Friendship is a complex thing. We might feel like we have dozens or even hundreds of friends, but are they really, truly, “friends.” Are you sure that they’d be there to help you when you’re in a pinch?

One thing we need to keep in mind in the age of social media is that “friends”/“followers” do not necessarily mean real friends.

In many ways, true friendship is like true love. It’s a bond that should be extremely difficult to break. In our entire lives, we may only end up with one or two true loves and a few true friends. That’s fine! It’s arguably how it should be, as it’s quite hard to truly connect with lots of different people on a deep level.

Some would also argue that having fewer friends who are much more reliable and trustworthy is far more meaningful than having many friends who are really more just acquaintances. A true friend is the kind of person who will be there for you no matter what, whether you’re going through a divorce or just need someone to talk to.

To really break down what “true friendship” means, this article will examine five key words that are essential to any true friend relationship.

True Friendship in Five Words


You might be surprised how well you can define friendship through a few key words. And yet, the five following words—or, rather, the character traits they refer to—are absolutely vital for true friendship to exist. So, read on to learn about the importance of honesty, loyalty, fun, empathy, and independence.

And if you need more guidance about friendship, you might want to consider these helpful resources.

1. Honesty

You can’t have trust without honesty. After all, how can you really expect to share a meaningful friendship with a person who lies? In general, you should be cautious with people you’re friends with who lie, because who’s to say they won’t turn around and lie to you, too?

True friends will always tell you the truth, even when it might make things uncomfortable or they’re things you’d rather not hear. An honest friend won’t feed you a constant stream of white lies to make you feel better about yourself, as is so normalized in the U.S.

A little bit of a bruised ego is much better than being deluded or oblivious, so being completely honest is a must-have trait of a true friend.

2. Loyalty


First off, loyalty doesn’t mean some kind of crazy, blood-pact loyalty that would have you guys jumping off a cliff together. This is loyalty in the sense of your friend won’t abandon you and will have your best interests at heart.

This loyalty, it should go without saying, should also depend on your own loyalty. After all, friendship should function as a two-way street. As long as you’re respectful and loyal, you should be able to count on your friend to do the same. (This can be a bit tricky, though—read more below under “Independence.”)

Ultimately, a true friend is someone who you can count on, even when the going gets tough. They won’t forget about you or bail on you simply because you’ve made a mistake or something outside of your control has happened.

3. Fun

A life without any fun would be…well, no fun! You might be really good friends with someone but having a “true” friendship without any fun or humor is pretty hard to achieve.

A true friend will generally enjoy the same things as you, which means that you can spend more time together and enjoy the same activities more than you would if you were doing them on your own.

Ultimately, true friendship means a deep connection and sharing enjoyable experiences with others, which helps us develop special memories. These memories can be held onto throughout your life, and your relationship will only grow as you fondly look back on your memories as you get older.

Sure, you may have friendships where you’ve had a ton of fun, but that doesn’t necessarily make them true friendships. On the other hand, it’s tough to build a true friendship with zero fun or humor.

4. Empathy


Friendship without empathy is bound to cause problems. We all have little things in our life that cause us stress or make us want to vent. But if your friend doesn’t care at all about what you’re saying and won’t try to put themselves in your shoes (the definition of empathy), they can’t really be considered a true friend.

Ultimately, true friendship requires empathy because you should always aim to be there for each other through thick and thin. It’s not that hard, either. Generally speaking, if you’re an attentive listener and a kind person, you’ll naturally experience empathy for your friend.

But without any empathy, it’s quite difficult to establish true friendship as you will continually be frustrated by this person’s inability to relate to you.

5. Independence


Whether it’s true love or true friendship, independence is crucial. Have you ever had a friend or romantic partner who just couldn’t be okay on their own? Who was always bugging you or messaging you non-stop all day every day?

It’s very tough to maintain a true friendship with someone who is dependent on you. Over time, you’ll begin to begrudge this person for their inability to be independent.

Constantly harassing someone is also a sign of a lack of respect. In true relationships you need to respect one another’s time, space, and privacy. If you don’t have these things, then it’s a sign that this person needs you more than you really need them.

At the end of the day, true friendship requires a balance between dependence and independence. You should want to be hanging out and talking to each other while also respecting that you may need more or less space from time to time. When this balance isn’t there, it’s not likely to be true friendship.


True friendship can be one of the most beautiful things in the world. It’s even more rare than we tend to think it is. Unfortunately, some people may never even have just one true friendship. And then there are those people who are lucky enough to have lots of true friendships.

To be a true friendship, however, certain qualities must be present. Although there are arguably many possibilities here, you can never go wrong with honesty, loyalty, fun, empathy, and independence. When these traits all come together, and are mutually shared, you’re very likely in the midst of a true friendship.

The article is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.