It’s said that when you’re in trouble you find out who your real friends are—but you don’t necessarily have to wait that long. In fact, a good sense for who your friends are may keep you out of trouble. Most abusive relationships start with someone’s seeming too good to be true, then slowly grow more critical and negative—while, like the legendary frog sitting in water of gradually increasing temperature, the abused party hardly notices things worsening until the situation reaches a boiling point, by which time it’s pretty difficult to escape unburned. 


Most “untrue friends,” thankfully, aren’t that dangerous. However, they can be emotionally draining, hard on self-esteem, and generally toxic to be around. Here are some ways to recognize real friends. Teach your children these principles as well: it’s never too early to develop discretion, and you may save some “Don’t try to pick my friends for me” arguments. 


True Friends Are Positive 


Even when they aren’t criticizing you directly, the Debbie Downers of this world are toxic to associate with. Nothing is enjoyable to them except sob stories and gossip, and their “downer” habit is extremely contagious. If you want to be the best person you can be and build the best possible future, look for friends who expect the best, attract the best, and are confident of their and your success. 


True Friends Are Honest 


Not in the brutally blunt sense, but in:  

  • speaking up frankly but kindly when they feel you’re making a serious mistake;  
  • being unafraid to admit where their tastes and opinions differ from yours;  
  • keeping confidences so you feel safe sharing your deepest secrets.  


Plus, friends worth having are trustworthy in all situations. It can be annoying when a friend refuses to share gossip about someone else, but (besides setting you a good example) it also confirms this is somebody you can trust. 


True Friends Are Flexible 


Some people are so allergic to changes of plans that they won’t accept “I was in a coma at the hospital” as an excuse for not showing up on schedule. There are certain limits to the life rule “be dependable,” and true friends understand these rather than wallowing in their own disappointment. When someone can agree to a rescheduling with no sign of resentment, chances are that friend is a keeper. 


True Friends Share Your Values and Interests 


Not necessarily all your values and interests without exception; but notwithstanding the old adage that “opposites attract,” it’s pretty hard to build a real relationship when you don’t enjoy doing things together or agree on much of anything. And even if both of you are paragons of honesty, it’s difficult to fully trust each other if your other fundamental values are at odds. 


True Friends Are Worth Emulating 


Hopefully, you yourself exemplify all the qualities above—it’s not a real friendship unless both sides contribute regular give and take. When two people with shared good qualities spend time together, they reinforce the best in each other; and both become not only better friends, but better people. That’s a great gift to give a friend!