Somehow, the concept of “friends” has become tarnished. This is in part due to a phrase which most people dread:

“Can’t we be just friends?”

That single sentence has broken more egos than “You don’t sweat much for a fat person” and “Your breath could knock a buzzard off a shit-wagon” combined.

It is true that the sentence implies much. Since it is usually spoken by one of a set of past or potential lovers, it can imply rejection, inadequacy, dismissal and much more. And those may be valid human reactions, especially if no real thought has been given to the concept of friends.

The development of a friendship is no easy matter, and happens much too infrequently to deserve disdain. One of the fastest ways to insure that this frog will look at you very oddly is to say that you have hundreds of friends. It is easy to have hundreds of acquaintances. It is damned hard, if not impossible, to have one percent that many friends.

In order to qualify as a friend, a person must be:

1. Honest.

2. Fun.

3. Deserving of Respect.

4. Capable of Commitment.

Each of us carries in our heads a set of values which makes us what we are. These values are sufficiently different within each of us that we cannot apply the guidelines alike. And there may be any number of more specific requirements that we place on our friends because of our personal values. But if you consider this list as a bare minimum, it makes a great deal of sense.

Obviously, a friend should tell you the truth. About everything and without hesitation. Anything else will erode the relationship very quickly. If you are afraid to hear the answer to a question, then a friend should be the last one you ask.

And, although the truth is not always fun, a friend should be capable of being fun under your particular rules of enjoyment. Who wants always morose, ever- serious friends? For one, I don’t. I enjoy both having and contributing to a good time.

A friend must also deserve our respect. Each of us respects different qualities, but a relationship without respect will die a quick death. This does not imply doing something as much as it implies being someone. If your values are well-defined, your respect will be hard to earn. Look around at your acquaintances. How many do you know well enough to understand who they really are, and of those few, how many do you respect?

The last one can be a killer. Friendship requires commitment, and very few people in this world are truly capable of that. A friendship requires a two- way flow. A relationship that flows only one way is not a friendship, it is a social leeching mechanism. I don’t know about you, but I would prefer not to be on either side of one of those for a long period of time.

Building and maintaining a friendship is very time-consuming under these rules. Having hundreds of friends at once would require a lot more time than any of us are granted. So I will settle for a very few friends that qualify on all counts. I have a few now, and I am always looking for more. But finding a new friend is a truly rare thing. My list of friends grows slowly.

So the next time someone says to you, “Can’t we be just friends?” you should know to delete the “just”, and you should be flattered. Because there is always a chance that the other person will qualify as a friend. It will not happen often, but it will happen.

In fact, there is some chance that you should be hurt if someone says, “Can’t we just be lovers?”. Because, knowing what a friend is, and how rare they are, that could imply that you do not qualify as a friend. Personally, I see little sense in becoming lovers with someone who could not qualify to be placed in the special column “Friend.” 

Kermit []