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Seeing the good in people (including myself)
June 27, 2011 11:18 AM   Subscribe

In friendships, I have a hard time seeing myself as the concrete stuff I can bring to it (helping others, entertaining them). I can't see people appreciating me for my "soft" qualities (kindness, affection, etc.). Although I can appreciate other people for more than what they bring me in concrete ways, I can't put words on the things I like about them. What kinds of qualities are good to see in friends?

Kids tend to instrumentalize people: they see their friends for what they can give them: play partners, toys, etc. As a kid, I was very lonely, and didn't have much to instrumentalize: I didn't have too many toys, and I wasn't physically adept. To compensate, I've tended to cultivate my intellect, so that I could bring that to the table.

Fast forward 25 years, and I still can't see why people would befriend me, except for my knowledge, my technical know-how and my humor. I know that I like other people not because they are entertaining or useful to me, but because of their other qualities. Except that I can't name them.

That's where you come in: What makes a friend a good friend, other than say, knowing Canadian history very well, or having a bitchin' computer he or she lets you play?
posted by Monday, stony Monday to Human Relations (17 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
My good friends don't exhaust me or judge me. Sure, they're chatty as all get out and they got opinions flying out of all sorts of places, but in between it all they're not taking energy away from me. You can sense that, even if you don't realize it. Pleasant, positive energy is a joy to be around.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:28 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I used to think most friends just liked me for what I could do for them, and like many a previous ask me, I've come to realize that wasn't true of my Real friends - and that that was a bad way to think about myself.

Friends are people that like you for yourself, whether that be humor, smarts, or just plain being good company during shared activities. I have friends that I like to hike with, friends at work with whom I like to chat over lunch, old friends far away that I call once a year for a check-in, and really close friends that I talk with several times a week. While it's often a reciprocal relationship, it's not nearly as transactional as you make it sound.
posted by ldthomps at 11:32 AM on June 27, 2011


So.. the stuff I'm going to list could also be applied to a romantic interest, fyi.

Someone who listens to you when you need to vent
Someone who gives valuable advice
Someone who's shoulder you can cry on
Someone who will come over at 2am when you have a crisis
Someone who makes you laugh
Someone you look up to/aspire to be
If you happen to be a follower, Someone who plans and leads
If you're a leader, someone who likes to go along with your plans
Someone you can talk to about controversial topics (politics/religion)
Someone who forgives you if you get into an argument
Someone who's open minded
Someone who is patient
Someone who makes you think twice

It all kind of boils down into two groups: A good friend is someone who is there for you (in whichever way you need) or a good friend is someone who you are comfortable around.

Then you have great friends who.. when you think about it, you haven't got a clue why you're such good friends because you are such opposites.
posted by royalsong at 11:33 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thinking about the people who mean the most to me, I honestly cannot think of many "tangible" or "concrete" things that they bring to our relationships. What I really value includes someone who is a good conversationalist with an ability to really listen. Someone who is kind and wants the best for you; who will offer help when you need it but not offer "I told you so's". Someone who can respect and even appreciate differences in your personality or preferences. Someone with a great sense of humor. Someone who will introduce you to new things whether it's new ideas, new foods or new ways to see yourself.
posted by goggie at 11:34 AM on June 27, 2011


I think friends need to have a similar outlook on life in general, and similar ethical or moral beliefs. They often share a similar taste in specific hobbies, etc., but that isn't necessary. Sometimes debating those things makes for a livelier friendship.

For instance, it's harder, if you are an optimist, to be friends with a pessimist. You have a very basic difference in how you see the world. If you think honesty is a very important value, you will find it harder to be friends with someone who cheats on his/her partner. Again, you have a very basic difference in morality or ethics.

But you can disagree on, say, whether soccer is better than baseball (of course), and still be friends.
posted by misha at 11:36 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's the friend who I can call at 3a after I got hit in the face on the street and can't stop sobbing. There's the friend who brought me surprise doughnuts while picking me up at the airport because I'd warned him I was in a foul mood. There's the friend who had me over for dinner/drinks (and wouldn't take no for an answer) when I found out my grandma had cancer. My friends pick me up when I'm down, cheer for me when I'm up, provide perspective and advice when I'm too close to see clearly, and are a genuine joy to be around. Plus, they eat all this goddamn food that I cannot seem to stop cooking.

My friends make my life worth living, and I want to do everything possible to make their lives more awesome, and they, mine.

