The fundamental mistake we make in our friendships lies in our very understandings of what friendship is, leading to false expectations and misperceptions both in what we want and expect from our friends, as well as what we aim to both achieve and provide as a friend.

We are almost daily bombarded with images of what our pop culture deems to be a true friend, defining for us what a true friendship ideally looks like. To some degree we have all drunk the cool aid, internalizing the images of happy, harmonious, fun, mutually supporting and nourishing relationships with whom we supposedly share our rights of passage, as well as our secrets and desires. We are there for them in all the hard times, as we can expect they will be there for us and, that if they fail in this, they are not a true “friend.” But what is often not understood is that our notion of friendship is as sentimentalized and hyperbolized as our notions of romantic relationships, and this obscures the true purpose of friendship.

Just about everything we desire from a deep, happy and rewarding friendship is not the purpose of the relationship, but is, rather, its potential by-product. Going into, or staying in, a friendship largely to receive such social capital is the underlying cause of much of the pain and suffering we experience in our friendships.

The true purpose of our friend relationships is the same as our romantic relationships: to learn how to love more persistently and more perfectly through relationship with another. Our friendships are actually experiments in love. They are the laboratory where we practice being the most loving we can be, regardless of what others are saying and doing around us. Our friendships do not exist merely to provide us with all the things we feel we cannot provide for ourselves, such as happiness, validation, or protection from loneliness. They exist to teach us how to love ourselves, how to feel fully loved, accepted and desirable, enabling us ultimately to love and accept others.

Our friends are a mirror by which all that we are is reflected back to us. Their principal role and function is as teachers of who we are. If on the way we experience happiness, joy and fun with them, then that is an added bonus.

Our first views of the external world are filtered through the beliefs, values and perceptions of our family and those closest to us as children. It is a single lens that provides one world view. This gives us our primary information about who we are and what we believe to be true and desirable. As we grow up and expand our sphere of operation we come to see there are many other ways of both seeing, and being in, this world, forcing us to adapt and adjust what we believe to be true, desirable and good.

Our friends are an integral part of this process because they present to us beliefs, world views, attitudes and behavior we may not have encountered, or have previously rejected as acceptable or desirable. Of course these experiences rarely occur during the good times. The real moments of truth occur when we, or they, are under stress, in panic mode, or fighting negative tendencies like addiction or lack of impulse control. It is through these experiences we gradually learn who we want to be and how we want to live our lives, which may include our current friendships, or it may not.

Because learning who we are, and learning how to love more perfectly, is our principal goal in friendship, it is of utmost importance that we are true to ourselves, that we speak and live according to our truth as much as we possibly can. Love can only exist where there is complete truth. We cannot live in love if we are not honest in our expectations, desires or behaviors. This means we do not do or say things, adopt positions, or engage in activities just to please others, just to gain their approval or, conversely, merely to avoid their opprobrium.

If we are not true to ourselves our friendships can never be true or enduring. Any relationship founded on inauthentic beliefs or behaviors that have their basis on a desire to please or a fear of rejection or disapproval will ultimately and assuredly falter, if not self-destruct.

At no time does being honest, speaking and acting according to our true beliefs and desires, give license to unkindness, cruelty or harshness. Living our truth means only that we articulate our true feelings, express our fears and our misgivings, and engage in actions that resonate with our truth, regardless of what others, especially those close to us, are doing and saying.

The benefits of remaining in our truth not only nourishes our soul, it protects our heart. When we stay staunch in our truth, endeavoring only to be honest, true, and kind, we learn what truth feels like. Truth, like everything (as quantum physics has established), is energy. When we live in truth we anchor ourselves in the energy of truth, thus we come to understand what the energy of truth feels like, enabling us to develop the emotional and spiritual antennae that warns us when others are not in their truth.

Even a short time on this earth teaches us that there are many people who are looking to use us to their own selfish ends. The most masterful of these false friends disguise their true intentions with slick and saccharine words and inauthentic gestures that easily fool us, and if we do not have well developed antennae for truth, heartbreak and despair can result. When all our words, actions and intentions are authentic and loving, we have the tools we need to stay emotionally (and otherwise) safe and protected.

This truth and love are both the goal, and the practice, of friendship.

Eileen McBride
Eileen McBride is the author of Love Equals Power, and a spiritual seeker and teacher. This article was published on March 18, 2016.