“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.
I’m finding this discussion of friendship fascinating. I checked out your “Learn More Page,” too.
Like others, I have many types of friends. There are my friends for many years–the ones I would turn to if I needed to, but who I don’t necessarily talk to that often. There are my “gym buddies” who I mostly just see there. At the end of the summer, one of them hosted a party for a group of us with spouses so we could all meet. It was great fun. I have FB friends who I have never met in person, and blog friends, like you!
And to add to your knowledge–there’s an article on Friendship (not written by me) in my World of the American Revolution. Historically, friendship could describe many different types of relationships. Many of them were much more formal than the way we think of friendship today. These included business/social connections between men, but also communities of like believers, such as the Society of Friends (Quakers).
Hi Merril, I’m so glad you’re enjoying this. I am too. The idea of these categories of friends, and Tracy speaks to this below too, is an important one. So many adjectives: best, first, good, work, social, “gym,” old, new. And we’ve got buddies, soul mates, sisters too. (I do wish your publisher would lower the price on your different encyclopedias. I’d love to read them! Any thought of doing a promo? At least of your Kindle versions?)
I thought Tracy’s comments below were very interesting. Even though I suppose I use “friend” imprecisely, I do have separate categories in my own mind.
As far as the books, I don’t have any control over the prices. They are ridiculously high, and I know few individuals are going to buy them for their personal libraries. I have one dedicated friend (a real friend) who just bought the World of the American Revolution–and she is actually reading it! The publishers are big publishers of reference books. They are mainly intended for libraries–so ask your libraries to order them. We can perhaps discuss promos offline? I don’t really know what’s involved.
Tracy Lee Karner
I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately. I spent an important part of my middle-adolescence living and going to school in Germany, where that culture’s idea of “friendship” deeply influenced me. They make a distinction in language between “acquaintance,” “coworker” or “classmate” and “friend,” reserving the term “friend” for only those people to whom you have made a lasting commitment of faithful, emotional support. Because of that, they often see Americans as “superficial.”
One of my dearest friends, a lifelong friend, is a German woman my age, who lived with me in American, with whom I lived in Germany, while we shared houses, parents, secrets and dreams before we grew into our separate, adult lives–hers in Germany, mine here in the States. She has “acquaintances,” “coworkers,” and “teammates” (she still plays field hockey) with whom she has had decades-long relationship–people she likes and respects, and yet does not call “friend.”
I like precision in language, and so I also use these words in my own mind when I think of people in my life, although I don’t speak them, because I know they would be interpreted incorrectly. The distinction isn’t about affection — I might really enjoy the company of a coworker or acquaintance, and yet I wouldn’t invite her to my family celebrations or impose on her to discuss my troubles.
Thanks for getting me thinking, Janet!
Thanks so much for joining us Tracy. I’ve been following you for a long time, and it’s great to have you. I’m wondering why your recent blog didn’t show up here. Here’s the link: http://tracyleekarner.com for anyone who’d like to read your blog.
I particularly enjoyed this week’s “I went to Tibet with Sabriye Tenberken” — about the joy of travel while sitting in a comfy chair. Lovely.
Thanks for your contribution about the German view of friendship. I am married to a man who speaks German; he’s taught me about the precision with which the German language is spoken. None of those confusing spelling and pronunciation challenges of English!
You’ve also got me thinking about the role of judgment in the different levels of friendship. Not going anywhere with it yet, but aware that at some level a judgment is made about the friendship, and how to categorize it. Hmmmm. Thanks for joining in. I hope you return.
Shirley Hershey Showalter
Lovely collection of friendship thoughts and quotes here, Janet. And clearly your readers “of a certain age” are now primed to think more and deeply about friendships.
This post arrived just as I am planning to drive with my college roommate to Canada and then fly to Cuba for two weeks of exploring and adventure together. Like Merril and Tracy, I’m blessed by many kinds of friends. One of the things I value from life-long friendships is the fact that other people knew me at different stages in my life. To my college roommate, for example, I can still be a naive 18 year-old away from home for the first time. 🙂
Yes, Shirley. I too love the fact that with a few friends, I share a very particular history. I hadn’t thought of it in terms of them knowing a different me, but that resonates. A fuller sense of me. I envy you your trip to Cuba. It’s a country I’ve wanted to see for a very long time and there is a certain urgency now, with it finally opening up. Peace Corps offered a tour over the next two weeks too, but I thought I’d wait until hurricane season was over. Here’s wishing you safe travels and balmy breezes. Thanks for stopping by.
Joan Z. Rough
More loveliness about friendship here and on your Learn More page, too. It’s such a fascinating thing to think about. I think you are very fortunate to have had your Peace Corp experience and the friends you found in Kazakhstan. Though I do have friends of all ages, it’s the ones who are about my age now that I find most comforting. Aging brings a compassion to us that I found missing before. Thanks for your thought provoking posts.
Yes, I find that too. Thanks, Joan. And I haven’t forgotten the idea you gave me last week, about the place of differences in friendship; that they fade away in relation to the strength of the relationship. But, the blog just didn’t “come” to me. I’m looking now at equality in friendship, balance. Maybe the differences angle will work its way in. Take care. Hi to Bill.
I fear I no longer analyze friendships…the people I’ve known a long time I am in touch with often. My new friends are folks I’ve met on line and I love them in a different way, but I do love them all. My “old” friends…I’d do anything for them as they would for me. That’s friendship to me.
Thanks for stopping by, Terry. It’s been fascinating to me to watch friendships develop through participation in the WLM group. Spatial proximity has taken on a whole new meaning.
The Four Stages of Friendship |
[…] preparing for this series on friendship, I read much and thought even more about the fact that — what we all already knew — […]