Mandy Fabel: Deal Friends and Real Friends

Guest columnist Mandy Fabel writes, "Real friends also take time to become. There is no scientific formula, but if I had to guess it would be some combination of time + hard things = real friends."

Mandy Fabel

October 26, 20235 min read

Fabel 10 27 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Arthur C. Brooks, a speaker and writer, uses a phrase to describe the kinds of friends we have in our lives. “Deal friends are the people who really can help you in a transactional way. They probably do care about you and you probably do like them. But real friends are the ones who might call you at two in the morning with a crisis.”

Brooks makes the case that to find happiness and meaning, especially in the second half of life, you need to have real friends interwoven into your daily existence. They are friends who have seen you at your worst, but accept you and believe in you without fail.

I first want to say that deal friends aren’t bad in and of themselves. Particularly in a small state like Wyoming, we have a lot of incentives not to burn bridges or create enemies among our personal and professional contacts. But I would also agree with Brooks when he says real friends play an entirely different role in our lives. 

So what are real friends and how do we get them? I will turn us to another expert in relationships, the Skin Horse from the children’s story The Velveteen Rabbit

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse…"You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

Real friends also take time to become. There is no scientific formula, but if I had to guess it would be some combination of time + hard things = real friends. 

The first real friends I encountered  in my adult life came as a group of eight girls who all joined the track team as freshman. Some of us were on scholarship, some of us were not. Some of us would go on to become school record holders and national champions, some of us would not. We trained together, competed together, lived together, and went through the highs and lows of our college years together. Somewhere along that path we came to believe in the goodness of each person more than we cared about their performance at a practice or track meet. For your worth to be separated from your achievements is a hallmark of real friends.  

That group of girlfriends has stayed connected over the past 15 years and this past summer we all got together for a long weekend, this time with a whole gaggle of kids in tow. The conversations were real and the connection as strong as it had been all those years ago. While our eyes haven’t dropped out yet as the Skin Horse suggested, I bet we would all agree we feel a bit more loose in the joints than we did as 19 year old college athletes. But the Skin Horse is also right when he says, “Those things don’t matter at all.”

Since college, I have continued to collect real friends through life’s various chapters. Friends who have connected their life to mine via a small nylon climbing rope, high on an alpine wall. Friends who have come to help dig out my snowmobile for the 27th time that day with nothing but a smile (and I can assure you, I was not smiling in return). Friends who hear our two-year old tantruming in the backyard and who bring over plates of dinner instead of pretending they didn’t see our family having a rough night. And even colleagues who have seen tears and exhaustion and stepped in to fill every gap they could. 

Hopefully you noticed the formula of time + hard things in each example I shared above. You won’t find real friends via social media alone. You won’t even find real friends through a highly social job or community life alone. 

You will find real friends exclusively by allowing yourself to be real with other people. By letting them see your hopes, fears, and joys. By asking for help in ways that can never be repaid. By showing up to help them in the moments that are inconvenient or messy. 

If you have real friends who have come to mind while reading this, send them this article with a note of gratitude. Better yet, swing by their house and give them a real hug. Real friends love unannounced visits.

Mandy Fabel resides in Lander, WY with her husband and young son. They love spending time rock climbing, snowmobiling, and mountain biking. Mandy currently serves as the executive director of Leadership Wyoming and the co-founder of the YouTube channel Granola & Gasoline.

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Mandy Fabel