On Friendship: What is it?

Do we still know?

Last week we explored the meaning of the word ‘friend’ and how it has evolved, as all words and languages do. Now let’s explore what friendship might look like in today’s world.

The meaning of the word ‘friend’ has widened greatly over the past decades, so what friendships look like will also vary. Friendship is no longer something reserved for people who we get to know face to face but is something that stretches over great distances. I think there’s still one key element that links all levels of friendship, and this thing has not changed with the passing of time. That thing is the investment of time itself. If two people have not made that investment in each other, be it in person, over video calls, phone calls, texts, or some form of social media, there is no relationship. Therefore no friendship. Without that expenditure you may know of someone’s existence, but nothing beyond that other than perhaps a few surface facts they have shared publicly.

Last week we also talked about words in relationship to ‘friend’. These words help clarify the connection between two people. Let’s start with acquaintances.

  1. a person known to one, but usually not a close friend.
  2. the state of being acquainted or casually familiar with someone or something: As far as I know, no one of my acquaintance has travelled around the world.

These are just two of the definitions for the word acquaintance.

A second key component of friendship is an emotional connection of some kind. So is an acquaintance a friend? Well, some of them may be, and some of them are not. I think it depends on the individuals and how much care they generally offer to others on the first meeting. This emotional connection doesn’t have to be very big, but it does need to be something that sets a person firmly in their mind. If the interaction is forgettable, how can the seed of a friendship be planted? Every acquaintance has the potential to become a casual friendship, but we don’t always care enough to plant that seed.

If there was some kind of connection made, then comes the investment of time. Do we care enough about this potential relationship to water it by interacting again?

This is where I think we often fail each other in the modern world. We are so busy, we may not even have the energy to care after an interaction with a new person. Hurt might hold us back, and fear, anger, and anxiety. These barriers to starting friendships are by no means new, but I believe have become more concentrated. Friendship is work after all, just like any relationship.

Fast Friends:

Have you ever met someone and the connection was so strong that it felt like this person had always been in your life? Trust comes easily, you can’t wait to spend time growing whatever this wild friendship thing is. Friendships like these are treasures and have the potential to transform into something deep and long-lasting. But the truth is, very few of them do. Why?

They were not made nor meant to last. These friendships are beautiful moments and can refresh us like a cup of cool water on a hot lonely day, but there is only so much water in that cup. They can not sustain. Perhaps the two individuals find out they are too different and when a disagreement happens the bond is just not strong enough to withstand the pressure. Or maybe time can just not be found to grow the friendship. Perhaps one individual struggles with long-distance relationships of any kind, or the opposite, finding it hard to stay open while meeting in person. Maybe something hurtful is said or done and one friend chooses to walk away, unable or unwilling to mend the breach. It can be devastating when these friends are lost like lightning, just like they were found.

They can also be addictive. If we fall into the pattern of making fast friends and losing them in quick succession they can also be very damaging. We can become afraid to make those connections at all or think that lightning high is the mark of true friendship and if that spark isn’t there at the beginning a relationship isn’t worth tending to.

It takes great wisdom, and flexibility to know when to let go. But know that these friendships are worth having even when they are destined to end. If you never take the chance, you will never find the rare few that will transform into lifelong bonds.

Old Family Friends:

These people have always been in your life, and maybe there has even been a family connection for generations, but they come with expectations. “Of course, we have to invite them to the Christmas party! It’s expected.” You might carry a deep love for these people, or not, but the interactions have been too many to count. Whether you like them or not these people are counted as friends, the time investment has buried those roots deep. They are more like family.

This breed of friend is something I see dying in modern culture. More people are learning boundaries and upholding them. For the first time in a long time, we are being told it’s OKAY to say no to people who are ‘toxic’, even if they are family. Social media has given us tools to stay connected but separated, blocking or muting people right and left. This can be good, but it also comes with dangers. No relationship is easy, and difficult people are still worthy of time and love. Again it takes discernment to know how to handle friends that have always been but might not always be wanted.

What kind of friend do you want? What kind of friend are you?

Surprise Gems:

These people, oh these people, they pop up out of nowhere and add value to your life in spades. Maybe they start as fast friends, or maybe they are old friends that never really got close to you until the time was just right. They might even be reluctant friends, or someone you never liked at all, but for whatever reason one of you reached out in a deep way and now you have no idea how you could ever live without them. When you find one of these friends, don’t ever let them go.

This holding on doesn’t look like a stranglehold though. Sometimes they even require vast amounts of space and time away, years even. But that space doesn’t matter, when you come together again it’s like you were never apart.

Do these friends still exist?

They have become rarer than ever. There are so many reasons for this and I would love to know why you think that might be. Have you ever had one? Been one? Or viewed a relationship like this from the outside?

There are so many different levels to each of these kinds of friendships. They vary from person to person and social media has transformed how they can begin and be sustained. But I am curious… Do we still take that time investment seriously? Do we know how to hurt people with, cry with people, and work with people? Or are we content to just be around for the smiles and then walk away with every disagreement, inconvenience, or misunderstanding?

It’s not possible to have deep friendships with everyone, and it’s also not healthy to try. But it’s imperative to true human happiness and health to have true friends. We won’t find those gems unless we look for them, and hold on to them when we find them.

Copyright ©2023 Mary Grace van der Kroef

Previous Post – On Friendship: The Word Friend

Previous Post – On Friendship: Introduction

Forthcoming Post – On Friendship: The Word Enemy

Forthcoming Post – On Friendship: My First Friend

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