Thomas Aquinas once said, "There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship." Friendship is a beautiful thing. It is a gift built on bonds we form with other people throughout our lives. I have friendships that have spanned the entire course of my lifetime: childhood friends, high school friends, college friends, work friends, and friends from my community. Each one of them, meaningful in different ways, has undeniably contributed to the person I am today.
This New Year, I have made a resolution to surround myself with true friends -- people that I have made an authentic connection with, people that are important to me and worthy of sharing my life experiences. True friends accept you for who you are, never cast judgment, or do anything to hurt you. If you ever find yourself, questioning whether or not a friend, especially a new one, is worthy of your friendship, it might be time to evaluate the relationship using these seven helpful guidelines:
1. Beware of Social Climbers
If somebody, out of the blue, takes a sudden interest in you: beware. At first, you may feel flattered -- it feels good to feel like you matter -- but ask yourself, "why this person is so interested in me?", especially if you have nothing in common. If this person is overly excited by your social status or material possessions, this person may be sizing you up and seeking friendship for insincere reasons. As a litmus test, I always ask myself whether this person would have sought out my friendship in college when I had no social status. If the answer is no, this person is probably bad news. Real friends do not try to size you up. They are drawn to you for other reasons than climbing the social ladder.
2. Be Wary of Expensive Gifts
It is always nice to receive a gift, especially from a new friend. Gifts are expressions of affection, signs that somebody is interested in you and wants to get to know you better. However, gifts should always feel appropriate for the occasion. For example, if a new friend unexpectedly leaves a black dress on your doorstep for your birthday (before even being invited to your house), that person is trying too hard to be your friend. Friendships should always be genuine connections, something that money cannot buy. A true friend does not have to win you over with expensive gifts. The presence of their friendship will be enough.
3. Over-Interest in the Details of Your Life
Making a new friend can be an exciting time because you get to learn all about this person: their likes, dislikes, personality, etc. Beware of the friend who asks too many questions or tries to imitate you to gain closer access. If you notice that your friend is feigning common interests with you based on the intimate details you provide about your life, this is not a form of flattery. If you feel like this person is taking detailed mental notes on your happiness, this person is likely masking their unhappiness and trying to steal and manipulate yours.
4. Beware of the Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
The biblical verse of Matthew 7:15 warns, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits." If you have heard that one of your friends is talking or behaving badly behind your back, yet is nothing but friendly to your face, this person is not revealing their true character. As the biblical reference suggests, this person's actions will eventually reveal their true character. This is the worse type of "friend" -- one who conceals malicious intent under the guise of kindness or trust.
5. Do Not Fall Too Fast
If you are somebody that wears your heart on your sleeve, be cautious about revealing too much too soon. Socrates said, "Be slow to fall into friendship; but when thou art in, continue firm and constant." True friendships take time to build and flourish; it is not something that is formed overnight.
6. Less Is More
Aristotle said it best, "A friend to all is a friend to none." In this new world of social media, more always seems better. In our culture, the number of connections that you have and the number of "likes" you receive validate you. In friendship, the exact opposite is true. Surround yourself with the people that matter. It is impossible to have a meaningful connection with over 500 people. Less is more.
7. Trust Your Gut
One of my most favorite writers of all time, Maya Angelou, wisely wrote, "The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them." I love this quote. Once somebody reveals his or her true colors, pay attention.
In concert, always trust your intuition. This is the most important rule in any life situation, whether in a new friendship or otherwise. I am a firm believer that you should always listen to that inner voice that is constantly alerting you to danger. There is a reason that something does not feel right. This goes for friendship as well. If something feels off or if a "friend" makes you feel uncomfortable, trust your gut, no matter how much this person is trying to push your friendship or how much you think you mean to them. Intuition is a powerful force that should never be ignored.
Not everything is always what it appears to be, including friendships. The ultimate sign of a bad friend can be shown with something as simple as the Duck Test: If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is probably a duck. You can spot a bad "friend" by observing that person's habitual characteristics.
The best friendships I have formed have been based on loyalty, sincerity, trust, respect, love and laughter. Take inventory of the people in your life. Upon close examination, you will know in your heart who matters and who is just a bad friend, incapable of true friendship and unworthy of yours.