How do I find good, caring friends?

All my old friends have drifted away, and new friends just don't meet my standards.

Published April 7, 2009 10:25AM (EDT)

Dear Reader,

Well, I sure am glad to be back on the job. I had some family business to attend to down on the Florida Panhandle. Meanwhile, in various exhausted and harried moments I "blogged" on Open Salon to sort of keep my hand in ... and I think I can now say that blogging is not my strong suit!

As to how things went, well, Fort Walton Beach is still Fort Walton Beach. San Francisco is still San Francisco. And my dad, bless his heart, is still my dad. Let's just leave it at that.

Dear Cary,

I really want to turn a new leaf in my life. All the friends I have from school slowly disappeared, and I have tried finding new ones, but the ones I find are not my kind. I usually want my friends to be the best they can, and I help them in that way. I am always there to listen to their problems, advise them if they want. If I know they are not feeling OK, I call them up and ask how they are. Call them to arrange to go out. But I can't find anybody who cares the same way. I have tried not calling for at least half a year, nobody even called to ask if I was OK, was I mad, nothing. The first time they called was when they needed something.

I hate that. I feel I don't have any friends. How do I find friends that care for me as a person? Not needing anything in return?

Need to find friends, this life isn't worth it like this.

N, in the Netherlands

Dear N,

If I were you, I would put aside my ideals and expectations for the time being and just spend more time with people. If you have to call them first, that's OK. If they don't come up to your ideals in every respect, that's OK. Just spend some time with them. Friendships will develop.

These qualities you seek do not exist in a vacuum. Rather, they arise out of friendship itself. Friendship is the fertile ground in which these ideals of human nature take root.

So I am suggesting that you reverse the problem: Start friendships first; let the qualities you value arise out of the friendship. And be patient.

If you are too demanding with someone you have just met, naturally that person will draw back from you. This may leave you to think that the person is uncaring. But this response of drawing back is a natural thing. Your own ideals may be regarded as coercive. If a person senses that you demand too much virtue, too much caring, too much involvement, the person will back away. So I suggest you hang around and let people get to know you, first. Let them observe you. Rather than judge them for lacking certain qualities, quietly model the behaviors you admire. If you want a generous friend, be generous. If you want a friend who cares about you and asks after you, then ask after others and demonstrate a caring attitude. Let people who value these qualities see them in you and come to you.

Such an approach has many benefits. For one thing, it is kind and generous in itself. At heart, it is optimistic: It assumes that others recognize these qualities and will prefer them. It keeps your focus on yourself and what you can do to improve, rather than on others and their shortcomings. It keeps you rooted in reality. And being out among people will make you feel better than sitting in your apartment sulking and bemoaning the state of humanity! For it is not just high-quality friendship that we require. As primates, as social animals, we require the society of others, whether they mirror our ideals or not.

Do not expect immediate results. When we model behaviors we want others to emulate, it takes time for these behaviors to be recognized. It is a subtle thing. You wait for the consciousness of reciprocity to blossom. Meanwhile, you reap rewards: Behaving according to your own highest ideals makes you feel better about yourself while making you more attractive to others.

Such is the humanizing power of relationship itself. It calls up our highest qualities.

Friendship issues? There's stuff in this book about that.

Makes a great gift. Can be personalized for the giftee of your choice. Signed first editions on sale now.

What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

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