Becoming a better friend
February 12, 2008 7:49 AM   Subscribe

What little things do great friends do that sets them apart from others?

I want to become a more thoughtful friend and person. I don't find myself particularly rude or selfish, but at the same time I don't really go out of my way to brighten anybody else's day or let them know I'm thinking about them. As an example, I'm really bad about keeping in touch with my more distant friends and I want to make more of an effort to check in with them from time to time.

So, mefites, think about what sets really friendly/thoughtful/likable people and friends apart. To clarify, I'm not looking for answers like "I love my best friend because I can talk to them about anything." I'm looking for the little things they do or say (that other people don't) that helps make you feel better or appreciate them more.

I'm going through a rough relationship situation and I'm trying to cope by putting my energy towards being a better person. Times like these make me really appreciate having my friends around and it makes me want to treat them better than I do.

Thanks everyone!
posted by PFL to Human Relations (29 answers total) 220 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Never speak ill of people when they are not there, or for that matter, when they are there.
posted by milarepa at 7:57 AM on February 12, 2008 [16 favorites]

My best friend and I live far, far away from each other so we make a point to drop "meaningless" emails to each other several times a week. I'll tell her about something interesting I saw or some stupid conversation I overheard and she'll send me cool links and stuff. She makes an effort to know what's going on in my kids' lives because she knows that I don't always have the time to sit down and talk to her for an hour or so.

When I told her about my ambition to become a personal chef, she sent me a really useful book about starting a personal chef business. I like to send her kitties toys now and then.

It's all about having the intention to make the effort to keep in touch and then following through on the intention.
posted by cooker girl at 7:58 AM on February 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

a commitment to complete hospitality goes a long way. also being the person that plans fun stuff and makes great stuff happen.
posted by alkupe at 7:59 AM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Follow up. If she mentions a medical test or an upcoming rough meeting or whatever, remember to ask her about it later. If she got through a crisis a little while ago, ask how she's doing with that. If her family member or dog was sick, ask how they're doing.
posted by ferociouskitty at 8:01 AM on February 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

Great friends notice the little things, and then say something complimentary about them. They always encourage. And they only give un-requested advice when they see you headed downhill.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:05 AM on February 12, 2008 [8 favorites]

Great friends are the ones that, if you fall out of touch awhile, you can pick right up like it was yesterday. Lives change, people move and stuff, but great friendships aren't really affected by that.
posted by Goofyy at 8:06 AM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: An admirable goal. I often "offer to help" rather than "step in and help," and I think it is the "stepping in and helping" people that really show their caring. That is, it's nice to tell someone who is in the process of moving that you're available to help them move, but a friend who is being really thoughtful is more likely to simply act and provide something helpful, such as a gift certificate to a bed/bath store, or a freezable casserole for the early move-in days before kitchen tools are unpacked, or some DVDs to watch before the cable is turned on. I think it's about really taking the time to think about what's it's like to be in the other person's situation and what you would need were you in their shoes.
posted by dreamphone at 8:11 AM on February 12, 2008 [10 favorites]

My good friends and I pretty much communicate in some fashion almost every single day, even if it's just sending out an email with a link to something we think the other would find interesting.
posted by fusinski at 8:12 AM on February 12, 2008

among my circle of friends, i am known as 'the thoughtful one' - or the one that always remembers to follow up (as ferociouskitty suggested). a lot of this was learned from my mom, who was always sending cards and returning phone calls when i was young.

i am pretty busy and my hectic schedule can be tough to contend with, but i always make time to check my calendar for birthdays or important dates. if i can't make a friend's party or event, i send a congratulatory/celebratory e-mail, and promise to be at the next one (and then make sure to be at the next one). i take one hour out of my week to scan my address book and send a note, or an e-mail, or phone someone i haven't been in touch with recently.

it sounds kind of weird/robotic, but once you get a system going, you'll find it's pretty easy to stay in touch and be 'the thoughtful one'.
posted by gursky at 8:14 AM on February 12, 2008 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Great friends are people who

