“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.” “You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte.
“That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
― E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web
That sweet comment from Charlotte, speaking to Wilbur in E.B. White’s classic, Charlotte’s Web, is probably the single most repeated quote on friendship.
I taught Charlotte’s Web to my third year classes in Kazakhstan and I remember being a bit concerned when we began. Up until then, I’d only read the book twice, both times to my sons, and both times I had been in tears by the book’s end. Would that happen now that I was teacher?
Friendship is powerful. Poignant. “A tremendous thing.” We feel sad when friendships are over, elated when they begin, and grateful (if we are paying attention) when they are alive and well.
Friendship is ancient, as these quotes attest:
Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness.
Euripides (480 – 406 B.C.)
My best friend is the man who in wishing me well wishes it for my sake.
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)
There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
Friendship is a particular sort of relationship: voluntary, spontaneous, free-flowing, informal, mutual, and egalitarian. And, it is seemingly without rituals or rules.
Unlike marriages or graduations, bar mitzvahs or retirements, there are no particular feasts, celebrations, or even acknowledgements that “now we are friends.” Nothing marks the boundary between the day you did not have this friend from the day you did. No one congratulates you.
This intrigues me in the same way I’m intrigued at the powerful despair we feel when we lose a pet, and yet no one brings us food.
But I digress. Let’s get back to friendship.
What good does having a friend do? What are the benefits? Are there downsides to friendship?
These and other questions have intrigued me since the early 1980s. I’ve posted some of those questions on my website’s Learn More page. Check it out; I’d be interested in your feedback.
My friendships have changed over the decades, of course. But whether I’m “going steady” with one or two friends or am interacting with many, but only now and again, when I am with someone I call friend, I feel a particular way: true to myself, genuine. And safe.
I like to think that sense of connection we have is the “I – Thou” relationship that Martin Buber spoke so eloquently of. Yes, my standards are high.
Research has shown that we like ourselves better when
we simply THINK about the friends who are important to us.
Remember my post last Wednesday? I asked you to remember your first friend. I know when I did that for myself, especially when I lost myself in a few of those photographs I shared, I felt exhilarated. Friends are “useful” in that way, beneficial. Even just thinking about them.
Researchers have divided the whole rewards-and-benefits-of-friendship shebang between “instrumental rewards” (e.g., money, assistance, advice, information) and “expressive rewards” (affection, companionship, tenderness, socio-emotional benefit).
I resonate with this as I’ve had both kinds. The friends I made in Kazakhstan were ones with whom I shared much laughter and a sense of fun (expressive rewards). They were similar in that way to the friends I had as a child.
As I’ve gotten older, my friendships have evolved into ones categorized as offering instrumental rewards. For example, I can’t think of a friend I’ve had in the last thirty years (including those from Kazakhstan) from whom I have not learned something new (instrumental reward).
Melodie Beatty, the author who shone a bright light on Codependency back in the late 1980s, writes that “Friends are a reflection of the issues we’re working on.” I resonate with this too.
In the 1980s, most of my friends were my colleagues and classmates, sharing the same stresses and struggles of either the work or the academic world.
Back in the early 1990s, when I thought my world was imploding, my friends from Al-Anon showed me how to regain my sanity.
Currently, many of my friends are women and men from around the world whom I’ve met on social media. They comment on my blog, they Friend me on FB, they Like my Author Page, and (when possible) they meet me for lunch. We laugh. But they teach me too, about the ways and means of this Internet-based revolution.
And with other friends, I sing. Here’s something for each of you to enjoy.
Thank you for being a friend.
Don’t forget to check out my newly updated Learn More page. Feel free to add your questions to my list.