I've always had a hard time figuring out what a friend meant to me. I struggled defining and identifying true friendship in my life. As a result, I decided to reexamine my relationships to gain a better understanding of what it means to be a friend, accept a friend, and choose who I allow in my circle.
Now, I hope I don’t sound conceited, but most people like me. They find me interesting and want to get to know me better. As I went through school, I would get invites to parties, play ball, or just chill out and talk. No matter the situation, or whether I believed the interaction would result in a long-term friendship, my aim was to develop new perspective through relationship building. That's why I've also made it a point to meet different types of people. I've put myself in different types of environments and learned about different types of cultures so that I could relate to almost anyone in any situation.
As an introvert, my nature made me hesitant to initiate new relationships. I don’t need to have people around me often and can literally go days without having small talk or text messaging. Since I’m satisfied with my own company, I’ve never been one to seek out interacting with people to make more friends. Truth be told, if I didn’t consider the importance of developing various perspectives and the impact it would have on my trajectory, I wouldn’t have accepted the invites to parties, play ball, or just chill out and talk. At this point,
I’ve experienced so much that I’m never faking or even matching someone’s energy. My diverse interactions are part of my life story so its genuinely Kam.
In addition to my personality type, another reason I’ve struggled with accepting someone as a friend is because I don’t know if they like me for me or for the way I make them feel. If I don’t provide them with a sense of “ahh”, will they not see the value in having me around? Do they just see a light in me and want to feed off of it? Is it a bad thing that people see my worth through the value I provide them? Or is that how friendships are supposed to go?
With that being said, when I do allow someone to receive my energy on a regular basis, they have to be important to me. This probably isn’t great for my IG follower numbers, but it’s been essential in helping me filter out drama and keep a solid circle.
4 Questions to Ask Yourself
I typically ask myself these questions as my relationships evolve into friendships. I don’t need someone to fit into every category before I consider them a friend, but these questions have helped me filter through whether someone is cool to occasionally hang around or if they genuinely care about me as a person. This tells me whether or not I should put in the effort to keep a close relationship.
1. Do they challenge me to become a better person?
2. Do they have the hard conversations with me?
3. Do I trust their opinion? If not, why?
4. Are they understanding of my situation & growth?
Do they challenge me to become a better person?
This is the characteristic that I probably value the most. The ability to help me grow as a person. I want to qualify this – no friend should have to bear the responsibility of becoming their homie’s life coach. I think the most effective way is for the person to possess characteristics that you admire, but haven’t honed for yourself.
When I was in my freshman year of college, I met one of my best friends to this day. Although I get along with most people, chilling with him was effortless. We both came from similar areas of Atlanta, had Caribbean roots, a similar religious background, same musical taste, and connected on a lot of other things. The one characteristic I admired about him that I didn’t have at the time was his relentless work-ethic when it came to classwork. He would lay out his study schedule, participate in study groups, and isolate for hours if he needed to read material. I would cram before a test and pray I could retain enough information to finesse my way through.
We were both Economics majors, so we had a lot of overlap in material. As time developed, I started mimicking his study habits and allowing his grind to push me to become more disciplined. I picked up valuable skills I didn’t see in my previous friend circle. He was able to challenge me to reflect on my own weak spots and help transform me into a better person just by being in his presence.
Do they have the hard conversations with me?
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone, left to go to the bathroom, then look in the mirror and realize you had something between your teeth the whole time?! I’m lowkey tight when that happens. Why didn’t they tell me instead of having me look stupid? I would have preferred for them to say something, even if it felt awkward for 20 seconds. Instead of briefly getting out of their comfort zone to help address the issue, they remained silent and allowed the problem to continue.
Bringing up hard conversations with your friends is a selfless act. It can feel awkward, intimidating, and uncomfortable, but you do it because you want the best for them. I’ve always wanted my friends to let me know when I’m tripping. Whether it’s when I’m having problems with my lady, slacking on my goals, or about to get in an alteration over something trivial. Them taking the time to pull me to the side, or giving me a phone call to talk about something in my behavior that can be corrected, shows me that they want me to level up as a man.
My cousin told me, “Once I know someone’s energy, I don’t question their intentions.” I’ve always been able to keep it 100 with him on whether I think he’s tripping and vice versa. Since he knows I’m coming from a place of love, and with his best interest in mind, there’s never any hard feelings. Avoiding the hard conversations doesn’t help anyone in the long run.
Do I value their opinion? If not, why?
This question hits on different levels and is the most revealing for me. In order for me to know whether I really value their opinion, we have to talk about topics that aren’t just surface level. I’m not talking discussions on whether Dame Lillard or Kyrie Irving is a better point guard (Dame D.O.L.L.A. all day), but topics that are personal. In order to get to a friendship level, there has to be deeper conversation than just sports, money, and attractive women. If you aren’t comfortable bringing up real life issues with your circle, why is that?
The second layer of this question is differentiating between “value” and “agreement”. You don’t have to agree with someone in order to value their opinion. Sometimes when situations come up, I know certain friends are more equipped to give perspective than others. Sometimes I know a woman’s perspective would be more insightful than one of my boys’. But when I’ve found myself continuing to question whether I should even consider someone’s opinion, it has led to a deeper dive on evaluating the foundation of our friendship.
When I’ve discovered that I don’t trust or value the opinion of someone, I’ve realized one of the following:
- We don’t have the same foundational values.
- I don’t think they have my best interest in mind.
- I don’t think they’re being honest with themselves.
I won’t say this disqualifies someone from potentially being in my circle, but it definitely causes me to pause and decide whether the relationship should remain surface-level. I know that different perspectives help people grow, but when it comes to issues of loyalty, integrity, and important morals, having people who make you second guess those values isn’t good for your growth.
Are they understanding of my situation & growth?
A lot of times, people’s circles hit them with, “Man, you switching up.” This might be one of the most toxic phrases a friend can say. As a human you’re supposed to grow and evolve. I’m not the same person I was at 16, 21 or 25. If I never “switched up”, that would be problematic. When you’re close with someone, they can end up comparing themself to you without being conscious of it. They start to look at any improvements in your life as them being left behind. It’s not malicious, but people can start to take changes that someone else makes as an indictment of their own decisions. They believe that if the person they’re friends with stops doing what they used to do together, then their homie thinks higher of himself. They take someone else’s development as personal.
When I had these types of people around me, I was being held back from being the best version of myself. I would revert back to old actions that I knew I had outgrown. I didn’t think I was better than anyone, but knew what was fun for me back then isn’t fun for me now. My values and tastes changed. I found joy in different activities and satisfaction in different places. I evolved into a new person with a different spirit.
As I’ve grown, new friends have entered my circle and some old friends are now casual acquaintances. Not all of my old friends are going to develop in the same ways that I do, but the ones who stay in the circle are those who are understanding and happy for the growth. They don’t take it personal and are comfortable with the changes. When you feel comfortable with those around you, it gives you the freedom to allow yourself to grow.
I used to feel lonely because I couldn’t find someone who I felt truly understood me. A friend who connected on every level, had the same interests, was on the same journey, and growing at the same rate.
Then I finally realized that that’s not what a true friend has to be. Being a friend is a selfless act. They have your well-being in mind and want to see the best for you, even when it doesn’t benefit them. Their personality doesn’t have to be identical to yours, but can instead can be a compliment. You can have different hobbies, but they won’t try to make you feel guilty if you’re in your own lane. They accept you the way you are, but still hold you accountable for your actions out of love.
Author | Speaker | Financial & Emotional Wellness
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