What’s the measure of friendship?

It’s a question that’s been on my mind for quite some time. People go “I have many friends…or I only keep a few close friends“. Of course, defining what a friend is, is central to the question. However, friendship is the core issue and someone who maintains a real friendship is by definition a true friend.

The discerning may ask, “Well is there such a thing as an ‘unreal’ friendship?” Sure. That’s where someone claims to keep a friendship or simulates it very well. There are some people who take a big interest in what you say and what you do. However, you come to a nagging awareness at a gut level that that interest is an investment for their future possible needs.

Well, yes friendship is different things to different people – and yes ‘it depends’, those famous words often uttered by idiots who like to live on the fence.

Oh and I should declare a bias, that I hope does not upset some who think they are my friends – I only ever had one very serious friendship. He died about 23 years ago. You will notice I refer to the word ‘friendship’. It is a qualitative thing, similar to ‘friend’. However, friend is more a fixed kind of thing. It lends to the idea that either you’re a friend or not – or that your ‘in’ or ‘out’.

But friendship can have ‘shades of grey’. In other words there can be degrees of friendship. And we all know about this at a gut level. In a circle of friendships, there are those people one keeps closer to than others. That may be based on different qualities and how you weigh up those qualities. If you value someone who listens attentively you might rate one who is a good listener highly. Another person may value ‘trust’ more than listening skills. So for that latter person s/he will keep different sets of people closer.

The meaning of friendship as I know it, and how I think others might value it, is as follows. None of the following characteristics are meant to be well demarcated nor are they prescriptive:

  1. Genuine interest in what each other think and do. And I must distinguish this from the obvious ‘patronising interest’. And genuine interest would cover things like ‘caring’, protecting, helping.
  2. Total disregard for status, wealth, power or influence. Yes true friendship cannot be contaminated by these things.
  3. Friendship is not about sexual relations. In general I think that friendship is not to be contaminated by primary ‘survival’ or biological needs. That’s a different thing to my mind. I think that biological and social needs are about satisfying herd instincts. I see friendship as a purer psychological phenomenon i.e. it is not necessary to have ‘biological’ or ‘social’ glue to hold a friendship together.
  4. Respect for what each other stands for. No person is perfect. Having respect (and I’ll not be distracted by defining ‘respect’) for what each other does well, is central. Respect means also respect when their are fierce differences of opinion or perspective.
  5. A willingness to give. No I’m not talking money. I’m talking about the things money can never buy e.g. time, effort, help, genuine consideration, listening, genuine feedback. How would you know it’s genuine. You feel it in your bones. Tough there is no formuala for assessing this.
  6. Boundaries. Yes – whilst friendship is a unifying space, each member of the friendship retains individuality. It is individuality and boundaries which, strangely to some, maintain a friendship.
  7. Building. Friendship is something that builds and fortifies. Two or more minds working as a whole – even with their differences – are stronger than the force of each added together. It’s a different kind of mathematics.
  8. Remaining free: no one partner to a friendship exercises a power over the other to control, influence, decide their future etc. This does not mean that partners are so cautious that they do not confront each other on different perspectives on outcomes of courses of action/behaviour.

The things that test the integrity of friendship, or the possibility of friendships are:

  1. Money – or lack of it.
  2. Fame or good fortune.
  3. Power
  4. An attractive potential mate (and I don’t mean just physically attractive).
  5. Scarcity of essentials basic to life.
  6. Time pressure.
  7. Illness or disease.
  8. Disagreement.

The list is by far incomplete. But friendships that stand the test of time (the 8 characteristics and 8 tests) and the force of independence and freedom of each, are truer than those that are not tested. How can friendshps survive the intense srutiny of the above? Most never will. Strong friendshps survive because there is no fear of losing the other through any repulsive forces perceived in the above. On the contrary they act like a stronger glue.

What about love? No – to my mind that is state of mind driven by survival instincts. But that’s a big and separate debate.  And I’m not in the right spot to debate the number of different kinds of love people might conceptualize.

There is a kind of superficiality to friendships, where people go ‘Oh let’s move on…nothing is ever perfect‘. Nope that’s not my thing.

Who are the people who find closer friendships with me? (notice the word ‘closer’). Easy – people who subscribe closer to my values and my modus operandi – people with very thick skins on their backs, who are willing to go 100 extra miles. If you’re not in, I’m happy that you’re out. Can I be factual about my own thinking without insulting anyone? That’s a difficult one.

Some will have noticed that I’m not set on ‘finding friends’ – strangely for some, I’m more bent on losing ‘friendships’, especially of the ‘false’ variety. For many ‘friends’ and ‘friendships’ are social constructs that are simply accepted and need no analysis. That’s clearly good for the ‘many’. I’ve distanced myself a long time ago from the security of the ‘herd’- my choice. It’s not everybody’s choice – and I respect that.

I don’t know if I’m right. It wasn’t my intention to be right about it. I just wanted to put these thoughts that have been in me for many many years. I may modify them as I learn more.

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