The Key Measures of a Lasting Friendship

The kind of guys who will have your back for your entire life – and you, theirs – are rare.

The coffee at the Summit Diner isn’t as good as the coffee I make at home. But because diner coffee is bottomless and poured by someone else, I find that I always enjoy it more than my own brew. I make it a point to take my daughter Izzy out for a breakfast date at least once a month, and we always wind up at the Summit for bitter, hot coffee, over-buttered toast, and some coloring on the paper place mats.

Our last breakfast date was nothing out of the ordinary, save for the fact that as I looked around the diner, I noticed that it was almost entirely filled with men at least thirty years my senior. Each table around us had two or three gentlemen dining together, chatting about the timeless minutiae that all men can talk about no matter their season of life or the time of day: sports, women, cars, and of course, anything that happened “back in the day.” I’m still not sure when “the day” was, but I think it was around the time that smoking on airplanes and wearing platform shoes were still acceptable practices.

While Izzy and I ate our eggs and toast, it dawned on me that these men were not the result of some geriatric convention passing through town; they were just friends. Each table held years of conversations, adventures, arguments, hurdles, victories, and losses.

I began mentally surveying my own friendships, wondering which ones will have the legs to last decades. Which of my friends today will I have breakfast with in thirty years? That got me thinking about the nature of friendships among guys: what makes a good friend, and who are the kind of guys I should want in my life?

Time and distance don't stop growth.

I have buddies from high school who are still great guys, but when we get together, we mostly talk about… high school. We’ve grown apart. For a friendship to survive time and distance, it takes intentionality.

I met my oldest friend, Ben, when I was fourteen and he was fifteen. I didn’t like him; he didn’t like me, yet somehow we became buddies. For seventeen years Ben and I have been friends, and even though he lives far away, when I see him, it’s like we haven’t skipped a beat. Ben and I talk or text once or twice a month so we can stay current on each other’s lives, and we always try to get together if one of us is traveling to the other’s state. I know Ben and I will have breakfast together in thirty years because we make the effort to keep the friendship growing.

They challenge you on your bullshit, but encourage you when you need it.

I have a tendency towards pride, which is a masculine way of saying that I’m insecure. I’m the kind of guy who tends to think that he’s been passed over for an opportunity at work, the guy who worries about whether or not the boss approves. Guys like me - guys who think with their hearts - need guys like Nick.

Nick is the chemistry teacher down the hall, and he’s a logical thinker. Nick is the friend who snaps me out of it whenever I’m vacillating between anxiety and righteous indignation. Nick is the guy who will say “Mike, you’re taking this too far. You’re in your head too much. Let’s back up and get a little perspective so you can stop making this all about you.” And though sometimes I hate it, he’s usually right. You need a friend who can stop your mental snowball from rolling down a dangerous hill.

On the flip side, Nick also knows when I need a kind word. A few years back I went through a divorce, and Nick practically saved my life. In a given day I’d feel lost, angry, and terribly sad. Nick was the guy telling me to take it one day at a time, telling me that things would be all right, and making me laugh so I could remember that the world wasn’t ending.

If they have a problem, they say it to your face.

If there’s one thing teachers know how to do well, it’s gossip. We get angry and we feel unappreciated, so we talk. We talk about our students, our bosses, and unfortunately, we talk about each other.

A few years back I was livid with a colleague over something so mundane that I honestly can’t even remember it now. I do remember sitting at my lunch table with a few other teachers, throwing shade like a damn evergreen. I went on for five minutes straight about how angry I was with this person. After school my friend, Jon, came to my classroom and told me that I was the problem. He said, “That wasn’t ok, Mike. If you have an issue with this guy, then you can either go talk to him face-to-face, or you can quit bitchin’ about it and keep your mouth shut.”

Jon was right, and by coming to me directly, he was showing me how it was done. Jon and I are still friends, and that wasn’t the last of those conversations that we’ve had over the years. That’s the kind of man I want to be and the kind of man I need to be around.

They pass the 2 a.m. test.

I have plenty of guys I would call friends. But there are only two or three who I think would pass the 2 a.m. test. It’s simple: if I called you at 2 a.m. and said I had an emergency, would you show up?

Think about it. For how many of your friends would you show up at 2 a.m.? How many of them would show up for you? The nice thing about the test is that it inevitably reveals itself in time. I have friends who have passed when I needed a favor, and I have friends like my buddy, George, who has shown up at a moment’s notice because I was in a jam. It’s not a competition, but if I’m thinking about the long haul, if I’m thinking about that breakfast in thirty years, I’m thinking about the 2 a.m. test.

Friendships are fluid. There were guys I knew in high school and college whom I haven’t seen or spoken to in a decade. And that's ok – they’re good guys, but those friendships ran their course. But every man needs a few solid friendship which will transcend the bustling changes of adulthood. I hope that when I’m sixty-years-old, Izzy will still let me take her out for diner breakfast dates, and I also hope that occasionally I can meet up with Ben, Nick, Jon, and George to talk about sports, cars, and women over a cup of hot coffee.

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