I'm not a parent, but I have oodles of love nieces and two goddaughters. If there's one thing that I make sure that they all hear, on repeat, it's "A bad girlfriend can do far worse to you than a bad boyfriend ever will." Oh, believe you me, I'm speaking from up close and very personal experience. My first female childhood friend was evil. Pure evil. There's no time to get into just how much I am using "evil" literally, but let's just say that by the time I actually removed her from my life, she had done such a number on my self-esteem that it has taken years to heal some of the cracks that she put in my foundation as it relates to self-image, men, boundary-setting, family dynamics (what I should and should not tolerate) and even children (long story; my first book breaks it all down though). But if there is a silver lining to all of her toxicity (and a few others along the way), it's the fact that I now know what a friend is.
All of this reminds me of someone I know who used to get really irritated with me—and rightfully so—whenever I would refer to a boyfriend as "my husband". I can't tell you how many times she would say, "Shellie, I earned the right to call my man that. You have not." She's right. She earned it because she was actually married.
Same thing—albeit in a slightly different way—goes for "friend". It's also a sacred word; something that should not just be tossed out there simply because you and someone else like the same things or agree on some of the same issues.
Give life a little bit of time and it will teach you that friendship is a big responsibility and a huge calling.
So, before you bestow someone with that blessed title, please make sure that they check off all of the following boxes—and that you've done the same thing for them—first.
Watch How They Handle Private Information
Mama used to say, "If they gossip to you, they will gossip about you." In the day and age where people seem to thrive off of salaciousness, I'm not sure if that's 100 percent true because almost everyone talks about somebody's business on a daily basis (celebrities are people too, y'all). But what I will say is if someone is bringing information to you that, if you were the one that they were talking about, you would feel some type of way, that is a bit of a red flag. Also, be cautious of someone who wants to know all of your business but is vague as hell when it comes to their own (not only nosey but controlling and manipulative folks tend to be wired that way). One more thing—if something that you share with them comes back to you, don't simply take on the "Next time, I'll simply tell them not to say anything" approach. We're all adults here, so people with a good sense of judgment—and respect for privacy—should know what should be repeated and what shouldn't.
A good friend is a safe space to share information. Before you decide to call anyone a friend, make sure that you can say that about them without any doubt—or evidence to the contrary—in your mind.
Go Through Some Difficult Times First
I missed the whole Teen Moms series on MTV. But what does pull me in from time to time is Unexpected on TLC (whew…these babies having babies can really tug at you). An episode that I recently saw featured a five-generation teen mom (let that sink in) who used to be popular at her high school; that is until she got pregnant. Although she had hoped that her friends would show up for her at her baby shower, they did not. In response, she said, "These are the times when you really get to see who your friends are." Indeed.
It's very easy to be "friends" with someone when everything is on the upswing in our lives. It's when we lose our job, go through a heartbreak or need a few dollars, that you really get to see who's truly got your back. That's why it's imperative that you hold off on calling anyone your friend until you see how supportive, encouraging and available they are during a challenging moment or trying season in your world. Johnny Gill used to sing about fair-weathered friends and they definitely exist more than the solid ones do. That's why you need to give some time to go through some stuff with them, in order to see how they handle it all…first.
See How They Respond/React to Your Triumphs
We recently published a feature on that fine man Thomas Q. Jones. When I thought about this particular point, the visual for LeToya Luckett's "Back 2 Life" song came to mind. If you've never seen it before (or it's been a while), Thomas plays her love interest. He also has a female BFF who he even shares a birthday with. He's super excited for LeToya to meet his bestie, so they decide to meet at a restaurant. All good, right? Uh-uh, check out his friend Cynthia's energy at the 2:40 mark. Ain't nothin' about that woman happy that her friend is in a relationship.
I was just telling someone not too long ago that something that used to get me into trouble was not properly discerning opportunists in my space. Be careful because some people are "friends" with you because they want the perks of being in your personal space. But if they can't be genuinely happy (emphasis on "genuine") for you, even if they don't reap any benefits from your success or resources, this is another flag that should not be ignored.
