Friendship has been given a special status in our society. It is contrasted with all those relationships over which we have so little control; the families we can't change, the neighbors who irritate us, the colleagues we have to put up with. Friends are thought of as the joyous, freely chosen part of our lives, and it's assumed that those relationships are always pleasurable. If asked how you're spending the weekend and you say staying in or seeing your family or your colleagues, people may think you're a little sad. Say you're seeing friends and there's an assumption that you too are desirable, connected.
On one level, friendships are very simple. They are the bonds between people who enjoy one another's company. But probe deeper and it's evident that there is no consensus about what it means. Start talking to people about friendship and it becomes clear that while people value it and seek it, there is also much confusion, hesitancy and disappointment about friends in many people's lives. Friendship is one of those areas full of hidden assumptions and unspoken rules. We only discover that our friendship doesn't mean what we think it does when those assumptions clash.
There is no agreement about what friendship involves, or what to do if it goes sour. No one would dream of suggesting to a friend that they start seeing a friends' guidance counselor to talk about the dynamics of their failing relationship. When things go wrong, we very rarely challenge our friends. That's because friendship is often a delicate affair and we don't want to tax it with too many demands. It's more common to absorb the hurt, and retreat. After all, there is no contract. The terms are unwritten, and nobody ever makes them explicit.
Ask people about friendship and what's startling is that they hold such a wide range of views, often accompanied by an absolute conviction that they are expressing an obvious truth. Some think it demands total loyalty; others that it carries no obligations at all. One man says long friendships have transformed his life, and been in some ways more important than his marriage; another thinks the great thing about friends is that you can always drop the old ones, because there are new ones around every corner. One woman says she would die for her friends; a younger woman says that all her friendships are ruthlessly practical, and designed to make her life easier in the here and now.
And what's intriguing about those attitudes is that they aren't obvious from the way people lead their lives. Everyone I talked to above has a large number of acquaintances and a social life. All but one assumes that most people think as they do.
Most of us feel a certain pride about our friends, pleased that they have chosen us, and that we have chosen them. We tend to believe that they reflect some important truths about who we are. Yet making friends isn't an exercise in free choice, any more than buying a house is. We buy houses according to what we can afford, what happens to be on the market when we're looking, and whether a capricious owner decides to accept our offer. Friendship is rather similar. We can only choose our friends from among the people we meet, in circumstances where making a friendly overture would be appropriate, and who show a reciprocal interest in knowing us.
All of that and more is nice and good, has it's good and bad site. When it boils down to the wire, when you are real deep in doo-doo. I mean like R E A L deep, when it's about your existential well being, that's when you see your real friends.
Or in other words - when you realize that the, oh so cherished friendship, has limits and conditions and nobody goes the last mile with/for you. This are the moments you realize: real friends are seldom to none.....