I value their affection, kindness, brilliance, creativity, imagination, drive, dreams, exuberance, snark, love, fears, sharing, trust, humor, givingness, vision, goofiness, etc. I could go on and on.
posted by mollymayhem at 11:36 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, looking at what some of the other respondents had to say, I think we agree that similar ethics are important (no judgment from your friends, no "I told you sos", supportive, giving, always there for you, patient) and similar temperament (my friends don't exhaust me or sap my energy, they have my sense of humor, pleasant and positive, we approach things the same way).
posted by misha at 11:40 AM on June 27, 2011


Kids tend to instrumentalize people: they see their friends for what they can give them: play partners, toys, etc. As a kid, I was very lonely, and didn't have much to instrumentalize

For the record, I don't think you are correct here, and I think this misconception may be fucking up you idea of what makes a friendship. But to answer your question, the most important quality I can find in my friends is that they like me. That's all about the soft qualities for me - listening, being a cheerleader, and helping my bury the occasional body when required.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:55 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I also think your premise is off to begin with. I don't ever recall having a real friend because of what they can do for me.
posted by Vaike at 12:00 PM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


DarlingBri is right - I don't think it's that kids instrumentalize so much as they can't articulate why it is they like their friends.

Knowing Canadian history doesn't make someone a good friend.
Knowing Canadian history and wanting to share it with you in a way that you laugh and enjoy and understand makes someone a good friend.

Having a bitchin computer game doesn't make someone a good friend.
Having a bitchin computer game and wanting to let you play it because they find it fun to play together with you is what makes someone a good friend.

Pattern here, right? My friends are friends because they share what they have with me - knowledge, experiences, insight, intimacy - because they want me to be happy and take delight in something together. The first part - the skill, the "tangible" as you call it - is honestly interchangeable.
posted by sestaaak at 12:05 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's just me, but I think you are way overthinking this. Just be yourself, and people will decide whether they want to be your friend or not. The alternative implies that you're going to actively "do/be something" to get people to be your friend... How exhausting would that be?!

I'm one of those "my friends are my family" types; I have extremely distant relationships with everyone I'm related to by blood. It would pain me to discover that any one of my friends felt obligated to "be something" because I expected or needed it.

On preview, I guess I'm saying what Vaike's saying above: I think your basic premise is "off."
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 12:09 PM on June 27, 2011


I want friends who are on my side. I don't need anyone to point out that the other guy might have a point, or that my boss isn't really that difficult, etc. No trying to show me that I'm not "being fair" or that I need to be "reasonable" about stuff. My friends are with me, they support me, cheer me on, and sometimes, they do subtly tell me when I'm wrong or all wet or in error. But that comes after the " hell, yes, you're right!" back-up. I'm plenty skilled at telling myself that I'm wrong, thanks. Their politics, worldview, standard of living, child rearing polices are of no impoetance--what matters is how we feel about each othwr and how those feelings are expressed. I like action more than hairpats, ymmv.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:15 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


One quality my good friends have in common is that we all share a similar sense of humor. Having friends that can make me laugh, and vice versa, is important. There's nothing like giggling over the same extended joke every single time you see a person. We don't give each other concrete things--what we give (or create) is a space where we can have fun together.
posted by mlle valentine at 12:24 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


One thing that makes a good friend is the willingness and ability to just be there. This sounds easy, but it's not, and when it can be achieved it's priceless. When I'm feeling grumpy, sad or mad, the very best thing that a friend can do is just let me be that way while I need to be, without jumping in and giving advice or always trying to fix things. Trying to "help" me or make me "feel better" is a form of judgment; just be present in a spirit of kindness. What can you bring to a friendship? You have the magical quality of being another human being, and that's enough.
posted by Corvid at 1:04 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


What Ideefixe said. I want friends who are on my side. I don't need anyone to point out that the other guy might have a point, or that my boss isn't really that difficult, etc. No trying to show me that I'm not "being fair" or that I need to be "reasonable" about stuff.

This - being my cheerleader, having my back, being my fan, being on my team no matter what - THIS is what I look for in a friend. Not the instrumental stuff, and not the politics/religion/ loads of common interests factor (though common interests are fun to talk about).

If you are a good, kind, loving person you have plenty to offer in the way of friendship.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:20 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you are a good, kind, loving person you have plenty to offer in the way of friendship.

This is the basis, and really this is enough. On top of that, we are friends with the people we happen to share interests with etc... Good friendships are sometimes hard to explain. People click on a deeper level. I don't think it has much to do with this "concrete" stuff that they offer each other.

Another element; I know I have a good friend when I can call them distraught. When I know my feelings aren't rational but I just have to talk them out. The person doesn't have to offer solutions, but just to listen and tell me not to be so hard on myself, to tell me that there is hope.

Don't fear being open with your friends, and don't fear being there for them. For some of us it's too easy to isolate oneself. Life is complicated and going through it with friends is the only thing that makes it easier.
posted by beau jackson at 1:56 PM on June 27, 2011


When I think of my friends, I don't think of them as "that person I know that has X". I think of them as "that person I know whom I feel safe enough to be myself around and who feels safe around me". It doesn't matter what they own or know or anything like that; they can be the poorest people I know or the richest people I know but none of that makes them my friends. It's these intangible things that make friendship happen!

Perhaps this is why you are so perplexed about the whole thing, you are attempting to ignore the very basis of what makes a friendship.
posted by buteo at 11:29 PM on June 27, 2011


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