A good and true friend is thrilled for your come-ups—personally and professionally. There's no subtext or envy or manipulative tactics that ever cross their mind.
Make Sure They Honor Your Boundaries
Boundaries are limits and yes, even friendships should have them. What should platonic boundaries look like? Your friends should honor your time. Your friends should respect your nos. Your friends should back off when you tell them that they are pushing too much or going too far. Your friends should honor "codes" (whatever codes the both of you agree to). Your friends should not try and monopolize your other relationships. Your friends should not be abusive in any way. Your friends should give you space when and as you need it.
One of the reasons why a lot of friends are of the past is because one or both people did not respect each other's boundaries. You're gonna be in for a very messy and ugly journey if you decide to make someone your friend without putting some boundaries in place. You're also gonna be in a world of hurt if you're not intentional about readjusting yourself in regards to them, the moment that they continuously disregard them.
Process How Humble, Patient and Compassionate They Are
For years, a lot of the people in my world were pretty narcissistic. That's why, these days, humility is paramount in my relationships. I strive to be that way and I only feel comfortable around those who put forth the concerted effort to do the same. Humble people listen well. Humble people apologize when they are wrong. Humble people are kind and have no problem putting others before them. Humble people value their relationships. Humble people also don't humble brag or talk about how humble they are.
Two other qualities that I look for—no, require—are patience and compassion. Patient people know that no one is perfect, including themselves, so they are willing to rock with the individuals in their lives as they grow and evolve. As far as compassion goes, "compassion" literally means that when you see that someone is suffering, you want to do what you can to alleviate it. The circle I have now? I can't tell you one time that I've been in need and someone in it hasn't been there to help—no tab-keeping or questions asked. I am intentional about being that same way towards them too.
Because really, if you can't expect humility, patience and compassion from the people who are closest to you, who can you expect it from?
Ponder If You Can Mutually Meet One Another’s Needs
Recently, I was having a conversation with someone who I've known for almost two decades now. As we were talking about how they have a tendency to make enemies due to how poorly they handle their dating situations, they said, "I'm great at friendships. I'm just bad at relationships."
Hmph. That statement right there deserves its own article. For now, the reason why I'm bringing this up is because I challenged them, almost as soon as it came out of their mouth. "Are you truly a good friend if everything is solely your terms? If you're not doing your best to not only get your needs met, but to meet the needs of others?"
When a friendship is real and both people want it to last, reciprocity is paramount. It's not about if you and another person have the same needs; it's about if both of you know what one another's needs are and, so long as they are realistic, you are willing to meet them.
If you are constantly doing most of the work, and when it comes to your needs, there are always excuses, justifications or deflections as to why they can't be met and/or you find yourself saying, "Damn. Are friendships supposed to be this hard?", that's another indication that being friends with that person may not be the best idea.
Give the Relationship More Than a Few Months to Develop
One more thing. Back when I was a teen mom director for the local arm of a national non-profit, one of the exercises that I would do with my girls is ask them, "So, how long would I need to know you before I could borrow fifty dollars?" Most of them would look at me crazy and, about 80 percent of them, would say 1-2 years, at the least. Then I would follow that up with, "OK. So, the last sex partner you had, how long did it take for him to hit?" Talk about being blindsided, as a lot of them said a day or a week, max. "Hmm, so what you're telling me is that you value fifty bucks more than your own body?"
You know you. You know what you bring to the table when it comes to your relationships. That's why it is totally OK—encouraged even—to take your own sweet and precious time before deciding to bestow the title of "friend" on anyone. Don't force it. Don't rush it. Don't let them force it or rush it. Just let time and observation do their thing.
Just like it typically takes more than a few months to trust someone enough to give them money or have sex with them, it should also take time to see someone's character and consistency in the friendship department. True friendships are a real blessing so, really, what's the rush? Exactly.
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