top friendship material. Here’s what they had to say.
How many qualities do your friends have? How do you stack up? After reading this list, is there anyone you want to reach out to and appreciate for being so good to you? Any friends you realize you need to break up with?
1. Loyalty: someone who you can rely on to have your back. When push comes to shove, are they gossiping about you or defending you?
2. Trust: do they betray your confidence or take your secrets to the grave?
3. Honesty: are they willing to tell you hard truths with kindness (that last part is key)?
4. A shared sense of humor: if you can’t laugh together, or you wind up offending each other, that could mean it’s a poor match. On the other hand, if you can’t even make eye contact with each other in certain situations without busting out laughing or if you laugh about things without having to say a word or explain it, that is a sign of a friend who just gets you.
5. Shared interests: this is more important than we may think. We don’t have to be twinsies in everything we do or like, but while opposites attract, if we’re too opposite, it’ll be hard to connect.
6. Equal effort: if you’re always the one, and they’re never the one, that’s going to breed resentment. (And if they wanted to, they would—remember that.)
7. Integrity: this goes along with honesty but in big-picture format. How do they treat other people? What sorts of things do they care about? Do they do one thing and say another? Or does what they say and what they do align? When you lose your faith in a person because of deceit, dishonesty, playing games, self-serving behaviour, or any of the other qualities that go along with not having integrity, the friendship is pretty much over. If someone shows up again and again to do the right thing, they’re worth keeping in your life.
8. Someone who can roll with life’s changes: when a friend continues to show up and support you no matter how your life looks in that moment, they’re a keeper. Single, childless friends who keep showing up for people through their marriages, having kids, and how that can change a friendship for better or worse—I’m looking at you! You’re the real ones.
9. Understanding and compassion: being able to have a conversation with a friend without worrying about saying the wrong thing—because no matter what, they know your heart. And if you have said the wrong thing, they kindly let you know, they’re willing to have a discussion, and they’re willing to help you learn.
10. A gentleness of spirit: someone who has humility, is not quick to use words like weapons, and whose default is often peace. That’s not to say they don’t have passion, that they don’t get fired up about a cause—especially in today’s world. And it’s not to say they never say anything hurtful. We’re all human. However, in conflict, if their reaction is always to get mean, to cut you down, and to act passive-aggressively, you might want to keep your distance.
Bonus: here are a few phrases, direct from our readers, that perfectly sum up a quality friend:
>> A sick sense of humour, a contagious laugh, and a comforting soul.
>> A healthy dose of shenanigans, broad shoulders, and tight lips.
>> An inner “feeling” of connection. I think it has to do with our vibes we each have, our inner energy we send out.
>> The ability to understand my mental health issues.
>> Must love dogs.
>> Being real and down-to-earth.
>> Spare bed and well-stocked fridge.
>> High emotional intelligence.
>> If he shares his food.
>> Loyalty and dark humour.
>> They need to be compassionate and intelligent, but also be totally fine with not talking for weeks and then picking right back where we left off. I’m flaky. I love the idea of doing stuff and going places, but my favorite place is at home with my family lol. It doesn’t mean I don’t love my friends and I still need them! I just also need to be able to cancel at the last minute and snuggle my kiddo.