Green Flags in Friendship

& Why You Should Get Yourself a GFF

What are green flags in friendship? While red flags is a term to express traits about a person that might alarm us to remove ourselves from a relationship (or in our case, friendship), green flags is a term that means the opposite. Green flags alert us that we can trust a person in a friendship, and we should keep them around because we’re in good company!

Here are some of my favorite green flags:

  • They celebrate your joys with you.

A green flag friend (GFF) is someone who can celebrate your joys and triumphs. They root for you to succeed. Everyone knows a “One-Upper,” who can always name something they achieved that was far more impressive than your latest accomplishment. A true friend is someone who is ready to sing your accolades!

One distinction to make is this: Fawning or exaggerated flattery is not the same as someone who celebrates your joys. Sometimes you can feel like a compliment is only given in order to gain approval. Ever have an icky intuition that someone wants something from you? That is not what we’re discussing.

When I was younger, I hosted my little sisters’ birthday parties, setting up games and activities for their friends and classmates. I remember one year we had an Easter egg hunt, and only one egg had a $20 bill in it, but the other eggs had little candies and coins. When they found out which one found the $20 bill, most of the other kids expressed their disappointment and even jealousy. All except my sister’s friend, Erica. She said, “Oh wow! You found it!” and she was genuinely happy for them! Let’s all take a page out of Erica’s book and learn to celebrate the joys of those around us.

  • They grieve your sorrows with you.

“One-uppers” don’t just try to overshadow your joyful times, but they might also try to make it seem like they have it worse than you. Have you ever had someone try to paint a silver lining on your cloudy day? Did you feel like you weren’t allowed to grieve, be upset, or simply feel human? Or WORSE, have you ever had someone tell you that they experienced something even more painful, humiliating, or dreadful than what you’re experiencing right now?

A GFF would be able to not only “hold space” as many say, but they are willing to hold you. Your sorrow doesn’t secretly make them feel better about themselves because they love you and want, will, and wish good for you.

  • They apologize with their words and actions.

You can tell someone is a GFF if they are willing to admit their faults, especially in times of conflict. That humility is necessary in a flourishing friendship (which we covered in our Phase 2 panel last month!) With the humility to admit wrongdoing (even if it is unintentional), a GFF shows up in the friendship even in their imperfections.

  • They forgive.

Conflict happened, an apology happened…now what? A GFF is able to forgive. You may have experienced a conflict with someone, and instead of accepting your apology, perhaps they said, “You’d really be sorry if _____.” or “You can make it up to me when ______.” or “You owe me so…” These conditions for forgiveness are not the qualities of a GFF. Rather, they are able to see your mistakes without losing sight of who you are. Your friendship is not contingent on whether or not they get hurt, but rather, you are able to respectfully dialogue without fear of the loss of friendship.

An important item to note is this: forgiveness is not equivalent to tolerating or justifying someone’s toxic behavior. Forgiveness, in a psychological sense, is “the release of resentment or anger” and “doesn’t mean reconciliation.” To read more from Psychology Today, click here. It is possible to change your perspective of an offense, release resentment, and turn away from a person (even someone you love dearly.) In the words of the great poet, Taylor Swift,

Sometimes giving up is the strong thing

Sometimes to run is the brave thing

Sometimes walking out is the one thing

That will find you the right thing

  • They love you in the ways you need to be loved.

You know you have a GFF if they are willing to learn the ways that you feel loved. Personally, I love the performing arts, especially musicals. For my 30th birthday this year, I had an in-person and Netflix watch party singing along to the musical tick…tick…BOOM! Some of my friends are really into movie musicals, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Those who really loved me (despite their disdain for this art form) showed up and enjoyed being with me while I enjoyed the musical. (Andrew Garfield, am I right???) Being able to love someone and what they love matters!

  • They accept you for the ways you love them.

A GFF doesn’t expect you to love them in perfect ways, but rather, they learn to love the way you are able to express your love. They don’t make perfect the enemy of the good. Because friendship isn’t about being perfect, and it’s not about grand gestures. Green Flag Friendship is about sharing countless little moments and rejoicing in them together.

Green Flag Friendship Moments:

  • When my coworker asks if I want something from the coffee shop on their way to work.

  • Asking your friend about their new job, their latest vacation, or a new state in life and being excited to hear more!

  • When my roommate helps set up or clean up after my party.

  • Spontaneous overnight adventures like double-overtime afterparties.

  • Asking for forgiveness and not justifying their behavior.

  • When they notice that you are stressed out and they ask, “What can I do for you right now?”

  • Starting a hard conversation with, “Do you have the mental/emotional space to talk about _____?”

  • When my friend mails me something from Louisiana that I can’t get in Los Angeles.

  • They show up for your family member’s funeral just to be with you.

  • When they know that you tend to skip meals in times of stress so they bring you food or remind you to eat.

Share your GFF moments with us on social @FriendshipExplored on everything except Twitter you'll find us @FriendsExplored.

Exploring Together,


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