by Nicole Wilkes
Photography courtesy of Sofia Koyama
The Oxford English Dictionary defines friend as, “A person with whom one has developed a close and informal relationship of mutual trust and intimacy.”
You might have a number of people you consider friends, or you might like to keep your circle smaller. Regardless of any outside factors, there are key elements that each and every friendship needs in order to be truly healthy and positive.
In any relationship, you should feel safe and free to be yourself. Those in healthy friendships accept one another wholeheartedly for who they are—no friend worth your time will make you feel pressured to be inauthentic to yourself or performative in any way.
As friends, both parties should be on equal ground—one should not reap more benefits from the friendship than the other. Be mindful of making sure you are supporting each other and investing an equal amount of time and energy into the friendship so it is mutually satisfying. You should be able to rely on them just as much as they can rely on you.
Calista Gray (COM ’21) says this is the most important element of a strong friendship.
“I think that a good friendship involves reliability,” she said. “A good friend to me is someone who I can rely on and who is there for me when I need them.”
Real friends maintain open lines of communication. They can talk to one another about anything, even areas that might be awkward or difficult. If your friend does or says something that rubs you the wrong way, you should be able to bring the issue forward and talk it out openly and respectfully.
With that, those in healthy friendships can respectfully disagree with each other without the situation escalating into an all-out conflict. You and your friend might have different political views, for example, but you can learn to address that topic respectfully and just listen to each other’s points of view.
That being said, some friends don’t really like to venture into politics or other potentially controversial topics. Or maybe you don’t mind sharing clothes, but they do. In these cases, you should be sure to respect one another’s boundaries. Something that doesn’t bother you at all might really get under a friend’s skin, so it’s important to be attentive if they voice their discomfort with your actions and make an effort not to do that again.
A healthy friendship always leaves room for other friends and relationships. Plenty of people have one best friend with whom they’re indescribably close, someone they see consistently and share everything with. As long as that arrangement is ideal for both parties, that’s perfectly healthy. However, that arrangement also needs to leave room for outside friendships to provide balance and perspective and retain both parties’ autonomy.
Humans are naturally social creatures. Like our closest primate relatives, we form close interpersonal bonds and rely on one another to get by. And while we all have different experiences forming, maintaining and breaking those bonds, there are concrete indicators of healthy friendships of which everyone should be mindful.