What is friendship?

What is friendship?

I must admit that it is somewhat embarrassing for me to have to write this post. After all, this concerns something that is so obvious, that we have all had to negotiate since childhood.  And yet, reflecting on the issue a couple of day s ago (or was it yesterday?!) I was thinking to myself that I’ve never really had a clear grasp on this issue – and that has been one of the big issues in my struggle to understand marriage – and even life itself.

Over the course of the week, I came across a useful formula about “love” which got me thinking about this subject.  (It also got me thinking about the word “love” itself, and the fact that it is used for two different things: Christian Agape – unconditional kindness and grace – as well as romantic love. This causes so much confusion, at least to me – but I hope to write about that in a later blog post.)

So this is the formula that I found – edited with a little addition of my own:
Friendship + Attraction + Intimacy + Commitment = (Romantic) Love.

I pondered on it, and I thought – “hmm, yes, that’s true!”  I thought on all the other aspects, and it occurred to me that I pretty much understood everything else, and I was confident in my understanding of all the other aspects. The only one on which I was hesitant was friendship.  As I am writing this, I feel as if my mind is going off in two directions. Yes, I will think a little on what friendship is, however, the point of this entire blog is that romantic love itself is not enough to sustain a powerful marriage.  So I will quickly add a further addition to represent what could be the basis for an excellent marriage, before resuming the analysis of friendship itself.

Mutual Commitment to Christlike Character: to grow, to listen, to keep pressing forward as hard as you can =MCCC
Mutual Commitment to Groundedness in Christ and God’s Priorities=MCGC
Mutual Commitment to Fervent Prayer=MCVP

Potential for a Great Marriage

It is even a little more complex than this, because I believe that friendship should in some respect arise out of observing these first three characteristics.  Perhaps it would be useful to find a different term to use than “friendship”, something that is more specific to the issue of finding a spouse.

At any rate, back now to the analysis of friendship! One of my big issues regarding marriage has always been “How do I know whether we are friends?!” This is especially thorny as a Christian, because we are supposed to be friendly and loving to everyone, especially other Christians.  (Another upcoming post, possibly – the difference between “friendly” and “friendship” – (Update, this post has now been written, and is available here.)) Thinking on it, reflecting on it (but somewhat briefly), this is what occurred to me: friendship itself has a few important components, to build a truly strong friendship.  Some of these are things that I can control; however some of these are things that are largely out of my control.  So I cannot necessarily just choose someone at random and decide to be close friends with them.

Shared values + liking someone + being on the same wavelength = potential for a friendship
Potential for friendship plus investment of time = actual friendship

So then these are the components.  Possibly the single most important one (for me) is this: shared values in life. Perhaps the reason I would emphasise is because I am a person of principle, so my life is defined by the values I subscribe to.  Some people do not seem to have any guiding values at all, so perhaps they would put greater emphasis on shared background, shared experiences in life, shared hopes or expectations.
This is not actually something within my control on either side:  I cannot truly change my values for the sake of someone else, nor can I choose who it is that I meet who will share my values. The extent to which we share values and we like one another and we are on the same wavelength is the extent to which we can have a strong friendship, but then the resulting friendship will depend on how much time, effort and vulnerability we invest into the friendship and into one another.  And then we all have different values which undergird our lives – or not, as the case may be. The likelihood is that we share different  values with different people to different extents.  Stronger friendships will be possible with people who share the same central values, and who place the same emphases on these values, whereas it is still possible to be friends with someone whose outlook in life is quite different, it is just that the friendship will naturally not have the same potential.

My central value in life is obviously Christ. And yet this is true of my interaction with  countless other people who also claim Christ as their central value: even though in theory we claim the same faith, we claim that Christ is central to our lives; in practice we put different emphases each on her own faith, we emphasise different aspects.  With some (many) Christians the divergence is so great that we might as well be worshipping different Gods – in fact, we are.  Despite our supposedly shared faith, we have absolutely nothing in common.

My big frustration in friendship is that I have never truly understood this aspect about shared values.  So I will throw myself into a friendship, invest loads of time and effort (and candour) into this thing, wondering why it never really takes off. And then at the end, I will feel immensely frustrated. And yet, now I think about it, the best friendships I can think of, where we just clicked – it was because we had shared values.  We had the same approach to issues.  These people shared my candour and my directness.  Even where we completely disagreed, we were still able to reason and argue on the same wavelength, with the same kind of passion.  Those were great friendships.  I am grateful for all of them.

The Two Year Thing:  Ah, it’s been a while since we visited this issue, hasn’t it?!  Another issue with my approach to friendships is that I would meet someone, and immediately throw myself into friendship with them.  And then there are the times when I’ve simply assumed that I could be close to someone because of our supposedly shared faith – and immediately gone about investing big effort. I’m thinking now that it is worthwhile for me to get to know someone well, in a shared non-threatening context, before evaluating the extent to which we truly have shared values, and therefore the extent to which we could truly be friends.  This is not just true of guys who might look romantically interesting, but anyone with whom I might like to form a friendship.  Otherwise these friendships formed might simply be doomed to fail.

Other factors of friendship:  The other factors of friendship are a little more straightforward for me:

Liking someone
This is not necessarily romantic liking.  It is just about whether you make one another smile, whether you genuinely like being around one another, whether they exude positivity. After knowing someone for two years, I hope I would be able to be more honest with myself about this question.
Yes, there are some people with whom I share values, and I just don’t particularly like them.   It is not that they are bad people, and it is not that I actively dislike them. Perhaps it is linked to the other point:

Being on the same wavelength
Some people I just don’t understand.  I don’t click with their sense of humour.  I don’t understand their reasoning, their priorities – I just don’t “get” them. They confuse me. This largely describes my interaction with many, many Evangelical Christians. It is often a cultural thing, of course. However, when you get someone who you feel you do understand, who does have the same values as you do – and approaches these values in the same way – wow!  That is simply dynamite for my soul!  If this is you, then please be my friend!  I do not have enough of these friends in my life.  If this is you, however, and you are male and single – and cute! – then what exactly are you waiting for?!  How much further do you need me to embarrass myself publicly?!*  Actually, no, wait – you do pray, yes?!  😉  (*In truth, I have way too much fun writing these posts to consider them embarrassing in the least – hee hee!)

So then, the conclusion of this matter is that I am going to wait for 2 years, get to know someone very well before judging whether we could truly be friends.  Some people are genuinely lovely, however, despite their loveliness, we just don’t have shared values.

Friendship Heart image by Sharky on Pixabay
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