There is a great deal said and written about friendship. It is really hard to define, meaning different things to different people. Given the universality of social media, many of us have Facebook ‘friends’ who are people with whom one largely shares an interest (or several) and in whose lives you are interested. It does not mean you would see them as a confidante or to go on holiday with. You may not even like them that much. Time for a cull, perhaps.
There is no doubt that friendship is very important to (most) people, though oddly not all. Some people seem to have no close friends at all and seem content that to stay that way.
When it goes wrong, though, ruined friendship can feel like the ultimate betrayal. As New York author, David Levithan, wrote:
“It was a mistake,” you said. But the cruel thing was, it felt like the mistake was mine for trusting you.
I know I have three or four women in my life I would count as really, really good friends. In 50 plus years, that is not very many, but friendship is qualitative. That said, other people come into and go from my life, too. And I do, even now, slowly make new ones, female and male.
Friendship was important to me as a child, and nothing made me unhappier than my then friends falling out with me. It remained important as a teenager, to have friends to share secrets with, to laugh with, cry with, have fun with. They were the people I could be totally honest with, authentic.
It was at university where I met my two of my most longstanding friends who would stick with me – and by me – throughout my adult life. And, the older I get, the more I care about them. Which maybe explains why my mother-in-law, now 94, was in touch with her best friend since they started working together many, many years ago. They’d been through a lot together. It cemented them. Sadly, her friend has now passed.
I’d guess there are some key elements to friendship. Friendship is generally a non-sexual love; once desire enters the fray, it becomes something else. Can ex-lovers truly be friends? Probably not, though they can be ‘friendly’ and ‘civil’.
It is also not exclusive. My friends have other friends too; hallelujah. We expect our friends to have other social relationships, to be socially competent, to bring something of themselves and from outside, to the friendship. We expect our friends, like us, to have ‘baggage’ which is important to them, and therefore to us: relationships, families, work issues, money, community or other interests. We accept them, faults and all.
They can have totally different personalities and ways of thinking to us but still be amazing friends. Vive la difference!
Friendship is said by the urban dictionary to be “a word for of love in which people develop a relationship without relationship as a goal”.
And that seems crucial. Friendship is hard to define precisely because you do not often have to think about it, to question it. It is not an end in itself.
When it is there, you just know it; that’s not to say you take it for granted, but that it doesn’t require ongoing, continuous introspection or inspection. It simply works.
And it works so well because it is non-physical and non-exclusive; friendship crucially underpins one’s life, rather than is the focus of it. One cannot say friendship is low-maintenance because it does require ongoing interaction of some nature – usually – to thrive – but all friendships have lulls that more ‘primary’ relationships might struggle with. I communicate with my good friends most days, one way or another, and I know where to go with my thoughts and questions.
Some say that you can pick up where you left off with a true friend. That seems to be true. Whatever bound you together previously – in friendship – is still there later, even if life path circumstances get in the way in-between. There is the popular truism that many people come into your life but only a few stay and travel the distance with you, but sometimes people dip back into your life at important times/moments, as if some inner sense tells them – and you – when it is needed.
In friendship, there is a real concern for the welfare of the other person, and it has to be a relationship of trust, caring for each other’s feelings. There is intimacy. You can tell a true friend anything; they will not judge but will accept you as you are. Friendship, as the saying goes, has storms to be weathered, but a true friend is there after the storm has blown over. They share the bad times and the good; they are people to rely on in times of crisis. And the people you first want to contact when there is good news/elation to share. They are not the people you kick into touch.
Working out who these people are is rather trial and error. They don’t come with a label. Sometimes we trust other people too much; we share too much of ourselves and we give too much of our time, only to feel saddened that someone we care deeply for would not do the same for us, so sometimes there is the harsh lesson to be learned that some people simply do not deserve our friendship. It happened in my teens, it’s happened in my 50s. We live and learn.
But let’s allow lesser known nineteenth-century novelist and poet, Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, the last word because she sums it up so very, very well:
“But oh! the blessing it is to have a friend to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject; with whom one’s deepest as well as one’s most foolish thoughts come out simply and safely. Oh, the comfort – the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person – having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”