- remember your preferences for food/drink stuff and always make your coffee the way you like it
- send you little fun stuff in the mail for no reason
- remember things that are going on in your life and ask you about them
- have some magic ability to give advice when you want it and not when you don't
- adjust to your level of feeling like you need a friend so if you're in a bad place, they're helpful and available, and if you're busy they're not overly needily trying to get some of your time
- have their own lives and friends that enrich yours
- don't talk smack about all their other friends making you wonder if they talk that way about you when you're not around
- introduce you to other people they think you might like, but also make time to spend time with you one on one
- have a general sense of your family situation and may ask about it without being obtrusive or stalkery
- say nice things for no reason. One of my minor adjustments for me trying to be a good friend is to make a real effort to compliment and also accept compliments gracefully
- don't dredge up old bad situations and go over them endlessly. Good friends forgive or at least pretend to forget.
- turn the heat up when you are visiting [I live in New England, this is a HUGE thumbs up]
- are good talkers and listeners and are decent at adjusting when you are feeling like you need to be more one way than the other
- are proud of you and your accomplishments and say so
- don't always expect 1:1 reciprocation for everything and don't put you "on the clock" as soon as you ask a question or need advice in their professional specialty
- do things that require effort sometimes like give rides to the airport or helping move
- try to say yes instead of saying no, but can say no without it making you feel bad
- introduce you to new things without pushing you way outside your comfort zone [unless that's the sort of thing you like]
- can just hang out without there always being some sort of planned activity

For your specific situation, you may want to send your friends cards in the mail or something neat and small that reminds you of them. People like to know they're being thought of, even if they're far away. Most people like mail and since it requires a bit of extra effort it has a bit more impact than a "thinking of you" email.
posted by jessamyn at 8:20 AM on February 12, 2008 [115 favorites]

All good answers. Great friends also accept their friends' bad or quirky habits, and support them even though it's something that you yourself would never dream of. My friend likes music and TV shows that I can't stand and picks partners that are not good for him, but I'll be there for him always, no matter what, more or less.
posted by Melismata at 8:25 AM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Bring you soup when you're sick. Make you laugh when you're down. Think you're smart, cute and talented and tell you so often.
posted by watercarrier at 8:28 AM on February 12, 2008

I have a friend who I usually only see when we go out with a group of mutual friends. But every once in a while, she'll call out of the blue and suggest we get together, just the two of us. I love her for that! It's nice to actually talk one on one instead of fighting to be heard over the group. She'll do this with our other friends too. It's like she wants to give each one of us her undivided attention for a little while, and that feels good.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:31 AM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have some friends who think great friends can constantly razz one another and give each other shit and tease each other. They think if you can't do that to your friends who can you do it to? I try to be the one friend who doesn't do that, either to excess or at all. Even when it's fun and meant in good cheer it just brings the overall level of your interactions into the grey. And why would you want to do that with a friend?
posted by vito90 at 8:33 AM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think just making a solid effort to keep in touch is the biggest thing - it implies that you're still invested in the relationship. I try to shoot off a decent length message to my distant friends at least once a week or so. Second, just give a shit, you'll be head and shoulders above most people in their life (YMMV). Planning trips together or arranging a real world meetup is pretty important too. I'm a guy, so those are the biggest things - gifts/books/stuff like that I don't really care about. I just want to know whats going on with you and know that you're thinking about me.
posted by Craig at 8:46 AM on February 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

Be nice and listen.
Do little things that make the other persons life easier. (This depends on the other person)
Know that friendship is given, not received.

Know that sometimes, through no fault of your own, you're not going to be someones friend.
posted by seanyboy at 9:12 AM on February 12, 2008

Best answer: Lots of great advice already, some of which I'll repeat for emphasis and some I'll just throw on the heap:

* The first piece of advice, from milarepa, can't be stressed enough. I learned this in business from a great mentor; she always had the nicest things to say about *everyone*. I thought, "She can't possibly think so-and-so is 'brilliant' or that person is 'amazing' at what they do." In a candid moment, she conceded she didn't, but no good ever comes of speaking ill of others. So, especially with friends, try hard to seek out their most positive qualities, and praise them often, both in their presence and to others.

* Respect a secret. Goes without saying, so to speak.

