Fed up with fair weather friends? A bit of ethical reflection will help you figure out which friends to pick – and keep.

It takes very little to make a “friend”.

A bit of spark, some solid banter. A vulnerable confession or two. Sharing the same floor, class, or gym helps lower the stakes even more. This happy conversation: “You’re getting a coffee now? Me too!” Spells the chorus cheer of a budding friendship. Any more than that and phew – let’s not force something that’s meant to be easy!

But is that true? Is effort really the death knell? Stick around in any friendship, and you will find the coveted ease ebbing away. Illness, death, divorce, bankruptcy… Mother Time has a funny way of revealing the friends who will stick by you no matter what, and the friends who will leave at first pinch.

In a 2016 survey conducted by Lifeline with over 3100 respondents, 60 percent of Australians confessed to feeling lonely on a regular basis. A large portion of these people live with a spouse or partner. The stats show its quality we need, not quantity.

Shasta Nelson, author of Frientimacy, argues the loneliness many of us feel isn’t because we don’t know enough people. Instead, it’s because we don’t feel known, supported, and loved by the right few.

How do we find this right few? Ethical reflection can help.

Friendship values

When do you feel loved? And how do you show love?

These questions can help reveal our friendship ‘values’. Knowing which of these we prioritise is key to discerning which of our friendships are valuable and worth investing effort in. Do you feel most loved when you’re accepted unconditionally? When you’re having a good laugh? What about when your achievements are celebrated and encouraged? Or when your ideas are challenged in a lively debate? None of these are mutually exclusive but being clear about what you value makes it easier to decide if this friendship is one to prioritise.

You may think the second question redundant but knowing how we express love can help bring out the subconscious values that drive our behaviour. We each have patterns of love or dependency that are formed in childhood. Knowing what they are helps you be more aware of the ones you naturally tend to lean into, and if those are ones you want to cultivate. As much as we like to believe we naturally gravitate to what’s good for us, we might be more likely to gravitate to what’s familiar.

You might show love by being financially generous, hospitable, or a shoulder for someone to cry on. You might value having shared interests and vibrant conversations or being their emergency contact in a crisis. Maybe you show your love and comfort around someone by letting your hair down and complaining a lot. Hey, it happens.

How to create deeper friendships 

Choosing the right types of people as friends can help us cultivate relationships based on shared values and character, not circumstance. And when we have them, let’s treat them well. Nelson’s three principles for deepening an already existing friendship are:

  1. Positivity: helping each other feel good. Think smiles, laughter, empathy, and validation.
  2. Consistency: a bank of expected behaviour that builds trust; the opposite of walking on eggshells around someone.
  3. Vulnerability: sharing the bad and the good.

A friend is one with whom we are willing to share, without fear of judgement, our truest self. It’s worth being picky about.

Next month, we’ll be talking about how to end a friendship – ethically. If you can’t wait that long, Ethi-call can help, our free helpline for life’s ethical struggles. Book your appointment here.