What is a friend?
That’s like asking what is art? Or what is beauty?
All three are words we bandy about so freely that I think the true meanings have been lost.
As a former gallery owner, I needed to be able to define art…at least to myself. I realized that there is no baseline data to define art because it is a very subjective definition based on how one feels when looking at a creative work.
Social media has certainly diluted the meaning of friend (even making it a verb). According to Facebook I have 991 friends, and I’ve no idea who many of them are.
Friendship is a feeling that I have about some people.
On rare occasions, I feel a spark as soon as I meet a person. There is a magnetism that draws me into a deeper connection. I know immediately that this is someone who I want to make part of the fabric of my life – someone who could be a friend.
Then there are people who grow on me. Circumstances create a casual acquaintance, but over time, we get to know each other better and deeper and a bond evolves. Friendship grows.
On social media, I sometimes seek a person as a friend because she can help in business or a community issue. We may share an interest or even a passionate concern, but we have very little personal knowledge about each other. We are acquaintances or connections. We “friend” each other for a particular reason. We are NOT true friends.
Friendship grows from sharing yourself with someone AND caring deeply about that person. It is a mutual relationship.
I share many things about myself through this blog, but it is a one way street unless a reader chooses to share a comment. That takes our relationship a bit deeper than my Facebook page, but it is still a pretty superficial relationship. A few of us may strike up an email relationship or may actually meet face-to-face. Then friendship may grow.
British evolutionary psychologist Robin I.M. Dunbar describes layers of friendship, where the topmost layer consists of only one or two people, say a spouse and best friend with whom you are most intimate and interact daily. The next layer can accommodate at most four people for whom you have great affinity, affection and concern and who require weekly attention to maintain. Out from there, the tiers contain more casual friends with whom you invest less time and tend to have a less profound and more tenuous connection. Without consistent contact, they easily fall into the realm of acquaintance. You may be friendly with them but they aren’t friends.
I believe there are tiers of friends in my life…maybe not as restrictive as Dunbar’s model.
I have a very large foundation of acquaintances and the layers thin out to casual friends and business/community associates (the bulk of my Facebook community) to a very small top-tier of people who I can depend on in times of emergency, sorrow, frustration, and extreme joy. As someone once told me, true friends are the people you know you can call when you’re in jail. (I hope I never have to put that to the test.) This top-tier are my unconditional friends. They enrich my life and sometimes humble me. We make time for each other.
I have friends who have been in my life for 50 years, and friends who have been in my life only for a year. Some have seen me through many changes and others are guiding me to new heights.
Most important, I’m fairly certain that those in this top-tier would also include me in their top-tier of friends. That is the key element to friendship…a mutual bond that feeds both parties.
That mutual bond does not always stand the test of time. Sometimes it disintegrates or melts away.
People grow in different directions and with different intensities. I truly believe that people are in our lives at a particular time for a particular purpose. And as time moves ahead, our needs change and our friends change. The very closest of friends drift away. Siblings, spouses, parents and children drift away.
Memories of what you once had in a relationship are frequently bittersweet. Like most people, I have friendships that have drifted away. I cherish the memories and miss what was once strong. But I look forward to the possibilities of the future and the new friends that I have yet to meet.