* Let go of things. There's nothing more awkward than that 'friend' who remembers and every-so-often brings up that time 5 years ago when you missed his big birthday bash to attend a sales conference. People are imperfect; expect them to be so occasionally.

* Just listen. There are times when being together means commiserating about how sh*tty both of your jobs are, and there are times when your friend just needs you to truly, activally listen to him about a rough patch without interjecting about your own troubles.

* Send them birthday cards. Or a thank you note. In the mail. Like their grandmother used to do. It sounds Hallmarkian, but there's something about receiving a piece of mail that opening an email will never, ever equal.

* Give them unexpected compliments, out of the blue. I have a platonic girlfriend who, one time over lunch 13 years ago, smiled slightly and said, "You'll be such a handsome guy as you get older. You look a little like Cary Grant." I thanked her, and we went back to lunch. I still remember it, and it makes me feel good to this day. Be genuine, but again: seek out the best in others.

* Choose wisely. You can't devote the necessary time and energy it takes to be a good friend to a large audience of people. In my experience, it's the quality of relationships that counts, not the quantity. So, decide who amongst your current crop of friends is worth this investment - typically, those who similarly reciprocate kind efforts - and apply what you've learned to them.
posted by mrkinla at 9:48 AM on February 12, 2008 [23 favorites]

It's definitely all about the listening, and the little things.

If I may toot my own horn, an example from my recent life: My mom just got a bunch of new mineral makeup and was showing it off to me about two weeks ago, but mentioned that the brush that came with it wasn't quite soft enough, and she wished they had put in a kabuki brush (the short, squat one) instead. I nodded and commiserated, and as soon as I left her house, I wrote kabuki brush on the back of my hand. Her birthday was yesterday, and instead of agonizing or getting some generic flowers or something, I gave her a new makeup brush. My siblings thought it was dumb, but she was genuinely touched that I had remembered, and I know she'll get a lot of use out of it.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 10:39 AM on February 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

Definitely send mail. I send random post cards to friends every once in a while, and they often tell me that getting something like that made their day (and it was just a postcard!).
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:45 AM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

what a great thread, especially Jessamyn's contribution and mrkinla! I've put a lot of effort into being a good friend, and will always go the extra mile as described above, but if there is one common thread to all these pieces of advice, it is that actions speak louder than words.

Many, many people say they will "be in touch", "let's meet-up", "I'll give you a hand with that" etc., a good friend just does those things. I have friends who due to distance I may only see once a year, if that. But when we get together it is as if we were never apart and the single common denominator with these friends is that I know they will get my back as they have shown this by their actions (and continue to).
posted by Wilder at 11:12 AM on February 12, 2008

Don't require anything of your friends, especially explanations. Requirements are for lovers, and are ruinous in that arena, too.

The most valuable gift you can give a friend is your ear. Giving them your ear does not mean giving them your tongue. Good friends listen and understand before they advise.

Good friends fall out of touch sometimes. Good friends turn their backs on each other sometimes. Good friends may never speak again.

Sometimes the memory of a good friend is counsel enough.
posted by breezeway at 11:14 AM on February 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

Good friends will tell you they'll get back to you about something they know bothers you and then will get back to you...

And after longwinded communications by text message and a short phone call (at midnight!) will take an hour to carefully draft an email that actually says what they wanted to say but didn't get out right during texting and on the phone!

And in doing so will make your day by showing they care enough to go to so much trouble when they are sleep deprived already and working flat out :)
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:47 AM on February 12, 2008

Here are things I consider to be of a great friend standard:

1. Helping someone move. It's funny to see how a lot of your friend disappear the closer it gets to moving day. Moving sucks and for anyone to help really says a lot. The last time I moved, my friend Eric went out of his way to help me. He's deathly allergic to cats and I had cat hair all over everything. He ended up getting really sick, but still helped me out anyway.

2. When you get real sick, a great friend is going to go to the store and pick you up things you need that you physically can't go and get yourself.

