Satisfying Our Hunger for Friendship

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Satisfying Our Hunger for Friendship

“LONELINESS is not an illness,” states the book In Search of Intimacy. “Loneliness is a healthy hunger . . . , a natural sign that we are lacking companionship.” Just as hunger moves us to take in nourishing food, feelings of loneliness should move us to seek out good friends.

Yet, as Yaël, a young woman in France, observes, “some people avoid all contact with others.” But isolating ourselves, for whatever reason, solves nothing and inevitably makes us feel lonelier than ever. A Bible proverb says: “One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing; against all practical wisdom he will break forth.” (Proverbs 18:1) So first we need to recognize our need for friendship and then resolve to do something about it.
Take Practical Steps Toward Friendship

Instead of feeling sorry for yourself or envying those who seem to have more or better friendships, why not adopt a positive attitude, as did Manuela, from Italy? She says: “Particularly as a teen, I felt that I was being left out. To overcome this, I studied people who had good friends. Then I tried to develop the good qualities they had, to make myself a more pleasant person.”

One practical step is to take care of yourself physically and otherwise. A healthful diet, proper rest, and adequate exercise all help you to look and feel your best. Being neat, clean, and well-groomed not only makes you more desirable to be around but also gives you a healthy measure of self-respect. However, do not fall into the trap of becoming overly concerned about outward appearances. “Wearing fashionable clothing doesn’t make any difference in finding real friends,” notes Gaëlle, from France. “What good people are looking for is the inner person.”
A young man 1. exercising, 2. shaving, and 3. reading the Bible

Caring for your body and mind makes you more attractive

After all, our innermost thoughts and feelings affect what we talk about and even how we look. Do you have a confident outlook on life? This will help you to have a happy expression on your face. A genuine smile is the most attractive thing you can wear and, explains body-language expert Roger E. Axtell, “it is absolutely universal” and “is rarely misunderstood.”* Add to that a good sense of humor, and people will be naturally drawn to you.

Remember, such good qualities come from the inside. So actively fill your mind and heart with wholesome, positive thoughts and feelings. Read about interesting and meaningful subjects—current events, different cultures, natural phenomena. Listen to uplifting music. But avoid passively allowing TV, movies, and novels to clog your mind and emotions with fantasy. The relationships usually portrayed on the screen are not real life, not real friendships, but the product of someone’s imagination.

Two women talking

Friends open up to each other

Open Your Heart!

Zuleica, who lives in Italy, recalls: “When I was younger, I was shy, and I found it hard to make friends. But I knew that if we want to have friends, we have to take the initiative, make ourselves known, and get to know others.” Yes, to have real friends, we must open up to others—let them get to know who we really are. Such communication and sharing are far more important to true friendship than having good looks and a charismatic personality. “People with deep and lasting friendships may be introverts, extroverts, young, old, dull, intelligent, homely, good-looking; but the one characteristic they always have in common is openness,” observes counselor Dr. Alan Loy McGinnis. “They have a certain transparency, allowing people to see what is in their hearts.”

This doesn’t mean wearing your heart on your sleeve or revealing your innermost secrets to people you don’t feel comfortable with. But it does mean selectively and progressively revealing your true thoughts and feelings to others. Michela, from Italy, says: “At first, I had the problem of concealing my feelings. I had to make changes, to try to manifest my feelings more, in order for my friends to understand what I was feeling and to feel closer to me.”

Even if you are naturally gregarious, however, it still takes time and shared experiences for mutual trust to develop between friends. In the meantime, try not to be overly anxious about what others may think of you. Elisa, in Italy, recalls: “My problem was that every time I wanted to say something, I was afraid it wasn’t going to come out right. Then I thought, ‘If people really are my friends, they will understand.’ So if something came out wrong, I just laughed at myself, and everyone laughed with me.”

Therefore, relax! Just be yourself. Putting on an act doesn’t help. “No one can be more attractive than by being his or her sincere, best self,” wrote family counselor F. Alexander Magoun. People who are truly happy don’t have to fake it or try to impress others. Only by being genuine can we enjoy genuine friendship. Likewise, we need to let others be themselves. Happy people accept others as they are, not fretting over minor foibles. They don’t feel the need to remake their friends to conform to their own preconceived ideas. Work to be that type of happy, noncritical person.
To Have a Friend, Be a Friend

There is an even more important factor—the most fundamental one. Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus showed that the key to success in all human relations is unselfish love. He taught: “Just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them.” (Luke 6:31) This teaching has come to be known as the Golden Rule. Yes, the only way to have real friends is to be an unselfish, giving friend yourself. In other words, to have a friend, be a friend. To be successful, friendship must be more about giving than about getting. We must be prepared to put our friend’s needs ahead of our own preferences and convenience.

