Don’t Use a Friend As a Means to an End

I had a phone call from an old friend out of the blue recently.

I saw their name come up on my phone as it buzzed on my desk and suddenly all the neurons in my brain associated with feelings of being wanted and loved started firing. I was genuinely happy to receive the call.

Then, after a couple of minutes of small talk, the conversation quickly moved to the real reason for the call. This old ‘friend’ was actually phoning me because they wanted a favor — not because they had any real interest in talking to me. I’m sure this has happened to you as well? Right? And if we are honest, we have done it to others too.

The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend

— Henry David Thoreau —

It had me reflecting on a saying that I once heard, that has always stuck with me. Don’t use a friend as a means to an end. As I considered my own approach to friendship, I resolved to make a concerted effort to not be the kind of ‘friend’ who just engages with people when I want something. I want to be much more genuine than that. Who doesn’t?

So, I developed a list that I have decided to implement in my life to help me not use my friends as a means to an end. I trust that you might find them helpful as well!

1. Contact Your Friends For No Reason

Make a habit of contacting your friends without any kind of agenda. People are not stupid and they can work out fairly quickly if you are after something. I decided to combat this bad habit by selecting one friend per week, who I would call — just because. I always start my conversation by saying, “I’ve got no reason for calling you other than to see how you’re going.” This is so counter-culturally different that it often catches people off, guard. However, it is also a gesture that is positively received and greatly appreciated because it says to your friend, “I care about you.”

2. Don’t Just Talk About You

When you contact your friends, don’t just talk about yourself. The conversation should be mutual and reciprocal. If you are the kind of person who finds that difficult (and let’s face it, some of us do), then be intentional about coming up with a few questions to ask before you start your conversation with them — even write them down in advance. This brings me to my next point.

3. Know What’s Going On For Them

It is so much easier to talk to a person if you know what is going on in their life? Have they been struggling at work? Ask about it. Have they been unwell? Ask about it. Did their son or daughter have a birthday recently? Ask about it. If you can remember one specific thing that is pertinent to your friend it shows that you are paying attention to them and their life. If you are the kind of person who finds it difficult to remember details, then keep a “friendship journal” and write down a few dot points about what is going on in your friend’s life, so that you can ask them about it.

4. Enjoy Their Success

Once you know what is going on in your friend’s life, you will able to celebrate your friend’s milestones and achievements — birthdays, anniversaries, a new job, a promotion, a new home… anything really! Make a point to send messages of congratulations whenever the opportunity presents itself.

5. Be Especially Present When They Are Down

If you use your friends as a means to an end, and that end is to bring you personal satisfaction and happiness, then I doubt you’ll be able to stick it out during the tough times. That is why you really do find out who your real friends are when you are going through difficult times. Don’t be a fair-weather friend. When you are there for a friend who is down in the dumps, you are saying, “I will be here for you even when it is not fun.” And let’s face it, it’s not much fun being around someone who is depressed. This is so important that I’ve written a whole article about this topic that is worth viewing.

6. Inconvenience Yourself

When you go out of your way to reach out to a friend, it is much more powerful than squeezing them in when it suits you. For maximum impact, inconvenience yourself. Go out of your way to be there for your friend. As Len Wein explains, “A true friend is someone who is there for you when they’d rather be anywhere else.

7. Tag Your Friends in Social Media Posts

This is both simple and fun. Tag a friend in a social media post. Not only will you brighten their day, you are also saying, “I am thinking about you right now.” Who doesn’t enjoy that?

8. Know Why You Are Friends

There is one thing that keeps friendships strong through both the highs and the lows — pausing to remember why you are friends and how you became friends in the first place. What does this look like? Sometimes it pays to just tell your friend what you like about them. Share a memory. Thank them for something. Start a sentence like this: “I think the reason I will always be your friend is…” and finish it off.

Summing Up

What kind of friend are you today? It is a question I ask myself occasionally — and should ask myself more. We are falling into the habit of only contacting people when we want something, using our friends to prop us up and make us feel better, being friends only when it suits us. Yes, we are all guilty of using our friends as a means to an end. But should it really be this way? I leave you with the challenge presented in this poem that I wrote. What kind of friend will you be today?

Friends

The kinds of friends we have can be
Categorized one of three
Friends for a reason
Friends for a season
Friends for a lifetime come what may
Who are the friends you have today?

The “reason” friends you have remain
As long as they have things to gain
But when they don’t get
They tend to forget
All you gave, and they back away
Who are the friends you have today?

The “season” friends essentially
Are based on their proximity
Convenience conceives
Friendship that unweaves
And concludes like some fleeting soirée
Who are the friends you have today?

The “lifetime” friends are rare as rare
They’re always there and always bare
Your burdens with you
And tell you what’s true
And their value one could not outweigh
Who are the friends you have today?

Now categorized one of three
What kind of friend will you choose to be?
Friend for a reason?
Friend for a season?
Friend for a lifetime come what may?
What kind of friend are you today?

Previously published on Medium.com.

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Photo credit: Pixabay

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