The Nature of Friendships

What is the nature of our adult relationships with others?

Recently, a person I’ve known for a long time posted a series of questions online, the first of which was:

If you’re not being consistently inspired, supported, and loved for better or worse by your friends, are they really your friends?

The premise gave me pause, for at its roots the question asks us how we define our friendships, and by extension, all of the relationships we enjoy or endure as adults.  The responses to the question ranged from the uninspired to those whose lives seemed programmed to merely repeat every adage or bit of folklore they’ve ever heard, without doing any real thinking of their own.  And those responses did little to change my view of most adults, finding so many to be “sheeple,” easily led individuals who believe that Kodak commercials are based in reality, or that the promises made by *any* politician will be kept.  These are people who believe the “American Dream” is attainable and not some pie-in-the-sky sales pitch made by those who want to keep the masses striving for something they’ll rarely – if ever – reach….which is really just a manner of control asserted over those too ignorant to know better.

But the pause it provided me forced me to think through my own fluid definition of friendship, so different than it was twenty years ago, or even ten years ago.  I looked at the question and wondered:

Consistently inspired?  Supported and loved for better or worse?

The wording sounded suspiciously like vows offered at a ceremony of marriage, and not criteria one would ask – nay, demand – of those we choose as friends.  What is the nature of friendships?  Some feel that those alliances forged on childhood playgrounds continue to be viable means for our current relationships.  While they may hold some usable, if outdated, truths for us, the adult world is so much more complex.  It’s easy to state that no one will ever come between two friends when you’re six or eight or twelve, but the reality is so much different.  Issues do arise between thinking adults.  It’s how they’re resolved (or not) that defines the relationship.

Getting back to the question my friend posed, my response was immediate and passionate, for I’ve long believed, like Socrates, that an unexamined life is not worth living.  The lessons I’ve learned in this existence are that it’s not your friends’ responsibility to “inspire, support,” or love “for better or worse.” We are all responsible for those things in our own lives and looking outside ourselves for anything other than basic sustenance  is a fool’s game played by fools. Friends “should” challenge your complacency, not enable it. Real growth is done by courage in the face of adversity, not someone holding your hand and telling you “everything’s going to be all right.” I choose my friends by how they behave in crises, how they stand up to their enemies or naysayers and still manage to go on with grace and humility. Friendship, like marriage, is based on mutual history and not necessarily on common ground or like beliefs.  I’ve sacrificed a number of friendships based merely on differing religious views, in that they believe in a god and I do not.

Differing beliefs is not an automatic deal-breaker, of course.  But I have made some decisions about what I’m willing to accept in a friend and what I am not.  One comfort is that this is no longer high school and I don’t care about my popularity.  I’m not as concerned with the number of friends I surround myself with as much as the quality of those friends.  We learn, despite Facebook and other social media sites, that quantity does not matter.  Or at least we learn that.  I’ve met many adults who seem perpetually trapped in their high school years, with the same melodrama and ignorance that made so many lives miserable pervasive in their speech.  When we take the time to deeply examine our needs and wants, we are able to come to a clearer picture about how the world around us truly works, without having to resort to Pollyannish thinking or worse, failed expectations and Eeyore-ish thinking.

It’s possible to be realistic without compromising ideals, morals, ethics, or beliefs.  But, like finding a soul-mate that shares our views, they seem few and far between the older we grow.