Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ten qualities of friendship

Back when I was attending BYU (unofficial motto: Enter to Marry, Go Forth to Breed), I knew many women -- and more than a few men -- who had compiled long lists of traits they were hoping to find in The Perfect Spouse. (Interesting, isn't it, that nobody ever seems to make a list of traits they'll need to possess in order to find The Perfect Spouse? Eh well.) In the interest of full disclosure, I once made a list of my own along these lines. But over time and with maturity, I discovered that some of the traits I'd marked as indispensable were actually negotiable -- turns out I didn't really need a sweetheart who could sing to me, play the piano, or even maintain a full head of hair, but I did end up finding someone who possessed the traits I truly needed to experience everyday joy in marriage.

Of course, just because I gave up The Theoretical Perfect Spouse list in favor of The Real Amazing Hubby doesn't mean I've completely conquered my inherent fondness for list-making. (Ask Captain Midnight; he'll tell you that I can't leave the house without a scribbled to-do list clutched in my hand.) While I recognize that expecting a real human being to fit a precise list of traits is sheer folly, the other day my brain strayed onto the topic of friendship and I began to think: what qualities do I tend to look for in a friend?

And before I quite knew what I was doing, the latest list was in full swing.

I don't aim to make this list much like The Perfect Spouse list at all. For one thing, I don't expect my friends to possess every single quality on this list, but I find I am happiest in the company of people who have at least a few of these qualities. For another, this list isn't exhaustively complete. I arbitrarily cut it off at ten, um, because I felt like it. And I have made no effort to create a universally-shared list of values; this one is specific to my own personal preferences and dislikes. Your mileage will almost certainly vary. In fact, if you like the idea, why not make a list of your own?


1. You are low-maintenance.
Call me lazy if you want, but I have real trouble sustaining a high-maintenance friendship. I know of people who thrive on this particular challenge, but it doesn't come naturally to me, and the effort tends to wear me out. I'm also an introvert, which means I sometimes need a little time-out from togetherness and I will avoid ginned-up relationship drama like the plague. If you can handle a certain amount of benevolent neglect on my part without worrying yourself to death about the state of our friendship, that's awesome. It suggests that you have healthy self-esteem, you aren't particularly needy, and you have a well-defined sense of your own personality.

2. You can disagree without being disagreeable.
I appreciate friends who don't need to pick a fight in order to prove a point. If we disagree -- and I expect we will, on a number of subjects -- we can do it without screaming or name-calling, and with an honest desire to hear the other person out. I do have strong political opinions, but I won't force them on you; in fact, if I perceive that you're an immovable ideologue, you'll never get to hear what I think. I prefer friends who can remain calm and laid back, even when discussing subjects that mean a great deal to them.

3. You're creative.
Your creativity can have any number of outlets -- you might be an artist/illustrator, writer, singer, actor, musician, computer programmer, cook, teacher, cosplayer, scientist, you name it -- but you are passionate about the act of creating, of bringing new and wonderful things to life. You're not afraid to share what you've created with others, and you're interested in experiencing the creations of other people.

4. You inspire others to do amazing things.
Ideally, this works both ways -- when two friends mutually encourage each other to be on top of their respective games, there's a phenomenal increase in individual (and sometimes in shared) excellence.

5. You're an ardent reader.
You love to read from a variety of sources, and you love to talk about what you've read recently. You have a fondness for ideas and how some of them seem to fit together, like the pieces of a grand jigsaw puzzle. At the very least, you sort of need to have a tolerance for my own unabashed bibliophilia and my tendency to go on at length about books I love.

6. You don't feel the need to compete with me.
This might, at first glance, seem to be incompatible with #4, but it isn't. There's a difference between encouraging someone to beat her personal best, and pitting one person against another. Look, if you do try to turn a situation into a competition, I'll happily stand back and let you win if that's what makes you happy -- but in future I'll avoid potentially competitive situations with you, because I don't like them.

7. You don't have to believe in God (but it helps).
I have several friends who are agnostics or atheists, but they're never obnoxious about it -- in other words, they may privately think I'm a nutbar but they choose not to mock me for my religious beliefs, which I appreciate. In return, I try not to be overbearing about my faith. Likewise, I deeply appreciate fellow Christians who don't spend all their free time trying to convince me that "Mormons are going to hell" and that I should become a "real" Christian. But if you express an honest interest in what I believe, you will discover another layer of depth -- the faith that shapes my strongest, most profound sense of self and purpose, my prime motivator. And if you trust me enough to share your beliefs, I will listen and learn from you with respect for the trust you've placed in me.

8. You're an adventurous foodie.
I have a few dietary restrictions, but for the most part I live by my mom's food rule: "You don't have to like it, but you should be willing to try it." You certainly don't need to be the live-to-eat sort, but it's fun to have lunch with someone who's willing to try Swedish pickled herring, Lebanese baba kanoug, Korean barbecue, Malaysian rendang or Dutch oliebollen (but not all on the same day, I promise!). I love it when someone thinks it'd be a blast to visit, say, an Asian supermarket to pick up groceries and then repair to the house to play the time-honored game of Cook That Mystery Vegetable. And if you're an ardent chocoholic who's always on the lookout for the latest local artisan truffle-maker, COME SIT BY ME RIGHT NOW. Variety of taste makes life just that much more interesting.

9. You will happily enable my compulsive proofreading habit.
I honestly don't care if you misspell a casual text, tweet or email. I usually manage to hold my peace when people say "nuke-you-ler" instead of "nuclear" or "nauseous" when they really mean "nauseated." But when I see gross errors of spelling, grammar and usage in print, some tensed metal string in my brain breaks with an E-minor PWANG and my fingers start edging instinctively toward my Red Pen of Mayhem. (Of course I carry a red pen at all times; doesn't everyone?) As a vigilante proofreader, I'm going to have to delete this unnecessary apostrophe above the "tomatoe's" no matter what the Safeway produce manager has to say about it --but if you stand guard for me, scanning the perimeter for bogeys while I perform this necessary service to mankind, you're one of My People.

10. You are forgiving and kind.
It's all very well to be witty and clever, but I've tasted my own shoe leather enough times to recognize that true kindness and compassion for others are far more important to a lasting friendship than a well-placed snarky comment. Cleverness fades; love abides. And since I regularly demonstrate the ability to say precisely the wrong thing at the wrong time, I appreciate friends who are able to forgive my gaffes.

How's 'bout you?

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