Friends come into our lives in many ways. Some were born down the street or remember when we first got our braces on. Others we know from college dorms or the next cubicle over at work. Then there are those unexpected people who burst in over brunch and force you to take notice.
If you’re like me, your friends are a mix of all of the above. What I’ve learned as I get older is that no matter how people come into my life, not all of them are there to stay.
Some people enter our lives at a particular period when we need them most, stay awhile, and move on. It’s part of the natural process of adulthood. But a select few are in it for the long haul. Here are the seven most important things true friends do.
1. They’re just as happy staying in with you as going out.
In our early 20s, my friends and I would get together over cheese plates and cocktails to do our hair and makeup before a night out. My favorite part of those evenings wasn’t the “end goal”—going out, dancing, and potentially meeting guys. It was the moments when my friends and I were together, talking and catching up about what was going on in our lives. Sure, the dancing was fun, and we met a few interesting people as those nights wound down, but the getting-ready part was always way more fun than swaying in the dark, sipping overpriced beers.
Just this winter I rented a cabin with three of my closest friends. We packed outfits to go out... but ended up staying in by the fire, cooking for each other and having some of the deepest, funniest conversations we’ve shared to date. We talked about what scares us, what has hurts us the most, and what we want for our futures. With these friends by my side, the future seems a lot less scary.
2. They call or text because they care, not because they want something.
We all know someone who appears out of the blue when they want an intro to a common LinkedIn connection or when you happen to be invited to the same wedding. Which is fine—having a big network is a good thing! But I once had a "friend" who only texted me when she wanted to know what my plans were on Saturday night. She was fun to go out with, but it quickly became clear that we didn’t have much in common outside of our location on any given weekend.
A true friend will remember that you have a big presentation at work or will check in if your grandmother is sick because they care about you, not because they want something from you. Remembering the details of your friends’ lives shows that they are a part of yours, even when you can’t be together.
3. They are at your side for the tougher parts of life.
Sure, we all expect our friends to be singing karaoke with us on our birthday, standing beside us in whatever bridesmaid dress or suit we ask them to on our wedding day, and cheering us on at graduation. But there are other, less-happy moments in life when friends are all the more necessary.
When I lost a parent at 23, friends flew to Boston from DC, New York, and even California to be with me. At one point, my friends from home and college were all gathered in my childhood bedroom, leaning in to give me a group hug, and I can honestly say that every single person in that room is still a part of my life today.
4. When they date someone, they don’t disappear... for too long.
It’s normal to get excited about a budding romance, but a true friend won’t ditch the important people in his or her life for a new partner.
One year, I invited five close friends—some partnered, some not—for an intimate birthday dinner before a bigger party later that night. A friend I hadn’t seen in months asked to bring her new boyfriend to the dinner, and when I told her I was keeping it small, but he was welcome at the party itself, that friend skipped dinner rather than spend two hours without the person she was seeing daily. We all missed her and had been missing her for months.
If a partner is great, they can become part of the crew (and I’ve met amazing people this way!), but true friends will also make themselves available one-on-one.
5. They know exactly how to cheer you up.
I once went through a heartrending breakup while on a girls’ vacation at the beach. The trip promised to be full of frozen drinks, glowing sunsets... and ugly cries. My friend Lauren knew exactly what to do. She got me out of bed, dragged me to the beach, and presented me with an entire plate of chocolate chip pancakes and a pitcher of margaritas for us to share while gazing at the ocean. I didn’t have to say a word; she just let me have space while letting me know she was there. With chocolate. And tequila.
6. They really listen.
You’re at the bar, and Bradley Cooper walks into the room. Only you don’t even know it, because your friend who is facing the door is too wrapped up in your conversation. (OK, if Bradley Cooper walked into a bar and my friend didn’t tell me immediately, our friendship would likely be over). But you know what I mean.
We’ve all had instances where we’re in the middle of a story and the person in front of us is completely checked out, nodding their head at what we’re saying but a million miles away. True friends see and hear you fully.
7. They love you for who you are, not where you are.
Some of my dearest friends came into my life when we were all entry-level assistants. Now, nine years later, we’re in a smattering of high-powered, badass jobs. Some of us are married. Some of us have three roommates and Tinder on our phones. What’s changed? We can afford to go out and buy wine by the bottle instead of the glass and take ourselves out to restaurants instead of waiting for our parents to take us out for birthday dinners. But our support for one another hasn’t wavered. The people in your life who are here to stay have loved you regardless of your job title or relationship status. They stick around through the low points and celebrate your successes right alongside you.