There’s an old saying that I’ve never been truly able to wrap my head around: “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” I researched the phase’s origin and found references to the earliest possible version. Roman Quintas Ennius wrote circa 300 B.C., “A sure friend is known when in difficulty.” I’ve heard of old sayings but that old?
I’ve often wondered if our modern translation was appropriate since most view “needy” friends as a pain in the you-know-what. Perhaps it means if you’re still a friend when your pal is in need, you’re a true-blue buddy, setting yourself apart from those who find a multitude of excuses to get them off the hook.
We all have different definitions of what a friend is to us — what they should or ought to be. Perhaps our friendly definition contributes to the number and quality of those with whom we choose to associate. My late parents, for example, had many friends. They were both social and outgoing. Me? I’m content with a handful of really good friends. If I was in need, they’d be there in deed.
There are several types of friends: lifelong, best and/or close, social and acquaintances. Hopefully family members fall into the lifelong category, but we all know far too many examples where that is not the case, often with our own kin. Obviously, we don’t choose our family. I am especially blessed to declare my best friend in life is my wife, Kathy (cue the groans). But it’s true! I believe in our case, we chose each other.
Part of the human condition normally involves a desire for interacting with others. I qualify my statement with the word, “normally,” because we’ve all known others who were much happier going through their life with the fewest human contacts possible.
I find my litmus test for true and reliable friends is reciprocity. My best friends seem to want to be around me as much as I enjoy their company.
Where I seem to have issues making and keeping friends is getting the same in return. I don’t think this is a selfish desire, per se, it’s more a practical one. Why would I chose to be around someone who doesn’t share my enthusiasm for being around them?
I apply my test as follows: When meeting a new friend, I reach out routinely, suggesting meetings, lunches, a quick cup of coffee, etc. If they never reach back, I know that friendship will become an acquaintance — and that is totally OK. Waxing philosophical, only masochists want to be near those who don’t want to be around them.
Using the horse before the cart principle, I believe developing mere acquaintances into lifelong friends means practicing a 60/40 expectation. Plan on giving 60 percent to the relationship while only expecting 40 percent in return.
A good friend will adopt the same principle. Perhaps this is giving life to the “friend in need” axiom. Analyzing friendships that went nowhere, I cannot think of a single example where I wished I’d held back. OK, I can think of one. Er, two.
I think being a good friend is a lost art. Today’s society seems all too focused on the here and now — those things that provide instant gratification or satisfaction. Building lasting friendships takes work, certainly in the beginning. But I truly believe your close and loyal friends, along with family, are the measure of one’s true worth — the only wealth you can take with you.
Here’s where I am going to offer some unsolicited advice. Please, be keenly aware of your closest friends who may be in need but reluctant to reach out, perhaps in fear of being that “friend in need” that’s a pain in the backside. One of three of my best and closest lifelong friends passed last year from COVID. I only learned of his desperate condition three days before he was gone. Now I’m left with photos and memories—an enormous hole in place of my buddy who never wanted to trouble anyone with anything.
The lesson is not that my pal should have reached out. Rather, to keep those closest to us even closer so if and when they are truly in need, we can be there indeed.
The opinions expressed above belong solely to the author and do not represent the views of the Boulder City Review. They have been edited solely for grammar, spelling and style, and have not been checked for accuracy of the viewpoints.
Ron Russ is a Los Angeles transplant, living in and loving Boulder City since 2020. His career in commercial broadcasting spanned more than four decades including a brief stint as the announcer for Fox’s short-lived “The Chevy Chase Show.” In another lifetime Ron performed stand-up comedy in Los Angeles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.