Note from Vincent: This article was originally published on August 12, 2013. I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a good friendship these days and re-reading this, I found myself still standing by what I said. Bumping this one to the top to make sure it gets read again today.
You might be a terrible friend and not even realize it. That should scare you. Really, it should!
You know what? Right now you should be sweating profusely, pacing the floor, and asking yourself whether or not you know how to be a good friend.
Sometimes our actions and the words that escape our mouths stop going through a filter. Then eventually we’re not even conscious of how horrible we are as a person/friend/lover/whatever.
We get so used to our friends that we become insensitive to the things we say and do. Sure, that level of comfort can be a good thing, but at the same time a lot of ugliness can start leaking out. It could be a reflection of the person you really are, but I’m not going to get into all of that.
Check out some of the signs below and see how many of these apply to you. Note that these don’t automatically make you a bad friend, but they’re still things you should be conscious of. Don’t worry, I cover how to be a good friend directly under this one (it’s also more comprehensive.)
Signs You Might Be a Bad Friend
You project your own negative qualities onto them.
After a while you start assuming that because you think a certain way, your friends and others do too. For example, if you’re prone to talking about others behind their back then you’d assume everyone else does the same. Eventually, you begin to blame others and talk about how they went and did something even though they never did. This gets annoying and yes, your friends do notice this.
You start criticizing or blaming them for everything.
You feel like nothing is your fault and you’re always right. Everything wrong is because of them. Then you start letting them know, even non-verbally, how you feel about the situation. This is how you lose friends.
You only spend time with them when you need something.
When you reach for the phone it’s never to see how they’re doing or to get together and have fun. There is always a reason to call or text. It becomes so habitual that every time you call or text, their response is “What do you need?” If that’s a common response you get from multiple people then you’ve got a clear warning sign.
You evade all responsibility, leaving them to handle it all.
When there’s work to be done or responsibilities that should be divided you just sort of sit in the back and relax. Teamwork goes out the door because you’d rather be doing something else (or nothing) than to help out. What’s worse is when you walk away when the going gets tough. Soon enough, you’ll be the one your friends will be evading.
You never think about how they may feel.
Your words hurt like knives and you might not even know it (or care,) because you have a disregard for how they may feel. You don’t stop to wonder how your decisions, actions, and words may affect what your friends think. Sometimes it’s the lack of action that hurts them most. So many things to be mindful of! Are you losing track?
You have the need to “one-up” them.
Although this doesn’t always mean you’re a bad friend, it shows some flaws in character on your part. You could begin to wear down the friendship if the other person feels like you constantly show off or downplay their accomplishments. People have enough insecurities and self-esteem issues as is. Don’t make them feel the same way around their own friends.
You don’t listen to what they have to say.
Their opinions mean nothing to you and it’s usually drowned out by your own stories. You fight for time to speak and when they are talking you’re usually tapping your feet impatiently for your turn to talk. Oh and they know when you’re pretending to listen. Tossing in a question to make it seem like you care is insincere. What’s worse is when you ask them something only to interrupt them mid-answer so you can start talking.
You never stick to your word.
Come on. If you say you’ll do something, don’t go back on your word. Punctuality goes into this too. Don’t be the person who is consistently an hour later than promised.
How to Be a Good Friend
Make sure they’re okay the moment you sense something wrong.
It’s easy to go overboard, but when tactful it can mean the world to them when you show you’re concerned. Send them a text, a phone call (even better,) or surprise them by showing up at their front door. Make an excuse to spend time with them. This doesn’t mean you have to shove advice down their throat. It just means showing you want them to be okay.
Unfortunately, there’s no universal method to being caring without being too pushy. Instead, you’ve got to figure out what works best and adjust as needed.
Some people are very good at hiding their negative emotions. Hopefully you’ve learned when they’re wearing a mask. Masks get heavy when you wear them for so long and sometimes you forget how to take it off. I used to put on a brave face when I was going through rough times. It sucked but having good friends around who knew when I wasn’t really okay helped a lot.
Know when to be serious and when to be goofy.
When it’s time to be serious, you get down to business. No goofing off. No cheap attempt at being funny to avoid the real issues. You may argue from time to time and that’s alright. It’s natural. Be mature and aim at finding common ground instead of trying to divert the attention elsewhere.
There are times to be messing around, but it gets tiring for others if you don’t know how or when to turn it off. If you can’t then how can others trust you enough to share important things with you?
Go the extra mile when they ask for help.
When they ask for your opinion or help on something that means something. It means they value what you think. If someone hands you an essay asking for you to help proofread or revise it then go the extra mile. Bust out a red pen and start marking it up like crazy. Show them you’re as invested as they are.
This means never half-ass things when it comes to your friends. These are your friends we’re talking about here. It’s a committed relationship and it sucks when the other person doesn’t put in effort to help when needed.
Don’t give up on them during their darkest hours.
Going hand in hand with the first point, you don’t give up. If they’re going through really difficult times then they may begin to close themselves off from you and your other friends. They’d say no to going out and hide from the world. This annoys some people and eventually they give up, but good friends keep trying.
Sure, it sucks to be the one trying to pull a friend out of rough times and it does get difficult to not throw my hands up in the air with frustration, but damn it, I know they’re not going to be able to get out on their own.
