What is a “friend”? Webster’s Third Dictionary even appears confused on the subject. The dictionary offers multiple definitions for friend, some of which are contradictory. To me, a friend is someone you hold in high regard, and with whom you share a mutual trust. A friend will be there for you, both in the best and the worst of times.

Everyone understands that growing a healthy garden doesn’t happen without proper soil, sunlight, fertilizing and weeding. The same principles apply to friendships. In order to thrive, they require care and maintenance. Aristotle said it simply and eloquently: “We should behave to our friends as we would wish our friends to behave to us.”

The following steps will make your friendships as hearty as your summer garden:

  • Find fertile soil. A friend should be someone you choose to have in your life because he or she enriches your experience. I frequently speak with women whom, out of a sense of obligation, hang onto friendships that are “barren” — where they get little in return for their efforts.
  • Add sunlight. Make your friend a priority in your life. Even with hectic schedules you can get together to exercise or meet for a quick cup of coffee. Keep in touch by phone and e-mail.
  • Plant seeds. Establish a strong foundation by indicating in word and deed that you will be there for your friend, through thick and thin. Most important, make it safe for your friend to share innermost thoughts with you by always keeping confidences.
  • Fertilize. Don’t take the individual or your friendship for granted. Friendship is something you must earn each day — it is not an unconditional arrangement. Don’t push the limits of friendship by asking for unreasonable favors, or by taking advantage of the person’s good will. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “I do then with my friends as I do with my books. I would have them where I can find them, but I seldom use them.”
  • Water. Always be generous with praise and cautious with criticism. Applaud successes, and do your best to be a good listener.
  • Weed. When you have a disagreement, try to see things from your friend’s point of view. Choose your words carefully, as it is hard to take back things said in anger. If you are wrong, swallow your pride and apologize.

When to Let Go of a Friendship

The false notion that a friend is a friend forever, no matter what, has caused much heartache. All relationships experience ups and downs, and it is important to overlook occasional misunderstandings and differences of opinion. However, if a relationship brings you more pain than pleasure, it is time to reconsider whether or not it is a true friendship, and one that should endure.

The most important thing to remember is to treat your friends as you would like to be treated. If you do this, your friendships will remain strong and hearty despite pests, drought, wind and weather.