3 Foundational Rules for Friendship

Few things in life are more valuable than a true friendship. It is one of our great legitimate emotional needs. But our need here goes much deeper than fleeting relationships based upon common interests like work or social circles.

Here are three foundational truths about friendship and what it means in our lives:

1. Great friendship is rarer than you think.

Think of your relationships like a target, with the outer circles being acquaintances and the very center being the people who matter most. So the outer circle might be the coworker you greet but never really interact with, or the other parent at school that you smile at during pickup, but never see outside of this interaction. At the very center is your spouse, your children, maybe your parents or siblings, and your deepest, closest friends. In between that outer circle and the very center, there are other rings—your neighbors, your work friends, your old friends from school you don’t talk to much anymore, etc.

Where do most of your friends fall? Surely they are all over the target, but consider this: how many of your friendships truly fall into that center?

“You will only ever have three or four great friendships in life.” A mentor shared this wisdom with me when I was very young, and the older I get the more I realize how right he was.

It’s a treasure that is rarer than most people realize.

As life has happened—as I have taken new jobs and moved to new cities, as I have had children and found new interests—the number of my truly great friendships seems to grow smaller and smaller. It takes a lot for a friendship to survive the changing tides of life.

Listen to Relationships 101 to learn how to build truly great friendships.

When you have a great, dynamic friendship, hold onto that. Cultivate it. Cherish it. Put in the effort to maintain it. It’s a treasure that is rarer than most people realize.

2. We learn more from our friends than we ever will from books.

Sooner or later, our standards come to rest with the standards of our friends. Nothing influences us more than our peer group. The people you surround yourself with tell me something about who you are or who you will shortly become.

If you hang out with a group of people who want only to watch television, drink beer, eat pizza, and play video games, chances are you will adopt that lifestyle too. On the other hand, if you surround yourself with a group of people who work out at the gym four times a week and fill their weekends with outdoor activities, chances are you will adopt that lifestyle.

If you want to have a truly dynamic friendship, you must be the kind of person people want to be in a dynamic friendship with.

If you hang out with people who are always going to the drive-through for burgers, fries, and sodas . . . Guess what? But if you surround yourself with people who are interested in looking and feeling healthy—you guessed it—you will become more interested in your own health and well being.

The people we surround ourselves with either raise or lower our standards. They either help us become the best-version-of-ourselves or encourage us to become lesser versions of ourselves. No man becomes great on his own. No woman becomes great on her own. The people around them help to make them great.

We all need people in our lives who raise our standards, remind us of our essential purpose, and challenge us to become the-best-version-of-ourselves.

We become like our friends.

3. True friendship means acceptance free of expectation.

We all need a trust relationship. A person in our lives we can talk to about anything.

A person who will honor our feelings and reverence our struggles with the circumstances of our lives. Someone who will listen without trying to fix, change, or move us. A person who is able to sit with us in our pain and dance with us in our joy. A person in tune with him or herself enough to speak with compassion, encouragement, and honesty. This is the essence of acceptance free of expectation.

We all have a need for such a person, but they are all too rare to find.

True friendship is rarer than you think. If you have it, work to maintain it.

For some people, this person is a spouse; for others, it is a close friend or spiritual guide. For others, a spiritual relationship helps meet this emotional need and desire. For most people, it is a mixture of their relationship with God and one or two special human friendships.

In the earlier stages of our lives, we may pass through many of these relationships—classmates, members of sports teams, relatives, a family doctor, an older family friend, girlfriends and boyfriends, teachers, a priest, pastor, or rabbi, and maybe even a mentor or coach.

Acceptance free of expectation. This is the mark of a truly dynamic friendship. When it comes to friendship, if you’ve got that, you’ve got it all.


In the end, we all face a stark reality: If you want to have a truly dynamic friendship, you must be the kind of person people want to be in a dynamic friendship with.

True friendship is rarer than you think. If you have it, work to maintain it. If you want it, be the kind of person who deserves that trust relationship.

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