Picture this: you’re on your way to work when out of nowhere, a big rig plows into the side of your car, killing you instantly. Now, fast-forward a few days to your funeral. Who’s there? I don’t mean a head count, nor do I want a list of names, I mean who are the people who have taken time away from their busy lives to publicly acknowledge your sudden demise? Are these people your friends? Perhaps, but let’s be certain. Let’s relocate your funeral to an out-of-town spot, on a Tuesday, at two in the morning. Now who’s there? Scratch the co-workers who felt an obligation to attend while finding an excuse to step away from the office for a few hours.
Scratch the handful of acquaintances from your sport’s team, the gym you belonged to, and your neighborhood: they’re surely not expected to travel out of town for a nighttime funeral. Scratch the relatives who are distant—in relation and location: they’re off the hook too. Now, look closely at the faces that remain: the faces of those who have come at this odd hour, to this less-than-convenient place. The faces left are those of your close family and your true friends.
Since I’m in charge, I’m banishing your family, so only your friends remain. How many are there, and just how deep was the friendship you shared? Truthfully, while many people feel as if (or even claim) they have “lots” of friends, most have co-workers, acquaintances, ex- boyfriends/girlfriends, and real friends—all of whom get lumped together under the heading of “friend,” and this erroneous categorizing must stop before the meaning of real friendship disappears altogether.
True friendship comes in different forms: a parent, a significant other, an individual on whom you can rely no matter what; however, the thing each of these has in common is a mutually understood and unbreakable bond. “Friendship involves recognition or familiarity with another’s personality. Friends often share likes and dislikes, interests, pursuits, and passion” (“True Friendship”). Real friends grow to be so attached to one another that dissolving the partnership would mean losing an element of who they have become.
I’ve had each of my parents tell me at one time or another that the role they were fulfilling was not one of friendship, and when this was said, it seemed clear to me that was the case. In retrospect, the occasions on which I was not allowed to do certain things or the instances when a punishment was dealt that seemed unreasonable—the very times my parents’ “friendship” was in question—were the times during which they were absolutely acting in my best interests. Argue, if you will, that that is the role of a parent: to guide a child, but I ask you, is that not also the role of a friend? Don’t we turn to our true friends when we need help making the correct choices? Don’t we seek out our real friends when we feel we might not have the best perspective or the necessary objectivity? Won’t a bona fide friend provide honest guidance to us, even if the advice doesn’t contain the answers we want to hear?
I have often heard people speak of their significant other as their “best friend”; in fact, among my friends and acquaintances, I’ve noted that one of the more common feelings after a break-up isn’t so much the loss of the boyfriend/girlfriend, but the void left because that person also occupied the role of “best friend.” These same people seem shocked by the fact that I remain close to each of the individuals with whom I have had meaningful romantic relationships. “Genuine friendship involves a shared sense of caring and concern, a desire to see one another grow and develop, and a hope for each other to succeed in all aspects of life” (“True Friendship”). The truth is, I have never become seriously involved with anyone for whom I did not develop a deep friendship, and fortunately for me, the need to remain friends has been mutual so that having gone our separate ways romantically, we have remained as close as ever as friends.
There are those we stumble across in life, our paths having crossed circumstantially, and having briefly met, a connection remains, grows stronger, and develops into a friendship. “Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away” (Eliot). This is the task of a real friend: to take everything in, regardless of the situation—to separate the good from the bad without judging. And when it’s all over, the one friend will supply the other with the very thing that is needed, even though the recipient will have had no idea that thing supplied was exactly what was missing. A true friend is as willing to provide a kick in the rear as she is a shoulder to cry on; likewise, a good friend is willing to take either the kick or the shoulder trusting implicitly that it is what is necessary.
Certainly there is a need in most of our lives for co-workers, acquaintances, ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, and real friends, but the term “friend” has taken on a cliché-like quality, and tossing everyone into that category diminishes each role. There is no shame in being “only” a coworker or “only” an acquaintance: the responsibility necessary to be a real friend to someone necessitates that each of us is cautious in volunteering to be a friend.
Frankly, if everyone I knew really was a “friend,” I’d be exhausted by the pressure, and I’d lose out in the end because the time it takes to nurture a friendship can’t be accomplished with an e-mail, a brief chat on the phone, a post-it note, or any of the other ways we communicate with our coworkers and acquaintances. A solid friendship doesn’t have time for old romantic grievances and unhealed relationship wounds to interfere. There is definitely a joy in going to lunch with a coworker or an acquaintance knowing that the conversation will be light, the topics relatively sterile, and the commitment minimal. Simply enjoying the company of another person does not make a friend, and there is definitely nothing wrong with temporary companionship being the goal of time spent with another person.
It’s important to recognize relationships for what they are and to be truthful with ourselves and others about the roles we each fulfill. Each of us must treat the term “friend” with the respect that it deserves because if we aren’t careful, it will lose its meaning altogether. (And as my friend, I know you agree with me.)
Eliot, George. “Friendship/Friend Quotes and Proverbs.” Quotes of the Heart. Heart Quotes Center. 2006. 01 Oct. 2006. https://www.heartquotes.net/Friendship.html
“True Friendship: Trust & Time.” AllAboutGod.com. 2006. 30 Sept. 2006. https://www.allaboutgod.com/true-friendship.htm