Wednesday, 9 February 2011

On Friendship II.

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.


  1. And then theres the rarest of spiritual friendships where Aelred feels

    "your friend is the companion of your soul, to whose spirit you join and attach yours, and so associate yourself that you wish to become one instead of two, since he is one to whom you entrust yourself as to another self, from whom you hide nothing, from whom you fear nothing."

    "Furthermore a friend is called a guardian of the spirit itself. Since it is fitting that my friend be a guardian of our mutual love or the guardian of my own spirit so as to preserve all its secrets in faithful silence, let him, as far as he can, cure and endure such defects as he may observe in it."

    "let him choose from amongst them one whom he can admit in familiar fashion to the mysteries of friendship, and upon whom he can bestow his affection in abundance, laying bare his mind and heart even to their sinews and marrow, that is even to the most secret thoughts and desires of the heart"

  2. Is this why you don't respond to my e-mails!? hahaha. Very true though. I must say that people that have real friends all over the world have it the keep in touch, not to be friends with them. Having long discance relationships is also very difficult, but as you say, the bond is quite different.
    Juan Diego

  3. Juan Diego

    I will reply to all your e-mails from now've made me feel guilty. By the way, can you not use anonymous...use your I know it is this great in Peru!!

  4. A thought I'd like to share, and which is related to your reflections.
    People have a natural tendency to look for other people sharing similar tastes, habits, opinions, etc. This tendency could actually be aggravated social networks, which categorise people depending on their tastes, groups of interest. In other words, social networks enable people to choose with whom they interact, on the basis of, I believe, too narrow criteria.

    In the field of erotic love, this quest for relationships with similar people can also be found on dating websites, which often advertise the fact that "you will find someone just like you", which I think isn't necessarily positive. My personal experience shows the contrary: my wife and I have have very different characters and complement each other very well. Had I looked for someone looking "just like me", I would never have ended up with her.

    Which brings me to a last reflection: doesn't modern society tend, on the one hand, to make us feel like we should fulfil our individual needs, based on what is (presumably) good for us individually, and on the other hand to push us to look for other individuals sharing similarities?

  5. interesting points, Etiennne, and very well made...certainly a thinker like Simone Weil would be thinking very much along your lines and have your concerns.