by Angela V. Woodhull, Ph.D.
It's half past four and your best friend said she'd come by to do homework at 3:30. Your phone rings. She can't make it because another friend stopped by and they're going to the mall. True friend? Think again. Friendship, like everything else in life, has some basic rules. Read up on 10 ways to tell true friends from fakes.
 A true friend keeps her promises.
The key to caring relationships is reliability.
"Back when I turned 13, I invited my three best friends over for a slumber party. I'd been friends with one of the girls for 8 years," says Emily. "Two days before my party, she called me up and said she wouldn't be coming because she was going to another friend's party instead -- and it wasn't even a birthday party. 'But you made plans with me first,' I said. 'But I have other friends,' she replied. The other two girls came over. We rented three movies and had a lot of fun. Those friendships grew. It's never been the same with the other girl."
Can you trust your friend to come through for you and honor her promises? "I have this friend who said, 'I'll meet you at the mall at one.' At noon, I called her house to make sure she left. Her mom said, 'She's at so-and-so's house.' So, I called this other girl's house, and my friend said, 'Well, I didn't think the plans were real.' I decided that if she can't keep promises, I can't be friends with her," says Claire.
 A true friend tells the truth.
How do you know when a friendship has ended? "You can declare it legally dead when you find that the person has lied to you or manipulated you over a sustained period of time. Or perhaps you and your so-called friend are trying to avoid each other. You get a sudden moment of insight and realize that there wasn't really much going on in the first place. Most of the time, it's a situation in which there's wasn't a good relationship to begin with, rather than a case of a solid friendship turning sour," Dr. Eugene Kennedy, author of On Being a Friend, offers.
 A true friend is genuine.
Do you feel that you can be yourself when you're around your friends? True friends can take it when you're feeling up or down, sad or angry. They let you express what you're really feeling without trying to change, control, or force you to take on another mood.
"My best friend always shares in my feelings," says Lisa. "Sometimes we just start laughing and we can't stop. One time I was crying. She hugged me and almost started to cry, too."
 A true friend is giving.
Dr. Kennedy says, "The greatest myth about friendship is that it will come to people without their doing something in exchange for it. That is, people believe that others will respond to them automatically -- a feeling of entitlement to affection and friendship. They seem to say 'Payment is due to me.' That is a terrific handicap because friendship is a dynamic relationship in which we must give something of ourselves before we can get anything back from others." Friendship's First Law: Be giving to others before you expect others to be giving toward you.
 A true friend makes time for you.
Jennifer had a fabulous relationship -- with her friend Erin's voice mail. She might call three or four times before Erin ever returned the calls. "Then she would suddenly call me out of the clear blue," says Jennifer, "and expect me to be available on the spot. She'd say, 'Let's go to the mall -- I'll meet you there in half an hour.' At first, I would jump at the chance to see her. Now, I think twice."
 A true friend is comfortable just hanging out with you.
Do you and your friends always have to be doing something together -- swimming, going to a movie, shopping? Then that person may not be as good a friend as you think. "You may have a good time with him or her, but you may not be friends in the true sense of the word," Dr. Kennedy says. "The real test of friendship is: Can you literally do nothing with the other person?" Can you enjoy together those moments of life when you simply hang out and talk?
"I can just sit and talk with my friends about anything -- anything that comes to mind. Anything that we're puzzled about -- what's going on, personal problems, what classes we're taking, teachers we like. Most of my friends are just wide open," offers Karina.
 A true friend can share.
True friends share life's triumphs and joys, as well as life's sorrows, with the people they trust. Intimacy is the ability to stay close to another person no matter what is going on in life. When something terrible happens, true friends don't advise. Instead, they just listen and empathize. Likewise, they share in your happiness and celebrate with you.
"When my parents went through their divorce, my best friend was there for me. When my older sister left and got married, she got me through that, too. And when I won the Mathathon in ninth grade, she was happy for me," says Abby.
 A true friend communicates.
Friends exchange an understanding with each other. People need people with whom they can tell the everyday little things. With our closest friends, we share the history of our lives. "It's like keeping a diary without having to write things down," says Amy. "I tell Kara what's happening with me, and she does the same. We listen to everything without judging each other."
"My mom and I don't always get along, but I can talk to my best friend and she will help me out." says Holly.
 A true friend isn't into appearances.
True friends don't care if you're not always on top of trends. "I dress country," says Rachel. "It's not the most 'in' look at my new school, but no one cares. "I like you -- for you," my new best friend told me.
"My friends will tell me if I don't look good in something," says Genny. "But if I wore something weird, they wouldn't care. I normally dress in skinny jeans, but if I suddenly dressed up all the time or dressed in rags, they wouldn't drop me They'd say, 'Okay, that's kinda cute!' I like knowing my friends like me for who I am, not what I wear."
 A true friend remains close.
True friends remain close even when there's been a misunderstanding. They don't run for cover or leave you alone in a crisis. "My best friend and I had a fight. but the next day she called me. 'I can't stay mad at you,' she said. When some people were bullying me at school, she didn't run away. She said, 'You don't need to be doing that to my friend,'" says Jamie.
Friends help you experience what it means to be alive. Many people think excitement will do that for them. But diversion, fashion, and money don't five us that natural high. It's experienced through true friendships with others.
Angela V. Woodhull, Ph.D., is the author of Coping with Difficult Teachers, The New Time Manager, Private Investigative Strategies and Techniques, Police Communication in Traffic Stops, Easy Words -- An Easy Way to Learn New Words, and the musical, "Remember Idora." Dr. Woodhull is available for consultations, in-house training, private investigation, seminars, speaking engagements, and private investigation. You can reach Dr. Woodhull at (352) 327-3665.