Without the slightest shadow of a doubt, it’s safe to say that God places a high priority on friendship. The Bible is packed with bits of wisdom regarding friendship, such as that found in Proverbs 17:17:
A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. —Proverbs 17:17
Even if we looked no further than the Gospels, we can see through the lens of Jesus’ life that he placed inestimable value on friendship, especially if we look at his relationships with people like Peter and John. Friendship is one of the most sacred and beautiful things we will experience in our earthly life.
On the other hand, it is important to also be realistic in our expectations of others. Not everyone who presents himself or herself as a friend will be worthy of the title. Sometimes, we need to recognize the signs of a false friend and learn to let go.
The Gossip Habit
Gossip is tempting — it makes us feel like we have a privileged piece of information and we have a certain status if we share juicy tidbits with others. Most of us have given into this temptation at some time or another. However, someone who makes a habit out of gossiping is probably not someone you can trust. If Joan is forever gossiping about other people in front of you, chances are she is gossiping about you behind your back as well. No one is perfect, but when you’re choosing your friends, someone that discusses events or ideas instead of other people is most likely more trustworthy and probably more interesting as well.
If you’ve asked Frank to meet you for coffee two or three times and something always comes up, he’s probably brushing you off. Someone who is genuinely interested in getting to know you won’t look for excuses not to spend time with you. Don’t waste your energy on these people. Instead, try meeting people who have common interests in places like book clubs, fitness clubs or cooking classes.
One of the most painful things to experience is a lack of support from “friends” in your time of need. Maybe you are going through a messy divorce, you have just been laid off, or you are grieving a death in the family. Highly stressful situations like these can quickly expose false friends; those who say they are there if you need anything but are mysteriously never around to answer a phone call. If you are going through an exceptionally difficult situation, you may want to consider joining a support group for people in situation similar to yours.
Downplaying Your Accomplishments
If you’ve ever been really excited about a promotion, a first date or mastering a new skill, and share this with a friend only to get a lackluster “that’s nice” in return, that person is most likely not a good choice for a friend. He or she may harbor feelings of jealousy or resentment of your success. A real friend will be happy for you and not try to make you feel bad about your accomplishments.
Someone that only calls you or talks to you when he or she needs something — picking up the kids from school, borrowing some money, and the like — is not a real friend, especially if he won’t return the favor. A real friend will call on you just to chat or to discuss other things besides his or her own needs. Look for people who are balanced — they have an appropriate level of self-confidence, but still express interest in you and others.
A true friend should never, ever expect you to be anyone other than who you are. If Laura insists that you go out shopping and clubbing when you’d really rather be hiking and gardening, it might be time to have a talk about who you are and what’s important to you. Wearing a mask around someone else can be burdensome and make you feel empty and unhappy. Instead, share your heart with people who appreciate who you are, not who they think you should be.
If Joe is constantly criticizing everything about you — the car you drive, the music you listen to, the church you attend and the way you raise your children — it might be time to send him packing. He probably has unresolved issues about his own life, but until he works them out, it may be better for you to pray for him but keep him at arm’s length. Someone else’s negativity should not enshroud your own life choices.
Don’t Have Your Back
Someone who is willing to throw you under the bus at the first sign of conflict — say, at the work place, or among mutual friends — is not someone worth trusting. If he or she is not willing to stand up for you when the situation warrants it, whether it’s due to fear or self-interest or any other reason, that person is not worth your energy. A real friend will have your back, even when times get tough.
A little healthy competition can be a good thing. You and your friend can challenge each other to lose weight, read more books or learn new skills by agreeing on a friendly competition. However, if you feel like you are constantly in competition with the other person — for example, if you buy a new television and the other person immediately has to go out and buy a bigger and better television — it is probably time to cut ties. If someone has to make himself feel better by belittling you, he is not a true friend.
A real friend will never ask you to compromise your values. If you have decided that you will never again drink alcohol, for example, and the other person tries to pressure or embarrass you into having “just one drink,” it is definitely time to move on. Seek people who have values similar to yours and will uplift and support your decisions instead of trying to bring you down.