Every family member. Every neighbor. Every coworker. Every stranger. Every person is a potential friend.

Isn’t it strange how the word “friend” conjures closer ties than words like relative, sibling, or even spouse? Yet it is even a double blessing when one’s friend happens to also be a husband, wife or family member.

Friend. One of the sweetest words in any language, whatever it is called in that language. Friend. A person with whom you are in harmony, one accord. Someone that understands you, someone that you understand. One you are in rapport with. A friend is a human being who has become more human to you than anyone else. To become a friend is to become a person in a greater sense, at a deeper level, than merely being another human.

Friendship. Why don’t we define or describe friendship as a “ship” with just friends on board? A ship that carries no other cargo but friends. Really, in true friendship, the two of you do feel like you have climbed into some kind of vessel that floats above and beyond the ordinary. Friendship. A simple network of two persons who have discovered a special chemistry for a relationship in which each person says things and acts in ways that benefit the other. The epitome and glory of a life aglow with unselfishness. Life at its peak and very best is friendship.

Yet there is an irony to friendship: the benefits of the birth of friendship can match the blight of the death of friendship. Just as many lives have been transformed by the discovery of true friendship, so many lives have been torn down by the destruction of the same. Therefore, to ease or lighten the blow of friendship’s demise, it really behooves us to understand friendship in its many complex aspects and facets. Though friendship itself is a very simple human relationship, there is not much that is simplistic about the ingredients and tenets that go into making a great friendship.

First, there are various types of friendship with reference to time or timing. Every genuine friendship is a timely relationship. As such, a friendship can be seasonal, temporary, or permanent.

  1. Seasonal friendship is one that is on and off, based on the season in either friend’s life. Seasonal friendship is only useful and rewarding when the season is right, or else, one person or both become a bother.
  2. Temporary friendship comes to an end after it has served its purpose. Attempts to prolong a temporary friendship may create disrespect for a friend, resentment or even enmity towards an ex-friend. It is often better to let a temporary friendship die, or you may find yourself playing the undertaker, regretting why you revived the corpse in the first place. Friendship can never be a forced relationship; so, when it’s over, let it go.
  3. Permanent friendship is the yearning of everyone who values friendship. Yet a lifelong friend is a treasure too few and far between. After more than 40 years on Planet Earth, I can claim about 3 permanent friends so far, and one of them is my wife. The average person so desires each and every friendship to be lifelong that she tries to force the issue and keep a friendship on life support, when it would be far better to eulogize the thing and just let it go to the trash bin of human relationships. When you find a truly permanent friendship, the circumstances and dynamics of that relationship will serve to sustain it over the years. No need to repair a temp friend to make him or her perm.

Second, every friendship has a basis on which it sits and rests. It is important to know what a friendship is based on. Friendship can be based on affinity, personality, common bond, need or interest.

  1. In an affinity-based friendship, two friends just take a natural liking or attraction to each other. They just seem to click. It’s a chemistry thing. This form of friendship tends to lean towards romantic involvement, though it may develop between two people who may never drag romance into it. Affinity friends do not have to be alike. In fact, they may actually be opposites, but as we know from magnetic poles, opposites can and do attract.
  2. In a personality-based friendship, two individuals become friends because they are similar; they may both be reserved (introvert), outgoing (extrovert), or mediocre (average) for that matter. Or politically, they may be conservative, liberal or moderate in their views. They may both be secular, progressive, religious or traditional.
  3. Common-bond friendship is one between persons of a similar ethnicity (two Hispanics), religion (two Muslims), church (two Baptists), nationality (two Chinese), team (two Celtics fans) or life experience (two refugees). Yes, birds of like feather do flock together.
  4. In a need-based friendship, two persons came together because one of them had a need that the other helped meet. For example, you become friends with the person who paid for your stay at a motel when you lost your job or when you just got of jail. Need-based friendship can be an uncomfortable union of unequals, unless something happens for the two friends to switch roles, whereby the one who had received help before becomes the helper in a situation that puts the original helper at a point of need. For example, the guy who paid his friend’s motel bill gets evicted by his landlord and has to lodge with his friend who now owns an apartment. Because of the usually one-sided nature of need-based friendship, it is often not a simultaneously enjoyable experience for both friends. Therefore, this form of friendship is often short-lived, if the “needy” and the “savior” do not switch hats throughout the relationship.
  5. Interest-based friendship is one in which two friends share a common interest, which may be sports, music, career path, books, movies, travel, etc. This form of friendship is likely to terminate if one person replaces the interest that formed the basis of the relationship. For example, if you and I became friends primarily because we were members of the same band, our friendship may bite the dust if our band disbands. Interest-based friendship runs the risk of being very superficial, though it can become deep and meaningful if the parties put in the effort needed to keep it interesting.

