Talking about Friends

After reading this inscrutable essay on friendship, I thought that I should share my ideas about friendship. Aristotle said that friendship is “a single soul dwelling in two bodies.” Aristotle has some pretty strong views on friendship: he viewed friendship as a necessary component of happiness and a type of relationship that enhanced one’s ability to act and to think. That’s a pregnant thought that bears some elaboration.

Friends, at their best, act as a sounding board for you to bounce ideas off. They’ll listen patiently as you drone on and on about a new business venture and offer assistance without recompense. They’ll act as the devil’s advocate and help you to flesh out your idea more fully. But they’ll do this from a point of benevolence that spurs you to go higher and higher. I’ve never had a friend tell me that I’m “full of shit” and I think that that would be an indicator of diminished friendship. Friends might attack your ideas, but they generally do so only to make you defend them and more fully realize them.

Friends are uncommon. I would say that I have maybe three to five friends, including my wife. Why so few? Because I reserve the appellation “friendship” for the most intimate of relationships, the ones with people for whom I would do anything. Such an obligation is not undertaken lightly and cannot be entered into indiscriminately—there’s just not enough time. Friends are kindred spirits, fellow travelers on life’s journey. They’re the ones who, after interacting with them, leave you better off than before. They’re rejuvenating and refreshing. They’re the ones who I could never get tired of seeing, of visiting. Most people bore me; the ones that don’t have passed a crucial test on the road to friendship.

Friends leave you better off than before you met them. That’s a powerful comment because so many people in our lives are a drain on our energy and happiness. Does that mean that friends never tax you or leave you worse off? Yes, I think that that’s what I’m saying. Life’s too short to spend it with people that sap your vitality. I think that an occasional serious disagreement is fine and can be overcome, but anything greater than that probably indicates that it’s time to re-evaluate your friendship.

People with whom you find fault or irritate you should be called acquaintances or perhaps lesser friends, though probably not to their face since that’s just unnecessarily inflammatory. My preliminary hierarchy would thus look like this, in order of intimacy:

  1. Best friends
  2. Close friends
  3. Lesser friends (buddy)
  4. Acquaintance
  5. Colleague
  6. Co-worker

I am always on the lookout for new friends because my current best friend lives in Alexandria, Virgina. I’ll never find someone to replace him because we’re one soul sharing two bodies, but it’d be nice to find someone close and closer.

Many of my best memories as a child involved my high school friends. Individually, not a single person shared my soul but collectively they represented every facet of my being. And we spent inordinate amounts of time together, from sleepovers to just hanging out. I miss that. I spend almost all my free time with my wonderful wife, but I know that we’d like to interact with other people since we’ve figured each other out pretty well (although I learn new things about Sandi every day and I expect present trends to continue for a long time). There’s something about having a friend that you can drop in on or drops in on you that is at once comforting and stimulating. You know, someone to go on road trips with, someone our kids will grow up knowing.

And that, Winer, is why friendship is precious and dispensed with care. There’s plenty of acquaintances and buddies in my life but there’s an intimacy threshold that they’ll never pass (or likely won’t). Friends live beyond that. And there’s not a lot of room there.

[UPDATE: Don Park‘s got his opinion on the subject up. Of course, he treads lightly on Dave, who I’m sure would prefer to be told that he’s full of shit. (What’s with the fecal hook? It reminds me of Steve Jobs.]

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