Make them feel wanted.
This means you listen to everything they say intently. You show you like being around them. Hell, sometimes even say it outright. “You’re an awesome friend,” “It’s not as fun when you’re not there,” or “I like hanging out with you, you know?” You should be comfortable enough together to be blunt about it without feeling weird.
Insecurity kicks in even when it shouldn’t. It doesn’t take a lot to show you care and re-assure them from time to time.
Tell them, “I’ve always got your back,” at least once (and mean it.)
Remind them that you’re friends for life by making sure they know you’ll always be there. This means keeping in touch or being there to cheer them up when they’ve got it rough.
If you’ve never told your closest friends this then make sure you do next time your friends tell you about a problem they’re hung up on.
Understand and respect boundaries.
Know that you don’t have to be together 24/7. I need my space to recharge and I don’t always feel like hanging out with others. That doesn’t mean I don’t like them. Good friends aren’t pushy and don’t get upset because of an occasional “no.” In fact, good friends know how to pick up right where they left off no matter how long it’s been since they last saw each other.
Be honest and constructive when needed.
There’s a difference between being conscious of their feelings and letting them ruin themselves in the long-run. If they’ve developed a bad habit then kindly point it out and show you’re concerned. They’re picking up smoking? You care about their lungs. Drinking too much? Let them know you’ve noticed.
For less serious examples, imagine their breath smells and they’re going on a date. Do you want them to crash and burn later or would you rather let them suffer an ego hit, fix their act, and get out there in full confidence? If you feel like criticisms are harsh, offer them tips on how to improve.
Introduce them to others.
Your social circle might be tightly knit, but there’s always room for expansion. Introduce them to people they don’t know just to show you’re not afraid of being seen with them. Remember, you want to be proud of being in public with them.
It’s up to them to decide if they want to start hanging out with these new people in the long-run. In fact, it doesn’t even matter if they do. Fun is what you’re aiming for here.
Jump to the rescue when asked.
We all get in unexpected trouble and it’s good to know people who would jump to your rescue. My car’s battery died in a parking lot at 3 in the morning last month. I called people I knew would come to my aid because they were the type to help. Guess who I didn’t bother calling? Those who I knew would have an excuse.
Don’t bring up uncomfortable subjects they dislike.
This doesn’t mean avoiding subjects that are important and possibly life-changing. I’m talking about bringing up things that serve no constructive purpose but to annoy them or to just fill the silence. Which brings me to my next point…
Be okay with gaps in conversation.
Silent gaps will naturally occur in a conversation. Be comfortable with them. Don’t feel like you absolutely have to fill every single second with a sentence. It’s okay to be comfortable and just enjoy each other’s company.
Especially as an introvert, I need time to recharge after spending time with a lot of people. I really enjoy my time, but I need to recharge my batteries on occasion. With that in mind, learn the real differences between introverts and extroverts. You may have the wrong idea.
Be dependable (punctuality and keeping promises.)
When you say you’ll do something, be a person that sticks to your word. That means being punctual, not going back on your promises, and ensuring that you’re viewed as a reliable friend.
Being unreliable will make your friends think twice before asking you for something.
Learn how to apologize.
It takes a lot to admit you did something wrong. Don’t be afraid of admitting to your friends that you messed up. It happens to the best of us. Someone who can swallow his or her pride and admit they’re in the wrong is a great friend.
Don’t know how to apologize? Check out this article, courtesy of The Art of Manliness.
Know how to show you’re happy for them.
We all get too caught up in our own lives and forget how to show appreciation. Sure, we know we care, but it’s difficult for the other person to know you do if you don’t show it.
It’s easy to tell when someone is dishonest. “Wow, I’m so happy for you,” with an non-eager face isn’t very convincing. Be invested in their successes and show in your facial expressions that you really are happy.
Show small gestures on occasion.
It can be as simple as buying them something you thought they might like. I’d be thrilled if a friend of mine bought me a Sonic Screwdriver from Doctor Who. That would tell me a lot of things. First, I know they remember what I enjoy. Second, they were thinking of me. Third, they spent their hard-earned cash to let me know they like me. Awesome feeling.
Start saying yes more often to your friends and make time for them.
It’s not a good feeling to be turned down by your friends. Sometimes life gets in the way and that’s okay. After all, remember the point about boundaries. However, I know how easy it is to say no. It becomes habitual. It’s just so easy when you’re “not feeling it.” Make it a point to say yes more often to your friends when you can.
You’re not that busy. Unless you’re absolutely certain there is no possibility of making room for your friends, you have no reason to have no time for your friends. It’s easy to convince yourself you’re too busy. Don’t buy into your own stories. Always make time for them because it’s easy to drift apart.
Keep in touch and make sure you don’t drift apart.
Life goes on and everyone has their own thing to do. Sure, picking up where you left off may be easy for you, but it’s just as easy to completely lose contact. It takes effort, especially when there’s a lot of physical distance, to maintain a good friendship. It’s a relationship that takes both sides to work.
Share this article with your friends and let them know you think they’re a good friend.
Or… Passive aggressively pass this onto someone you’re mad at.