Third, every real friendship has a purpose. A friendship should be active and mutual in order to fulfill its purpose. Why do humans become friends? Let’s itemize the manifold purpose of friendship for the two persons involved:

  1. Mutual assistance: friends are to help each other; a relationship of enablement is an abuse of friendship.
  2. Motivation: friends encourage each other; they edify or build up each other; they inspire each other to succeed and excel beyond mediocrity.
  3. Improvement: friends make each other better; friends sharpen each other; King Solomon described it as iron sharpening iron; friends improve each other’s personhood, self-esteem, confidence or performance as iron sharpens iron.
  4. Advancement or Progress: friends help each other move from one point to the other
  5. Maturity: friends nurture each other to grow up, become mature, a more complete person.
  6. Endurance: friendship is a coping mechanism; a true friend gives you the edge in difficult times, because she will strengthen and empower you to cope with some of life’s toughest challenges; friends see each other through hardship, without being mere bystanders. Friendship can make the difference between surviving war, as prisoner of war, or life in a refugee camp.

Friendship that fails to somehow in some way make one or both friends better cannot be called genuine friendship. It may be a leech-connection, a sponge-bond, or codependency, but not friendship in the true sense of the concept. Any friendship that ceases to make one better no longer has any purpose for being kept alive.When friendship ends, former friends often become disappointed, or worse. But this need not be case. You can experience a better closure to the death of friendship, so that a little piece of your life does not die with every deceased friendship of your past. For this to happen, you need to look at the “failure” or downfall of every friendship differently. As serious as the death of a friendship is, it can be a time to refresh and regroup, without taking yourself off the shelf or display at Friendship Mall. Think, speak and believe ideas along these lines:

  1. Resentment rejected: I refuse to be bitter or resentful towards my ex-friend.
  2. Regret unnecessary: Instead of regret the end to our friendship, I choose to savor all the good times we spent together and the good things that came from our friendship when it was alive and well. Do the same thing that bereaved people do at funerals; moan the loss but cherish and treasure the precious memories.
  3. Gratitude: I am grateful and thankful that our paths crossed and our lives connected; somehow I believe this world is a better place, because we met and shared our lives.
  4. Not Abandoned: Just because our friendship has ended does not mean my ex-friend betrayed or abandoned me. It doesn’t mean he did not appreciate all I did for him, or what we meant to each other. There may be things going on in her life that I can’t or don’t understand for now.
  5. Purpose served: Our friendship has served a purpose. Perhaps it was meant to be only a temporary friendship, which is no less valuable than a permanent friendship.
  6. Potential Friend: For my part, I refuse to consider my one-time friend an enemy. My ex-friend remains a potential friend, but I will leave that to the twists and turns of life.
  7. Better Me: In the mean time, I will work on myself, so that the next person who is fortunate to have me as friend will have one of the best friends they ever had. Yes, I’ll remain friendly and keep the entrance to friendship a double door, ready to fling wide open again if life would have it so.

Being a great friend means that you understand the value of friendship. It also means that you are aware of the type of friendship you are in, the basis for your friendship, the purpose of friendship, and how to bring positive closure to a fallen friendship.