My previous blog was about friendship and it seems that I’m not the only one thinking about this at present. In a recent article (The Times February 7), Cosmo Landesman reflects on the fragility of friendship. Is this due to our friendships becoming more and more “virtual” due to social networking sites and less “real”? Is it the pressures and pace of contemporary living that make giving time to friends increasingly difficult? Landesman writes:
The sad truth is that my friends and I are seeing less of each other than ever before. I wonder: do my friends notice this change? Do they care? Do I?
Much has been written about the shallow and ephemeral nature of online friendships found through social network sites such as Facebook. But back in the real, offline world friendships – at least mine – are changing for the worse. Once, there was a clear division between on and offline friendships. Not now.
The great paradox of our time is that today we’ve never had so much technology – the Internet, e-mails, tweets, texts – to bring us closer to our friends. And yet we have been so distant from them. We can all stay in touch all the time – but we never seem to have the time to actually see each other.
...I believe that friendship has an etiquette of its own, and it has cost me dearly. I once had a beautiful, super-smart, sexy girlfriend – but she would never return my phone calls. It drove me nuts and so I had to end our relationship.
Friends like to tell you: I’ll be there for you. But I don’t want them to be there for me, I want them to return my phone calls and respond to invites to dinner! In other words, I want to feel that our friendship is important, and that it is shown in small acts of thoughtfulness.
I sometimes wonder, if I didn’t make the effort to see certain friends, would they make the effort to see me? So I called one of my oldest and dearest friends to ask him that question for this piece. He hasn’t returned my call – that was two days ago – so I don’t know the answer.
Friends! Who needs them?
Unfortunately, I do.
Is all this just the whimpering cry of some middle-aged neurotic? Or, the rose tinted longing for some golden age of friendship that may or may not have existed? Is friendship possible in our crooked times?
Landesman’s anxieties have been shared by everyone who takes friendship seriously. Friendships are fragile and complex ways of relating. This is, in part, because the desire “to become one instead of two” in friendship is not the same as the unity that lovers seek. Whereas lovers strive to obliterate the distance that separates them by fusing themselves one to another, friendship cherishes the distance that exists between two individuals. What unifies friends is the discipline and effort of maintaining their mutual distance in love. If that distance is threatened by desire, domination or possessiveness then the friendship will begin to corrode and disintegrate.
“The simple fact of having pleasure in thinking in the same way as the beloved being, or in any case the fact of desiring such an agreement of opinion, “ writes the French thinker, Simone Weill, “attacks the purity of friendship at the same time as its intellectual integrity. It is very frequent. But at the same time pure friendship is rare.”
Friendship delights in the fact that there are two distinct persons involved in a loving relationship. The two friends consent to remain two and to celebrate not only the things they share in common, but above all their differences. Friendships are possibly the only relationships where individuals do not have to disguise or compromise their differences. They have the rare liberty of being themselves. It is the difference and space that exists between them that gives them the freedom to hide nothing and fear nothing. Friendship is, in the words of St Augustine, "sweet beyond all the sweetness of life that I had experienced." That is why they are important, precious and very rare.