07/16/2014 08:59 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Friendship for the Single Guy

What I remember best from Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet" comes from his chapter on friendship. "Let your best be for your friend," he writes.

That has stuck in my mind since, living single, friendships may occupy a more essential role to me than to the partnered guy. I try, not always with success, to heed Gibran's advice. It's not altogether unselfish. In return, I hope for support and, when needed, correction, not from a partner but from a friend, someone not committed to give support.

Here's what I've learned about friendship: If you value your friend, tell him so. Directly. Don't assume he knows it, even if he does. (No points for calling when you know he's not home.)

What do you do if your friend missteps and hurts you? Do you tell him that too? I say okay, while letting him know that the friendship remains. Forgiveness fits in some corner of friendship.

I've tried a lot of times for a friendship when the odds of success were poor. I've wished for a different outcome, but not regretted trying. It's a risk of reaching out. (I've also introduced one friend to another, but that hasn't always gone far.)

Can you have a friend who's your opposite? One of my best pals growing up, an only child, found trouble as frequently as I tried to avoid it. Still, there was some link that brought us into each other's houses all the time. Later on, when I got older, I moved away, remembered only the differences between us, and created a distance. Then he died. My big mistake.

Not only do opposites attract, but friendship doesn't always require parity. One person may take more than the other, or give more than the other. I have a friend, for instance, who is a whiz at computers and the like, areas where I am dauntingly ignorant. Most every time he comes to my place, I joke: "You'll be surprised to know that I'd like to ask your help on something." He obliges, and tried to teach me what he's doing--only to hear me say that I'm just resolutely not interested. I try to repay with dinner invitations..

Only in recent times have I been smart enough to include women among friends to whom I try to give my best. That's a category I shunted away when I was younger. Another mistake. From them I don't seek sex, just giving of time and constancy, where they often excel.

Without intending it, I often describe a friend as "smart." She's a smart lady, he's a smart guy. I don't know why I lean on that description, except that I like smart people. Apologies aren't needed, are they?

There are friends you keep without seeing them for years, and others you lose long before you want to. My friend Arch, a gifted designer and irreplaceable friend, died of cancer at 48. Evan, whose spirit kept him going as an actor despite little success, died of AIDS at 50 . Murray, a friend of 40 years; Julie, one of the world's smartest women; Jim and Arthur, part of my growing up in college, all gone.

And my older brother. Jerome died of cancer at 38, when he was at his prime and before we had reached the kind of relationship that would put us on the same level.

These people's lives were pulled away from them--and from me--too soon. I've looked for ways to compensate for the losses, but in my experience there aren't any. It seems really unfair, and i damn well miss them!

All the more reason to give your friend your best...while you can.

Something else about friends: if your friend is understanding, he'll understand that you need time away from him, time to be alone. That is surely true for me.

Maybe your lover is also your friend. If so, you've hit gold. Who else might be a friend? For a lot of people, a pet, or a book, works well.

Then there's yourself, a great choice for a friend. He's always around and needs hugging. Let your best be for him, too.

Stanley Ely devotes a section to friends in his new book, "Life Up Close," in paperback and ebook.