Around my birthday every year, I get sentimental. I think about birthdays past and all the things that have changed for my family and me in the last 364 days.
I think about the people who’ve been there. I think about the people who mean the world to me; I think about the people I’ve lost and gained, and I think about what it is that weaves some of us together while others are content to live at the margins.
What makes some relationships different?
Why do some coworkers, neighbors, and family members become true friends while others remain acquaintances? Why do only some bosses become mentors? How do spouses foster a connection of unparalleled depth?
I think the answer is found in one small word, or rather, what that word represents. The word is “for.”
You’re not impressed, are you? Let me explain.
You probably feel pretty satisfied with your relationships if you have friends, neighbors, family members, coworkers, and a significant other who care about you. Until, that is, you meet someone who cares for you.
Not just about you.
That one word — and the actions it implies — are what separate the most meaningful people in your life from the people you went to high school with who “Like” all your photos on Facebook.
To care about someone is to feel bad for them when tragedy strikes. To care for someone is to show up when tragedy strikes, preferably with food in hand, and sit with them in silence and grief.
About means my heart goes out to you. For means my arms go out to you. About means you hope things turn around for me very soon.
“For” means you help me pick up the pieces.
Love, as it turns out, is more than a feeling. Great stories—and great relationships—are defined by actions, not sympathies.
As such, we should all pay more attention to the people in your various circles who treat you and others this way, and guard those connections fiercely.
As we pursue deeper and stronger friendships, we have to realize the goal isn’t to care about people with more intensity, but to care for them with more activity.