“A friend is one who overlooks your broken fence and admires the flowers in your garden.” “A good friend is like a four-leaf clover: hard to find and lucky to have.” “There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends.” “True friendship comes when the silence between two people is comfortable.”

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Just recently I have had some people reach out to connect with me on social media. They had read articles or posts I had made and were interested to connect.

In all cases I try to vet them before I either accept or reject their invite. In some cases I am not going to accept the invite, but I ask first just why they are interested in connecting. The typical response is that they want to be friends.

I tell them essentially what is stated in the opening quote of this article. That to me a friend is a very special person who I have gotten to know over time and who is very close to me. It is someone who has my back and who I trust. At this point, they are none of those things. And yet they still ask if we can be friends,

It also amazes me how some of my friends and social acquaintances tend to call everyone they deal with their “friends”. I bite my tongue, but it makes me wonder whether they realize what they are saying.

If they truly mean this, then their definition of a friend is greatly different than the main stream definition and they are defining a friend as someone they like to be around socially. They do not however say that this is a person who is there to support and help them when things are tough and there is trouble at hand. I would bet that such is not the case and that most of the people they call “friend” always have an excuse for why they could not or would not provide a helping hand when needed.

I have some people like that in my life. They are great to be around and to watch a game and have a beer with. But I know I cannot trust them to do something of any importance for me. At some point I asked them to do so and was let down.

That doesn’t mean that I do not like them. I do. But they are acquaintances, not friends. A friend is there when I need them. And there are few people in our lives that fit that definition, whether we want to believe it or not.

We tend to generalize terms these days, friend being one of them. In a way it is sad, because by doing so it cheapens the word and makes it less important. Do we do it on purpose? Possibly. Or maybe we just get lazy finding and using the correct term. Or we really believe that everyone we socialize with are really friends even though they have not proven to be so.

A 2016 study by MIT found that about 50 percent of the time only half of perceived friendships are actually mutual. The researchers found that while 94 percent of the subjects expected their feelings to be reciprocated, only 53 percent of them actually were.

This perception gap hints at a number of problems, from our inability to clearly define friendship and the impact this could have on our own self-image, to us having the wrong idea about the kind of people who really are our friends. This suggests that our inability to read people is largely due to us desperately trying to maintain a favorable self-image and that we find that the concept of friendship can be really difficult to define.

If you ask people to define friendship you’ll probably get an uncomfortable silence followed by ‘er’ or ‘um, which means many of us really don’t know what a true friend or friendship means.

So, what does that mean for trying to develop a true friendship?

If you’re looking for someone who will be a real friend, don’t look for that one individual with lots of friends. Instead, look for people with a similar definition to you of what a friend really is.

Remember that the number of friends doesn’t and really shouldn’t matter. Having a few close, but really true friends is all that you really need. And being social with others who are great to be around but who are really acquaintances is ok to. Just know the difference and act accordingly to and with each.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

PETER CHRISTIAN

Peter H. Christian was a founding partner and president of espi, a business consulting firm in Northeastern PA. Previously he was an Executive at Crayola Corporation. He has worked with 300+ clients in business development, profit improvement, operations, IS selection and implementation, and Project Management. He has 40+ years of experience in strategic and facility planning, CI, lean, and supply chain. He has helped companies to realize millions of dollars in cost reductions and profit improvements adding and retaining thousands of jobs. He has authored the Amazon bestselling business books, “What About the Vermin Problem?” and “Influences and Influencers” and is published in a variety of professional magazines.