3. A great friend will get out of bed in the middle of the night to come pick you up from the side of the road when your car breaks down...and they won't gripe about it.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 4:54 PM on February 12, 2008

I'll second ferociouskitty. I have a lot of friends who are happy to make meaningless chit-chat, and we have fun. But I've realized if I ask them about how that hard thing is going, then they will talk about it. You probably notice this, being in a hard space yourself -- when I was in a bad headspace, I would often feel like, "I don't want to burden this person with this hard stuff I'm dealing with." But good friends are concerned and ask to share that burden, or don't even consider it a burden as much as they consider it just being real and being friends, no matter what's going on.
posted by salvia at 5:38 PM on February 12, 2008 [5 favorites]

Remember important milestones other than birthdays (e.g., Here are some flowers because I know your mom passed away one year ago and this must be a difficult time for you.)
Buy little gifts for no reason (e.g., I saw this pen at the store and I thought you'd appreciate having one; I was at the farmer's market yesterday and I saw the most beautiful tomatoes that I knew you'd put to good use.)
posted by HotPatatta at 6:06 PM on February 12, 2008

1. In the midst of a falling out, a friend will still spend the whole weekend setting up your birthday festivities and drive over an hour to pick your sister up from the airport who flew in to surprise you. In other words, a great friend will still be your friend even when they're pissed at you.

2. A great friend will tell you they love you. I don't think people tell each other this enough.

3. Cultivate the silly. Maybe it's just me and each of my close friends, but we all have some goofy, silly or long running joke that's just between us and it's something we toss at each other every now and again. Sometimes I'll text my best friend this silly saying from my childhood and it never fails to crack me up and I know it cracks him up too. Just having that little thing just warms my heart and it's something we've been doing for years and years.

4. Send photos of times you've spent together. I went on a trip with a good friend, took hundreds of pictures and mailed a few prints of my favorites to him with a note.
posted by SoulOnIce at 8:34 PM on February 12, 2008

"Friends will help you move; best friends will help you move a body."
posted by mosk at 4:25 PM on February 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

The other day I canceled plans with a good friend at the VERY last minute to see a guy.

Never mind that my friend has warned me a billion times about this guy being no good, and that it's just an overall crappy thing to do to sell out a friend... when the guy flaked on me and proceeded to treat me like absolute crap, my friend still made himself available to get together, listen to me gripe and try to lift my spirits. We had a great time making fun of the jerky guy who had hurt me that night... and I felt so much better.

For possibly the first time in our entire seven-year friendship, I truly recognized what a great friend I have. Now it's time for ME to be a better one.
posted by Ruby Doomsday at 10:28 AM on February 14, 2008

This is an old thread, but I thought about this for a while, because it's a very good question. I am going to focus on being a good friend, but I think the lesson extrapolates to being a good person.

We all have something different to give the world, and to give our friends. What you have to give is not necessarily what I have to give.

I have a friend who is good at making people feel welcome, and helping them make new friends. If she is put into any group, she will make a beeline for the odd one out. If someone is obviously uncomfortable, 20 years older than everyone else, dressed badly, obviously new to town, or whatever, she's going to want to talk to him, see what he's all about, and tell other people how interesting he is. People invite her to all of their parties because she gets along with everyone and keeps people from feeling left out. Not only that, if you need a musician/accountant/shrink/translator, she will know one. Will she remember their names, birthdays, children, phone numbers? Probably not. She's the first to admit that you're probably going to have to call her if you want to see her, and pray that she hasn't lost her phone. That doesn't make her a bad friend or a bad person. I've found myself becoming kinder and more accepting of people the longer I know her. She's a blessing.

I'm sure there's something you really enjoy doing for your friends. It's usually something you really like doing, something you'd jump at a chance to do. It's not something you view as a chore. Maybe you're the super-reliable friend who always keeps in touch and always knows the details of your friends' lifes. Maybe you like doing practical things, like moving or fixing computers. Maybe you're always up for a good time and always know where the party is. Maybe you're great at helping sick or sad people feel better. Maybe you give great advice. Maybe you know a lot of people and can introduce someone to lots of new friends. Figure out what you're good at, do more of it, and be honest about your shortcomings.

I really respect your desire to do better--good luck!
posted by sondrialiac at 12:54 PM on February 16, 2008 [9 favorites]

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