Why bad friends are good for you

by SHARON BEXLEY, femail.co.uk

She says you look awful when you were hoping for a boost; she can be selfish, or inflexible, or quick to pick an argument. She's hard to handle

at best and at worst downright unpleasant. So why do you need a friend like this?

Psychologist Dorothy Rowe, who has studied the nature of friendships

worldwide*, feels that 'bad' friends teach us a great deal. 'These women

usually know how to be assertive and it can be hugely beneficial to watch

that in action and learn from it,' she says.

'A tough or outspoken friend, even if they do things you think are dreadful,

can still be of immense value because they always give an honest opinion.

There's a great deal to be said for having people in your life who illustrate

the saying: 'What you see is what you get.''

Carole, 32, who has been friends with Maxine for 10 years, agrees. 'Maxine's

the one person I know who is never afraid to say what she thinks, no matter

what the consequences. Sometimes it's definitely not what I want to hear,

but I know I can always trust her.'

So what gives difficult friendships their staying power?

One reason

is that 'bad' friends often seem extremely self-sufficient. Zoe, who has

been friends with Belinda for 12 years, despite 'hating her outspokenness' at

first, says: "If I haven't been in touch with Belinda for a while, she'll

pick up with me exactly where we left off. She's simply delighted to hear

from me. There's never any hidden agenda; she's never 'needy'.'

Dorothy Rowe also believes all of us fall into one of two emotional groups:

extroverts, for whom relationships with others are their top priority;

introverts, whose top priority is a sense of achievement.

'Where friendship is concerned, introverts can be friends with introverts and extraverts with

extraverts, but often a lengthy friendship, one that withstands the changes that life brings, is between an extravert and an introvert,' she says.

However, another characteristic of these friendships is how close the friends

can come to being enemies, because of a lack of understanding and tolerance.

Carole agrees that, despite plenty of arguments over the last 10 years, the

foundations of her friendship with Maxine have never been shaken. But she also

recognises how different their attitudes to friendship are: 'I make friends

very easily, and Maxine is without doubt the most difficult to handle. But

she's also one of the dearest.

'She only has a handful of true friends -

probably because she is so volatile - and doesn't seem that concerned about

making more. For Maxine, it's as if friends are just one part of her life,

whereas for me, they're the most important part.'

So, it seems, we'd all do well to have at least one 'bad' friend in our

circle. As Dorothy Rowe says: 'If you are wise about friendship you will

develop a group of very different friends.

This is particularly important

because, in times of crisis or change, you will inevitably lose friends.

And nobody wants to find themselves without friendship and support.' It

would seem that the one who's most likely to stick by you in tough times will

be your good old 'bad' friend.

(*Friends & Enemies, by Dorothy Rowe, is published by HarperCollins)

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