Manuela, quoted previously, notes: “Just as Jesus said it would, true happiness comes from giving. The person receiving is happy, but the giver is even happier. We can give simply by sincerely asking how our friends are, by trying to understand their problems, and by doing all we can without waiting for them to ask.” So reach out to others, including the friends you already have. Strengthen your relationships. Do not sacrifice friendship for less-noble and less-fulfilling pursuits. Friends deserve time and attention. Ruben, in Italy, comments: “Taking time is fundamental to finding and keeping friends. First of all, it takes time to be a good listener. We can all improve in listening and in showing our interest in what others say by not interrupting.”
Show Respect for Others

Another key element of happy, long-term friendships is mutual respect. This includes showing consideration for others’ feelings. You want your friends to be tactful and discreet when their tastes or opinions differ from yours, don’t you? Shouldn’t you treat them the same?—Romans 12:10.

Another way we show respect is by not smothering our friends. Real friendship is neither jealous nor possessive. At 1 Corinthians 13:4, the Bible states: “Love is not jealous.” So guard against the tendency to want your friends all to yourself. If they confide in others, do not take offense and perhaps even shun them. Learn that we all need to widen out in our friendships. Allow your friends to develop other friendships too.

Consider also your friends’ need for privacy. Individuals, as well as married couples, need time for themselves. While you should not hesitate to reach out to others, be balanced and thoughtful, and do not wear out your welcome with your friends. The Bible cautions: “Make your foot rare at the house of your fellowman, that he may not have his sufficiency of you.”—Proverbs 25:17.
Do Not Demand Perfection

Of course, when people get to know each other, they become more aware of the other’s weaknesses as well as strengths. Still, we should not let this hold us back from making friends. “Some expect a bit too much from potential friends,” comments Pacôme, in France. “They want them to have only good qualities, but that’s not possible.” Not one of us has perfection to offer, and we do not have the right to demand it of others. We hope our friends will accept us despite our imperfections and make allowances for us. Shouldn’t we try to overlook our friends’ shortcomings too, by not imagining or overemphasizing them? Author Dennis Prager reminds us: “Flawless friends (i.e., those who never complain, are always loving, never have moods, are fixated on us, and never disappoint us) are known as pets.” If we don’t want to end up with pets as our closest friends, we need to heed the apostle Peter’s advice to let ‘love cover a multitude of sins.’—1 Peter 4:8.

It has been said that friendship doubles our joys and halves our sorrows. However, to be realistic, we cannot expect our friends to fill all our needs or solve all our problems. That is a selfish view of friendship.
Loyal Friends Through Thick and Thin

Once we have made a friend, we should never take his or her friendship for granted. When separated by time and distance, friends think about each other, pray for each other. Even if they can get together only rarely, they can quickly catch up on each other’s lives. Especially in times of difficulty or need, it is vital to be there for our friends. For the most part, we must not withdraw when friends have problems. That may be when they need us most. “A true companion is loving all the time, and is a brother that is born for when there is distress.” (Proverbs 17:17) And when true friends have misunderstandings, they are quick to make amends and forgive each other. Real friends do not abandon their friends just because the road gets bumpy.

By having unselfish motives and by approaching others with a positive attitude, you can gain friends. But the kind of friends you have is also important. How can you select good friends? The next article will discuss that question.

* See also the article “Smile—It’s Good for You!” in the July 8, 2000, issue of Awake!

A young woman A young man
Can Men and Women Be “Just Friends”?

Can men and women who are not married to each other be friends? That depends on what we mean by the word “friend.” Jesus was a close friend of Mary and Martha of Bethany—both single women. (John 11:1, 5) The apostle Paul was a friend of Priscilla and her husband, Aquila. (Acts 18:2, 3) We can be sure that these individuals shared warm affection. At the same time, we cannot imagine that either Jesus or Paul ever allowed these relationships to drift in the direction of romance.

Modern society thrusts men and women into each other’s worlds more than ever before, and it is becoming increasingly necessary for people of both genders to know how to have appropriate, friendly relationships with each other. Couples too benefit from wholesome friendships with other couples and with single people.

“Distinguishing between romantic, sexual and friendly feelings, however, can be exceedingly difficult,” cautions Psychology Today magazine. “The reality that sexual attraction could suddenly enter the equation of a cross-sex friendship uninvited is always lurking in the background. A simple, platonic hug could instantaneously take on a more amorous meaning.”

For married couples, being realistic and practical is especially important. “All forms of intimacy with others can threaten a marriage,” writes author Dennis Prager in his book Happiness Is a Serious Problem. “It is not sex alone that makes for an intimate relationship, and your spouse has the right to expect to be your one truly intimate friend of the opposite sex.” Jesus pointed out that maintaining moral chastity is a matter of the heart. (Matthew 5:28) Therefore, be friendly, but guard your heart and scrupulously avoid situations that could lead to improper thoughts, feelings, or actions toward anyone of the opposite sex.

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