What makes a true friend?

We could wax philosophic on the issue, carefully tempering real-life accounts with the well-researched results of valid clinical studies of human behavior and sociology.

Or, we could just Google it.

WikiHow.com has an impressive list of tips to help you decide whether your friend is true, and as an added bonus, each tip is accompanied by a delightfully gender-neutral cartoon illustration. According to the WikiHow authors — who I imagine in a dank sweatshop in the basement of some corporate high-rise, tapping away at long banks of dusty computer terminals — true friends give support, listen, don’t badmouth, stick to their word, have no secret agenda, and are super-fun to hang out with.

Just under the Stayfree ad, HuffingtonPost.com author Lindsay Holmes says that there are “11 Signs of Genuine Friendship”, and these include “being present” and “having our backs.” On PsychologyToday.com, Dr. Alex Lickman turns Japanese, submitting that true friendship is marked by a certain chemistry known in Japan as “kenzoku.” And on a chubby little site known as TinyBuddha.com, Lori Deschene offers an exhaustive list of the “25 Ways to Be a True Friend.”

Despite the fact that I spent a whole 27 minutes scanning Google, my scientifically inadequate research did not turn up one expert, author, blogger or internet wacko who mentioned the length of the relationship. As a military spouse, this is a relief, because if we were required to “be present” with a friend for a long period of time, military spouses wouldn’t have many friends at all.

Most military families move every two or three years. When we leave one duty station for another, we say good-bye to the friends we made there, keeping in touch through Holiday cards and social media. At our new duty stations, we slowly form new relationships. Our “friends” become those people in our immediate location — whether we live on base or on the economy — even though we have other long-term friends far away.

So, when we have a party, we need someone to pick us up from the auto mechanic, we need a name for the “emergency contact” on our kids’ school forms, or we’re just looking for someone to sit in the driveway and drink wine with, we call our “friends” in the local area.

When significant events (birth, illness, loss) happen in the lives of military families, the length of their relationships has no bearing on their friends’ desire to help out. For example, when I had an early miscarriage while stationed at JAC Molesworth in England, we were touched by the flowers, cards, condolences and phone calls from other military families we hardly knew. Similarly, while stationed at Naval Station Mayport, Florida, I signed up to make a meal for a new family who moved into base housing and just had a baby. I rang their doorbell on my assigned night and said, “Hi, you don’t know me. I’m Lisa, and I live down the street. I made you a Shepherd’s Pie … can I see the baby?”

Military life is unique, and our friendships differ from civilian culture in that camaraderie forms the basis of many of our relationships. We value unspoken trust and support among people working for a common cause, without regard to the length of the relationship.

So when your new civilian friend has a significant event in her life, she may think it’s a little odd when you show up with a lasagna, offer to drive her kids to school, and mop her kitchen floor. But do it anyway. You may have only met her two months ago in the preschool pick up line, but she is your friend and she needs help.

She’ll eventually understand that, even though military friends don’t always fit those internet checklists, they more than make up for any shortcomings in shared history with loyalty, sincerity and dedication.

And that, my friends, is a major “check in the box.”


About the Author

Lisa Smith Molinari is an award-winning syndicated columnist, author, blogger and speaker.  She and her family are currently stationed at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

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