C.S. Lewis once said, “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” The importance of true friends can’t be overstated. Life is intrinsically richer with them and painfully poorer without them. The presence of ‘true friends,’ value-adds to our experience as human beings and diminishes it without them. Most of us know the pain of being let down by a friend, or someone we thought was a friend, only to find them strangely absent when trouble, sickness or distress came our way. As the ancient saying goes, “Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful friend who can find.” Some of us reach a point in our marriages where we realize that the ‘friendship’ with our spouse has died a slow death, and the person in our own house, our own bed is a peripheral stranger.

Through my interaction with people over the years, in my work as a counsellor, I have arrived at some conclusions about why some people end up in a place of general unhappiness. Sometimes it’s because they have experienced a monumental loss, such as the death of a spouse. Other times it’s because they have decided to build a ‘relationship’ with a toxic substance rather than another person. It can be many things, but overall, one of the main reasons why I think people are unhappy is because in some way they have forgotten that they are human beings.

Human beings need to eat, they need to sleep, they need to breathe… AND they need to connect. Human beings by nature are relational. We are tribal, we are communal, we only ‘fully exist’ in the context of relationship. We biologically, cognitively, emotionally and spiritually die in its absence. Quite literally, to the degree that we intimately connect with other people, to the same degree, we truly come alive. This isn’t about quantity, but rather quality. It isn’t about breadth, it’s about depth.

In no other relationship is the importance of ‘connection’ more poignant than in true friendship. Whether this is in the marriage relationship (yes, your partner should be your bestie), or in the context of a friend who is there for you, no matter what. The presence of a true friend will bolster a person’s sense of acceptance, security, and significance. A true friend will re-inforce a person’s sense of self and identity, rather than squash it. A true friend will respect your boundaries, your ‘No’, your freedom and your space, but will also intentionally, proactively ‘move towards you’ in acts of attentiveness.

True friendship is one of the most powerful contributors to mental/ emotional health and wellbeing. A true friend will encourage you, lift you up, speak words of comfort and consolation and follow up with action if necessary. A true friend will also love you enough to confront you and challenge you when you need it. True friends help us to enjoy life more fully but also help us to ‘grow up’ in areas we need to. A person’s capacity to handle stress; deal with unfavorable circumstance and ‘weather the storms’ of life is greatly affected by the presence or lack of true friendship.

Understand the priority of true friendship. Recognize what it does for the human condition. Be aware of its value and power. Be intentional about it… and when you screw up (like we all do), apologize and try again. If you are feeling the sting of realization that you don’t have a true friend, make steps toward being one to someone else. A person who expects to have friends must first be a ‘true friend’ him or herself.

Nick Gwynn