Friday, May 19, 2017

On Friendship

I couldn't resist the Montaigne-like title.

Somebody left a comment about friendship on one of my posts months ago and I've been meaning to write something about it since. Reading about Aristotle's views on friendship has revived the subject in my mind.

This evening, I've been trying to calculate how many close friends I have. A close friend I would define as somebody I've known for years and with whom I've had innumerable interactions in different situations. (Although that's not the whole of it, but that's the necessary condition. I don't include family either by blood or by marriage-- not that these aren't friends, but it's something different.) I've come up with about half-a-dozen to's hard to "call" sometimes, between whether someone is a close friend or just a good friend.

I'm very slow to call somebody my friend-- not out of choosiness on my part, rather out of bashfulness.

I have other friends, who I wouldn't call close friends, necessarily. And I've had other close friends from whom I've drifted apart, for one reason or another.

For the longest part of my life, I didn't really have friends. I only really began to make lasting friends in my mid-twenties. I'm thirty-nine now. 

In my childhood, I had no friends at all, being very withdrawn, and this has had a lasting effect on me, making me very introspective. In my teens, I made sort-of friends in the neighbourhood, mostly through taking part in informal soccer games. I'm not in touch with any of them now, though. I had no friends in school, though after leaving school I had transient friendships with some old school acquaintances. My class in college was so small that we were all quite friendly, but I'm no longer in touch with any of them.

It was only when I started working that I made lasting friends-- and before the lasting friends, I had some transient work friendships which were quite intense at the time, but which are now entirely finished. I was a bit of a lost soul for a while, so I was eager for confidantes and bosom buddies. I've come to believe that you shouldn't use your friends as confidantes-- it may be embarrassing for them in the short term, it will certainly be embarrassing for you in the long term. Although revealing one's vulnerabilities, to some extent, seems to be a part of friendship.

The funny thing I've noticed about my close friendships is that I never expected them. They just grew up unobserved. Whenever I've tried to make somebody my friend, I've failed miserably. Probably it's the old principle-- people like you most when you're not trying too hard, when you're not aiming to impress.

Another thing I notice about my close friends is the element of impersonality involved. The best conversations I've had with all of them are the least personal, the least emotional. Indeed, for a long time I had a weekly get-together with one friend (a philosopher) where we would discuss some topic almost in the formal, forensic manner of a college tutorial. The worst part of small talk is not that it's trivial-- the worst part of small talk is that it's so intrusive and personal. Indeed, I've started pretty much telling small talk merchants to mind their own bloody business.

Humour and friendship are very closely linked, I think. One of the first "moves" in a friendship is when somebody makes a daring joke, guessing the other won't take it amiss. It seems to be a kind of trust offering, a leap of faith. Whimsy is another important theme, I think. Certainly, with me, one of the first "soundings" I take with anybody is to say something rather bizarre and inconsequential and see how they take it. If they run with it, I like them. If they focus on the bizarreness and inconsequentiality...not so much.

Well, maybe I haven't said anything particularly profound. The ambiguity of friendship fascinates me, but I don't know how to expand on it. Perhaps in some future post. But I do think friendship is one of life's greatest gifts, and one I'm glad I eventually came to enjoy.

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