Four Factors in a Friendship


You’d think that being a new Christian and joining a church would be the beginning of a wonderful time with like-minded people. It wasn’t so for me –took me 10 years to find my sweet, wacky, out-of-the-box kind of believers — just like me!

Our church had a congregation of thousands and being a newcomer was hard going. On a whim, I joined a retreat with a friend, thinking that it would be a good way to get to know people and promising each other we’ll skip out on the teaching sessions once they get boring.

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We were divided into small groups for discussion. The leader, Stanley, asked me to start the session with prayer. I was taken aback. I had never prayed aloud before, and I told him so. He prayed instead.

Next session, Stanley again asked me to open the meeting with prayer! Well, I thought, this guy is persistent. Anyway, to get rid of him, I opened my mouth and uttered my first public prayer. This was the first step of many leading me to head the prayer ministry in the same church. (Stanley subsequently went into the pastoral ministry, eventually became senior pastor of the church and then President of the Methodist Church in Singapore).

But even though I eventually joined Stanley’s fellowship group of about 50 people which had Common Interests, I couldn’t find close friends there. The Chemistry was missing.

It’s difficult to define chemistry but we all know it when we feel it. It’s that spark that tells us we are kindred spirits. Their company makes us sparkle and shine. It’s invigorating to be with them — they seek us out, and we them. Life’s possibilities get bigger, we’re challenged to try new things and travel to new places. And this is the defining factor — we laugh longer and louder with them.

But even when we find someone with common interests and chemistry, the friendship breaks if there aren’t Common Values.

For me, bearing grudges is a deal-breaker. Either we talk it out and make up, or we move on. For some weird reason, some people believe they still can stay in the midst of community while harboring angry thoughts about another. It doesn’t work. Sooner or later, the volcano will erupt.

And lastly, there’s Trust. Trust involves risk. We can slowly risk telling more about ourselves to the other, and see if they can keep that confidential. We also need to see if they have integrity. Do they do what they say they will do? Or are words just sweet nothings?

Four factors in a friendship: Common interests, chemistry, common values and trust. A client asked me if she should stay in a relationship. I described all four factors and let her decide.

Cultivate your community now —

before it’s too late.

Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

When I was a young adult, the message was, “you’ve made it when you’ve gotten married.” Once my friends were married, I didn’t hear much from them. I was disappointed at being summarily abandoned once their goal was reached, but I decided I would make new friends.

After many years, I found I was pretty good at making and keeping friends. It wasn’t intentional, but many of them were more accomplished, more well-travelled, had more resources than I had. They were like me in the sense that they were always working on growing, on being better than before. Some had a better start; others seemed to have had it worse, but being gifted with much intelligence, natural energy and an incredible work ethic, became proficient in their field.

And then recently, I realised how my early losses and my positive response, which was making friends with the younger generation as my own generation dumped me, have buffered me against a reality that those my age and older are facing — a shrinking community and the prospect of loneliness.

Desperate, these people try to cultivate relationships that were abandoned decades ago, and to be honest, it feels odd, weird. Relationships take time to cultivate; they can’t be revived overnight. If you’ve ignored someone for decades and then suddenly decide you want a relationship with them, the normal response would be, “What??” Or worse.

My takeaway is, don’t just discard your friends just because you’ve gotten married and have had children, an exciting career and a higher social status. Friendship, like marriage, is for life. Take time to nurture your friendships so that when you need your friends, they’ll be there — naturally.

Bloganuary Day 14

As a child, I was brought up to instantly obey my elders, to never question them (at least outwardly) and to take whatever they dish out. This mentality set me up for victimization and it took me years to change.

But, change I must. I found I was attracting predators because I was tolerating bad behaviour. There’s nothing more attractive to a predator than someone who has been continually brainwashed to think that the interests of others always took precedence over hers.

So I got to work on establishing boundaries. The book on Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend was pivotal in my life; so was some coaching on confrontation by my counsellor friend, David Blakely. I would be tested on my boundaries, time and again, by young and old.

One day I was sitting across from a much older lady who had invited me for lunch. We chatted, but I noticed that whenever I glanced away from her to reflect on what is said and to formulate my response, she would immediately tap her hand on mine. After three or four times, my annoyance was rising. She was giving me no personal respite. Whether she was conscious of it or not, she was tugging at me emotionally like a puppet on a string. And no one likes to be controlled.

I took a deep breath and countering cultural expectations — we have been taught to never be “rude” to hosts, even more so, to an older person — I said, “Would you stop touching me, please?”

This was the litmus test for a friendship.

In my culture, if we rebuke someone, there’s a high probability the other person would take it as a put-down and find ways to take revenge, whether passively avoiding you or aggressively badmouthing you. The cultural “unforgivable sin” is to cause someone to “lose face” (i.e. be embarrassed), especially in front of others. So inappropriate behavior is rarely confronted.

That day, my friend was shocked and taken aback; I could see the emotions rolling across her face. Subsequently, she caught herself trying to tap my hand, and stopped.

To my relief, she didn’t take offence. We still have a good connection.

But I took a 50-50 risk. It could have gone either way.

Bloganuary Day 7

Daily Prompt: January 7, 2022 — Bloganuary

Hanging out with friends when the setting is just perfect, makes me laugh.

Last October, when Covid made things quite dreary, Min and I randomly decided to go to Jewel Changi Airport. We couldn’t go places — but to our surprise, we could “go places”, as you can see in the pictures. We went to —

  1. Australia (I’m the one behind):

2. Made friends with a komodo dragon in Indonesia:

3. Here’s a close-up of the beast:

4. Enjoyed “sushi” and hung out with the Blackpink girl group

5. And finally ended our trip on “Jeju Island”:

Taking pictures and clowning around with friends makes me laugh — a lot.

Re-gifting your Christmas gifts

Many put a lot of thought into their Christmas gifts, but sometimes, what they give you may not be appropriate. For instance, I received a large-sized Yankee Candle — I know it’s a nice gift coming from a warm heart, but I am allergic to some fragrances, especially Yankee Candle’s. If I keep it, it would gather dust. So I decided to give it away.

(Refer to my article, the Trojan Horse Gift for my rationale in giving away gifts)

But who would like it? I went through my list of friends — most have allergies or prefer gifts that are organic in origin — then, I recalled one of them loves fragrances. How do I know? Most people give as gifts the things that they themselves enjoy. So I sent a text:

I also added in the gift I originally intended to give her. So she had a bonus!

Christmas is a time of giving — a time of being generous in love, thought and deed. May your Christmas season be rich in all three.