I'm very lucky, when it comes to friends. I have amazing friendships, and up until recently I took it for granted that everyone does. But I've had people point out, in the last few years, that I have an abnormal amount of really great people in my life--some I've known since I was a little girl.
The fact is that friendship is, I think, an art. And like most arts, for every ounce of natural grace that goes into it, a lot of hard work or conscious effort does, too.
So here are just few of the things I think make for being a good friend:
1) Don't sweat the dates
The fact is that remembering arbitrary dates like birthdays or anniversaries do not real friends make. My evil step-grandmother never forgot my birthday, but also never told me she loved me once in her long life. Besides, you get lots of attention on those "special" days. Real friends are there for you on those arbitrary Tuesday nights when you think your world is over, but despite being at a convention or on vacation or at work, your friend drops everything and responds to your angst-ridden text with a phone call. That's a real friend.
2) Remember that friendship isn't a location
This has been a big one for me, as I've moved around a lot. Some people, I've discovered, think that friendship has to be something one maintains by being in the same room at least once or twice a week. People who move away, well, they've let the friendship go.
The reality is that the best friendships know that relationships aren't based on location and that it's so much more gratifying to keep people in your life who really get you than to fake it with warm bodies in the same room.
3) Give to give, and receive with grace
Making the people you love happy should be a joy in itself, as should receiving gifts. I don't just mean tangible gifts, either, of course. Do nice things with joy, and receive nice things with joy. One temptation is to tally up such things--"Well, I phoned twice last week, so she should phone me at least twice back." So never tally, in either direction. That makes generosity a competition.
4) Love isn't cool
While I don't struggle with this in friendships, I definitely struggle with this in intimate relationships, so the way this power dynamic works is very stark to me. In friendships, I have no thoughts of power. I'm happy to lead, to follow, or to just enjoy. I am happy to adore my friends in gushy, obvious ways. In relationships, however, I'm so aware of the power dynamic of who cares for whom more, and it is something that drives me crazy about myself. But I can see my unhealthy love-relationship dynamic played out by others in their friendships, for similar reasons. That fact is that no one person, friend or lover, is going to bring complete happiness to your life, and that's what I think is going on when we put so much pressure on a single relationship. We make this one relationship bigger and more meaningful than it can ever really be. So I'm trying to be to my lovers more like I am to my friends: someone who adores because I don't need, but want. Wanting is so much sexier and more fun than needing, don't you think?
5) Be sweet, to yourself as well
I think sometimes we forget that we all need affection. Don't forget to tell other people why you care or how great they are, and don't you forget why you became friends in the first place. Remind yourself what others bring to your life as much as you remind them that you care, and be grateful that you've got people who care. I take a huge amount of pride and pleasure in the happiness and accomplishment of my friends, while caring about their struggles also helps give me perspective on my own troubles. This isn't about comparing yourself to other people, but about being genuinely invested in your friends' lives, even if you're not there on a day to day basis.