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How Do You Know If You Have a True Friend?

29/09/2014 01:05 BST | Updated 28/11/2014 10:59 GMT

"A true friend is one soul in two bodies." - Aristotle

"Friendship is the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words." - George Eliot

As I walked to gym class in middle school when I was 14 years old, I was accosted by two boys who grabbed me and pushed and shoved me. They were from a rough neighborhood and were getting a kick out of bullying me which they did on a daily basis. I was still rather small for my age and was clearly intimidated. I dreaded that long walk to the gym and no matter what I did save punching them out they continued. My friend Ralph and I were talking one day I told him about it. I just assumed that it would stop at some point but I was clearly upset. Ralph went to another school but said he knew who these guys were. The next day just as these boys were about to grab me Ralph appeared out of nowhere and lifted them off the ground and smashed them against each other in midair. Then with a look that could kill he told them that if they ever laid a hand on me again he was coming back. They turned white with fear and from that point on never bothered me again, in fact they wanted to be my best friend. Not that we all have to do something like that for our friends but it told me something about friendship. Ralph went way out of his way to ditch school, walk all the way to my school, and do what he did for me because I was his friend. It was his unselfishness and his loyalty to me that is emblazoned in my memory. I had a chance to return the favor one day when we were playing spin the bottle with some girls (I guess that dates me) and one of the girl's refused to kiss him because he was overweight. I got up and told them off and then comforted him as he cried. We were there for each other and we knew it.

Living our lives we run into, work with and connect with so many people and sometimes, if we are real lucky, we make a true friend. These people feel like someone we already know, from some past life or some kind of secret geometry we call friendship. Words like cut from the same cloth, soul brother, kindred spirits or just plain crazy in the same way come to mind. Friends are the icing on the cake of life, they lift our spirits, calm our nerves and make us laugh when times are tough.

Which brings me to my question. What is a true friend? Is there anyone in our life that we can call a true friend? As we get older it gets harder to make new friends. When we are young we have so much more time to make friends than we do as adults. We become more and more specialized, from our educations, our politics, incomes, to what we do for our career. There are much larger differences that emerge and therefore less commonality.

Herb Goldberg writes in The Hazards of Being Male that 85% of American men do not have true friends. They have buddies, like bowling buddies football buddies and etc. He defines friends as people we can talk to about our deepest held secrets and don't feel criticized or judged. As we get older we have experienced more difficulties with friends. Many of us have been lied to, mistreated, rejected and ignored by people we thought were friends so we stop wanting to open up only to be hurt again. Most of us talk only about neutral subjects so it all stays on the safe side.

Men and women approach friendships generally from different angles. Women will talk about all the important issues in their lives right off the bat. They will take the time and make the effort to build a friendship. Men and women can be very competitive with one another which makes friendships harder to maintain over time. Men don't like being vulnerable, they consider expressing feelings as a weakness and can be almost homophobic when it comes to getting in touch with or expressing concern for one another. How our families treated their friends and how we related to our same sex parent can influence our ability to trust anyone enough to make a true friendship.

What are the qualities that we look for in a true friend?

• A true friend makes time for you. They check in and inquire into your well-being. They are interested in what we are doing. A true friend will return phone calls, emails and texts in a timely manner.

• They show up when we need them. They come to our aid when we are down. They can be unselfish and we know they care.

• Non-critical or judgmental. They let us be who we are and don't make judgments about it. They can be forgiving if we make a mistake.

• They keep their word. Good friends keep their promises and make it clear that they do what they say they will do. Good friends are people we can rely on to be ethical and moral in the way they treat us. They don't flirt with our mate.

• A true friend is fair and reliable. Good friends make sure there is a balance in the giving. They share the check, invite us over and make sure that we know they care about us by being fair and balanced. If they borrow something they bring it back.

• Good friends are fun loving. We want to have a good time with our friends and not necessarily bog ourselves down in what's not going well in our lives every time we see one another. There should be some good times to remember and good friends take some time to enjoy the friendship.

• A true friend will never make fun of us or humiliate us. Loyalty is the most important part of being a friend. The sense that this person will take care of our friendship and will be respectful and caring to those that we love.

• Respect. The most important quality in friendship is the ability to show respect in every way. They will take the time to listen to what we have to say and show respect in the way they speak to us.

• Honesty. Another important quality in a friendship is honesty. Friends tell each other what is true even if it may mean the loss of the friendship.

• A true friend will stand by you, defend you even take a bullet for you. This is the highest quality of true friendship. A true friend can be unselfish, if someone hurts you, it hurts them too. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once put it, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

• A true friend is someone we can trust implicitly. They have taken the time to earn our trust and continue to do so. There is no doubt that they have our back and they won't stab us in it. We can confide in them about highly private and confidential matters. "Close friendship brings with it disclosure (John 15:15)."

It's only now that I can fully appreciate what my friend Ralph did so many years ago. He knew what it meant to be a friend. Friendships require the quality of character that enables us to be the kind of person who is a good friend. Who we are and how we behave matters as to whether we will become someone's friend. Part of living a quality life revolves around our relationships with others and choosing good friends is what a good life is about. Benjamin Franklin once said that we should choose our shoes and our bed wisely because we will be in one of them all of our lives. I feel the same way about friends.