Close your eyes. Breathe calmly. You sit here alone, master of your own thoughts. Imagine I am talking to you. I want to know what friendship means. Quickly, construct a differentiation. Which opposite op ‘friend’ have you found? Mere acquaintance? Or: enemy? But what can we say about a thing of which we cannot determine the opposite? Try, then, to think of the similarities between your friends, the once that don’t seem to have anything else in common than being your friend. They are committed, I guess you said that? There is some mutual interest in each other’s life, some emotional investment.
Take a deeper breath. Investment, interest. We are using financial terminology. We describe friendship in terms of personal gain. Could it be otherwise? What if friendship is more fundamental and came logically ‘before’ our identity? The thought that the socialness of our being constitutes our identity is a common one. We are friends before we are persons. As toddlers, we refer to each other, we anticipate each other’s behavior, develop an emotional attitude to each other, all before we develop a sense of self. And children who grow up deprived of social connections make do with imaginary friends, because social behavior is hard-wired. Or at least, I say it’s worth thinking of it that way.
True friendship should escape a reduction to a mutually beneficial relation. That is another common thought. There is that special something that we can’t classify, a magical ingredient in our friendships. Smile. We could explain that irreducible quality from the horrors of its opposite, that can’t be understood in terms in interaction between discreet objects either. I mean the mental agony of loneliness. The deep eternity in which we become gradually aware of the absence of any other mind, while we exhaust our imagination until we can’t make the voice that talks back at us seem like anything else but ourselves. The point at which we ‘go crazy’.
Friendship is something we must celebrate. It is the essence of celebration itself. Breathe in deeply. Breathe out. Does friendship come before the friend? Are we imposing our preconceptions of what ‘friendship’ is supposed to be on our friends? Or can we learn about friendship from a friend? Don’t we need the first aspect in order to recognize someone as a friend, and the second one in order to treat someone as a friend?
Friendship is a role. But the rules and expections of that role can always be challenged between friends. Friends can break up, or grow closer because of this. Breathe some more. Let us understand the fragility of friendship and the vulnerability of our modest meditation on it.