4 signs to determine who is a true friend … and who isn’t

Some friends open windows to a new world for us, others close them.

Guille Faingold | Stocksy United

“I was so invested in this one friendship. I went with Iga to a gynecologist when she was pregnant. I drove her husband to the delivery room because he was too nervous to drive. I am her daughter’s godmother, and my sons treat her daughter like a sister. I have lent her money, and I answered midnight calls when she had a horrible situation at work,” says Sonia, 35 years old. “But it was a bad investment. Not that I was counting on a significant return. But when I was promoted and began to earn really good money, she couldn’t accept that.

“There were these supposedly innocent remarks she made to me, like ‘it’s not good for a wife to make more money than her husband because he won’t like it in the long run.’ Or that my older son was doing worse in school, and it was my fault because I didn’t have time to help him with homework. I made a scene; I told her she is vicious and jealous. I would have been happy for her if she were appreciated at work. She yelled back, and said all that money had gone to my head.

Closeness with elements of jealousy is still friendship.”

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“We didn’t talk for a long time, but then I reached out to her. For a while it was peaceful. Then something went wrong when I confided that I was saving money for my sons to study abroad. Her face changed; she talked a bit more, but really, she was just waiting to leave. I wondered: Do I have to censor what I say to her so that she doesn’t feel bad? But it’s true; we learn who our true friends are in times of trouble, not when we are successful.”

As you can tell from Sonia’s story (and probably your own experiences), sometimes a friendship between two women can be bumpy. Really bumpy.

Some weeks it can feel like a tumultuous roller coaster: On Monday she’s your confidant, on Tuesday she’s an envious thorn in your side, and by Friday, she’s back to being a soul sister, who you can’t stop talking with.

Is she your friend or a rival?

This question comes around over and over. All deep relationships, including friendships, are stormy and intensive at times. They can range from supportive to competitive; from giving a sense of community to being hostile; from confiding to praising. But closeness with elements of jealousy is still friendship. This element of competition is quite natural; from childhood we want a friend, and it is a need connected to our individual development.

A good friend is like a mirror

We look at her. What does she look like? How does she dress? Who does she have a crush on? Does she fight with her parents too? This comparing of your life to your friend’s is a source of strength and motivation to change, but it doesn’t happen without jealousy, envy, and launching complexes. Iga is jealous of Sonia, but she still wants to be close to her. She also would like to be successful at work, and Sonia’s successes remind her that it was not to be; that she may not be as appreciated at work; that she would like to buy better clothes. And those unpleasant emotions arise when she hears that Sonia has it better.

You don’t have to tell each other everything for it to qualify as a good friendship.”

The point is not for someone like Sonia to censor her stories about her seemingly rosy life, but to show Iga that her presence is important to her. That she wouldn’t have achieved all that she has if it were not for the fact that in difficult times she could drop off her son, borrow a dress or complain about the world.

It is important to distinguish between natural jealousy, which arises between even the best of friends, and self-interest. For instance, blushing with jealousy is a psycho-physiological reaction that just happens sometimes. Less innocent are the words of flattery, pretending intimacy and devotion to feign support, or manipulate your joy in a way so that it seems less.

A false friend is someone who uses you or your position

She abuses your kindness or the fact that you are not good at refusing. She regularly drops off her little kid. She borrows money. She invites herself to dinner when you really want to be alone with family. She doesn’t hang up when you say you have a migraine. She teasingly pokes fun at the fact that you are religious. She demands that you introduce her to someone, or that you take care of something. She hides small things from you.

These are all things that blur and cross the lines of what a true friendship should be. Each of these examples is a form of “using.”

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As a psychologist, and from my personal experience, I can say that placing borders is very important in friendships. With many people, it comes naturally. We know we don’t have to tell each other the details of every day to be close. Because, here’s a quick reminder: You don’t have to tell each other everything in a relationship for it to qualify as a good friendship. For example, your husband’s secrets should not be passed on unless he doesn’t mind that your friend will know the specifics of his problems at work or with his health. The same goes for your adult children. When kids are little, they have similar issues and sharing them as parents strengthens friendships, but when they grow up, their privacy is protected.

Friendship isn’t about numbers, it’s about individuals

Sometimes in friend groups, it’s harder to recognize the person who isn’t good for you because you don’t think hard enough about their individual connection to just you, outside of the group.

But there are a few questions you can keep in mind.

1. Do you often feel worse after a meeting with a friend than before that meeting?

2. Is she eager to criticize, but never to congratulate?

3. Would you hesitate to bring your fears and worries to her for a listening ear? Or does she tend to find a problem where you didn’t think there was one?

4. Does she lead conversation in a way that makes her feel better? For example, she offers you an article with a new diet, and it’s no secret you’re sensitive about your weight. Or she mentions that her child just got an A again, knowing your child is struggling a little, or even a B average student.

If the answer is yes to any of these questions, you probably need to think hard about how this individual is affecting your spirit and self-worth. It’s possible that you are just friends out of convenience, rather than true affection.

Friendship is a sister of love

Friendship is possessive, overbearing, competitive and destructive which is why it needs borders. So while you need to recognize the things that are not good in a friendship, it doesn’t always mean you need to throw the relationship away altogether. Sometimes, like all forms of love, you need to work at it.

It is good to learn to be assertive. If you need a breather from her, try saying: “Please don’t call me on Sunday, because that is my time for my husband and children.” If you feel she’s being over-bearing in her advice or negative about aspects of your life, try saying: “I know you mean well, but please let me be me. This is something I need to handle my way.” And it never hurts to add: “I appreciate you most for the fact that you are always there when I need you and you bear witness to my life.”

Just be aware that friendships, just like any other meaningful relationship, must give and take. A true friend wants to lean on you and to support you, not use you to prop themselves up.

Zyta Rudzka
Zyta Rudzka

Zyta graduated from the Academy of Catholic Theology with a psychology degree. She was winner of the Gdynia Drama Prize for her drama, “Cold Buffet.” The television version of her play, “The Sugar Bra,” won a gold medal at the prestigious Worldfest Independent Film Festival in Houston. Her works have been translated into German, Russian, English, Croatian, Italian, Czech, French, and Japanese.

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