Know Who Your Real Friends Are
“Just like flowers, our friends can be annuals or perennials—the key is knowing who is here for a season and who is here to stay.”
-Abigail Cole Hardin, CLC & PNLP
By Abigail Cole Hardin, CLC & PNLP
You can read this title and already feel the singe of broken relationships.
Sometimes to know who your real friends are, you have to learn the hard way through heartbreak, betrayal, and abandonment. After experiencing the different types of losses or “hard ways” in friendship, we can easily become callous or develop thick skin to never let anyone in that close to get that hurt again. We take an inventory of qualities we should look for or should avoid in others. And yet, with all the strategy and self-protection, we’re still not promised a safe relationship. There is always the chance to be hurt, and really as humans, it’s unavoidable. So how do we ever get our “Team of Four?” How do we ever gain a safe community? How do we not end up isolated?
We have to find our real friends.
Finding a real friend does not mean finding someone who won’t hurt you. Instead, it’s finding a friend who does not leave you in the hurt. A real friend chooses to get down in the trenches, no matter how uncomfortable and painful that may be, to be able to learn from another, own mistakes, and grow in relationship versus cutting it off.
Real friends are hard to find… and you won’t know for sure until time reveals.
Allowing for time is crucial in any relationship. . . Not only to determine if “they are what they present,” but to also understand if they are meant to be a constant.
A wise, family friend, who has become like a spiritual grandmother to me, told me that people come into our lives either for a season or all year round. Just like certain flowers, they can be categorized as either annuals or perennials. The annual is beautiful in its season and brings joy for its time, but it’s not going to be a constant support. It lives for a season, but it’s not its nature to stay. Whereas the perennial is an all-year-round plant, not dictated by the various climate changes, but steadfast. The key is knowing who is here for a season and who is here to stay.
So, instead of trying to strategize who your real friends are, keep in mind that some friends are only meant for a season. The hardest part is when we assume an annual is a perennial, and we are heartbroken when they leave. Yet, if we can recognize the gifts of each plant or person in their rightful season, we learn to set more realistic expectations—freeing us to appreciate them versus trying to self-protect ourselves from being hurt by isolating.
Yet, no matter the season or duration, we still need safe people—real friends who help us grow and sharpen us to be better. Sometimes out of loneliness, though, we choose to take what we can get—leaving us in vulnerable friendships that tend to be one-sided, exploitive, double-minded, and degrading. So, we must be patient in the search for real friends because they are not the norm.
The reason why they’re not the norm—it takes WORK to be a real friend. Thus, we also must be willing to grow and be the real friend that we seek from others.
So, what do we need to be aiming for in our relationships? At least these
Top 11 characteristics of real friends:
1. They choose to resolve and not retreat.
2. They own their mistakes versus casting blame.
3. They confront you directly as a way for you to learn and not to shame you.
4. They accept confrontation as a way to learn—not experiencing it as shame.
5. They listen—not just hear—but truly listen to you and validate what they heard.
6. They inspire you to be better while loving you just the same at your worst.
7. They ask questions to learn who you are and work hard to remember your answers.
8. They hold you accountable for what you say, not in a shaming way, but to keep you self-aware.
9. They share interests and experiences that are uplifting and creative – not settling for complacency.
10. They give sincere compliments—not to manipulate you into liking them or convincing you they have your best interest at heart.
11. They stand the test of time.
This list is a tall order—but I have to admit, I’ve been blessed to experience these real friendships firsthand. With all my longstanding perennials, I have had misunderstandings, arguments, and hurt—but we were able to resolve by owning our mistakes, truly apologizing, truly forgiving, and willing to grow to be better in how we relate. And with all the bending and breaking, I wouldn’t change a thing.
As the “For Good” Broadway hit from Wicked goes, “I have been changed for the better.”
That’s the beauty of real friendships—what we learn in relationships, we could never learn alone. Real friendships are vulnerable. We allow someone to know us and reveal back to us the areas we either try to hide or we didn’t know were there. I’ve learned how I can hurt people unknowingly and I’ve seen the ugly side of how I can hurt intentionally, fully justified when provoked. I’ve seen where my shame can make up a crazy narrative that will isolate me, but I’ve seen that in real friendship, all the lies are dismantled and healing happens.
Ultimately, I want whoever is reading this to know who their real friends are—not to avoid pain, but to know the sweet reward of growing and learning with another while experiencing a taste of what the Lord always intended for us—to know and be known.
He is a God of relationships and made sure we would never be abandoned and left alone. He has been my steadfast companion through all seasons; a true comforter in the lonely seasons, and the one I thank for my relationships and how He uses them to strengthen and sharpen me (“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17 NIV).