Not all friendships are built the same; there are perfectly compatible best friends, constantly clashing frenemies, and every variation in between. Part of what determines the kind of friendships you have is what kind of friend you are. To form strong, lasting friendships, being a good friend is key. With a little effort, you can learn to be the kind of friend that people want to have.
But being a good friend isn’t the only thing that decides the state of your friendship; the kind of people you’re friends with is important too. After all, not every person is compatible with every other person. We’re all different. Having friends that are similar to you makes it easier to build meaningful friendships. It’s not mandatory, but we tend to mesh better with people who have the same views, interests, and personality traits as us. People who aren’t very similar to you but who are generally positive and supportive are also good candidates for building strong friendships with. People who are negative and regularly treat you in ways that bring you down aren’t ones you want to put a lot of energy into. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to have valuable relationships with them and spending more time on them could be detrimental to your wellbeing, so let them go and focus on the people who bring joy into your life.
In order to build a friendship, it’s important to be yourself. It’s good life advice in general and so important in any kind of relationship. If you aren’t being yourself, you form a barrier between you and your friend instead of letting them in so you can really bond. We can often tell when someone is being fake; sometimes they give off an insincere vibe or just seem generally awkward in the persona they’re trying to present. It’s hard to make friends with that kind of person. So be yourself. Be open about what you like and what you think and you’re bound to find people who feel the same way and would make great friends.
Once you’ve got a person in your life that you see potentially having a great friendship with, it’s time to put in the effort needed to build up that relationship. Start behaving like a good friend and you’re likely to find that that person will be a good friend to you too. A good place to begin is being attentive in conversations since, chances are, conversation is going to be a big part of forming that initial bond between you. And if you’ve been friends for a while, it’s still important to do if you want to strengthen and maintain your friendship. Pay attention to what your friend is saying and absorb the information before responding. Ask questions that help clarify their perspective and then summarize what they’ve said when you’re giving your thoughts on the topic. They’ll recognize that you’ve cared enough to really hear them. When they feel appreciated, they’ll appreciate you back and your friendship will deepen.
As you’re chatting, you’ll probably feel like sharing your view. That’s great and part of what keeps a conversation going. However, when it comes to giving advice, keep it to a minimum. If your friend asks you for advice, it’s a perfect time to make suggestions on how to deal with their problem or what decision to make; but if they’re talking about a problem and haven’t asked you what you think they should do, they probably just want to vent. Stepping in to offer advice too often makes you come off as a know-it-all or overly opinionated about their life. Simply listening to your friend and offering your support can mean the world to them and help them to see you as someone they can rely on. They come to feel accepted by you and will value you deeply as their friend.
On that note, accept your friends for who they are. When they open up to you, don’t judge them; when you give them advice, don’t be trying to change them. Despite how much you may have in common, you’ll probably disagree on at least a couple subjects and have some differences between you. That’s natural—we’re all individuals and are all different. But to have a strong, long-lasting friendship, you have to be willing to accept those differences and respect your friend for who they are and how they feel. If the disagreement is something big, something that is really significant to you and bothers you, it’s okay to let the friendship dissolve and to move on. It’s not okay to try to change the other person to fit your preferences. Solid relationships require respect and acceptance. Without them, there will always be a gap between you.
If you choose to stay friends, it’s surely because you like a lot of things about them—so compliment them! Not constantly, since that can become a bit overwhelming and border on creepy, but occasional compliments can make your friend feel really good about themselves and feel appreciated by you. If your friend looks particularly nice one day, if they’ve done some good work, or if there’s something about them that you admire, pay them a compliment. Be the kind of friend who is uplifting, helps build their confidence, and makes them smile and they’ll enjoy being around you and appreciate the positivity you offer to them. It’s the kind of behaviour that adds to the strength of your friendship and makes it more likely to last.
Making time for your friends is another way to show that you appreciate them. Spending time together is obviously enjoyable, and when you can talk and laugh together it builds your bond. But when you move out of high school and into adulthood, into separate colleges or jobs, it can be a lot harder to find time to see each other. When your lives become busy, deliberately scheduling time to get together is not only a chance to catch up with each other but shows that you’re committed to the friendship. You’ve shifted your schedule or found a couple of free hours between meetings and proven that your friend is a priority in your life. This makes them feel important, and that’s something we all like to feel. If you move far apart or are in a period that is just too hectic to meet up, try sending a quick text to let them know you miss them or squeeze in a short Skype call. Putting in the effort can make the difference between a lasting friendship and one that fizzles out.
When you do get together it’s always nice to indulge in activities you both enjoy, but trying new things together is a great way to strengthen your bond even more. Doing something for the first time tends to form a memory that stands out more than doing something you’ve done dozens of times before. Including your friend in the new activity makes them part of that significant memory, part of something that sticks out in your mind. Doing something thrilling for the first time, like going on amusement park rides or skydiving, not only has this benefit, but also offers a situation where you bond through supporting one another. Take going on a new rollercoaster for example: while you’re waiting for it to start moving, you’re sitting there together, laughing about how excited and scared you are, but ready to do it because your friend is there to experience it with you, which gives your mind the impression that they’re a good support. Meanwhile, the thrill of this new experience is beginning to store in your brain as a memory—and your friend is a key part of it. Being a part of each other’s memories solidifies your friendship in your mind.
Though most of your friendship should be enjoyable, it’s not uncommon for friends to butt heads and wind up in an argument now and then. If it happens, apologize. No one wins by holding a grudge—you hurt your friendship and you probably feel miserable. If you know you’ve said something or acted in a way that was inappropriate or hurtful, swallow your pride and apologize. It shows that you appreciate your friend enough to admit that you were wrong and that you’re sorry for what happened. Even if you feel you were right and your friend was wrong, stepping up and apologizing can be the break in the tension that leads them to apologize too. If you want to mend your friendship and have it last for years to come, saying you’re sorry when you’ve messed up is an important, if difficult, thing to do.
Ultimately, being a good friend is about being positive, supportive, and accepting. Be the kind of friend you want to have because it’s probably what your friend is looking for too. And when you offer that kind of friendship, it’s likely to be returned to you. Being a good friend goes a long way toward maintaining the relationship, and being willing to put in the work to stay connected will do the rest. It can take some effort to get them, but having great friendships can make life more fun and a little easier.