So it’s a cloudy Thursday afternoon and I’m in a good mood. I got some really good news today. And to top it off I’m going on a 2-day trip tomorrow to visit some friends. Oh yeah, life’s good. So, today I thought I’d talk about friendship, and the infinite number of meanings it may have for different people. Very tricky word, isn’t it? But what’s even trickier is trying to define it. Because it’s a vast subject I’m not going to delve into its past and attempt to see how it has changed through the ages. Looking at it in today’s world is difficult enough. To begin with, I will refuse to even consider friendship as defined by Facebook or any other social network. The number indicated on your profile has nothing to do with how many friends you have, so the sooner you accept this, the better off you’ll be. I will, however, draw from this example that the word friend has been trampled on, dragged through the mud, beaten to death, left to die, and rendered almost meaningless and arbitrary (much like the word love).
We all know the difference between a friend and an acquaintance…right? Wrong! Because if we did, we would consider 90% of the people we know as acquaintances rather than friends. But what makes me an expert? Didn’t I just say that the term is relative? Well, yes, but I also believe that there’s a teeny tiny, fine line somewhere which is slowly becoming invisible. Just so we’re clear, I’m mostly interested in the way we actually perceive friendships, and not what we call each other. I realize that there are different categories of friends. The good ones, the really good ones, and the just barely there ones. But we might be getting ahead of ourselves. What is a friend? Now, there’s a question. I like to consider myself an idealist in this area, and if that’s too strong a word for you, then I could settle for conservative. I believe that a real friend is almost impossible to come by. But that’s not because other people are rotten and I’m perfect. I believe that to be the case because our own human nature will not allow us to be real friends, that is, shed all our ego and everyday facade and reveal who we really are.
And no, I don’t -in any way- imply that being a true friend to someone means being the other person’s pet. The true problem stems from the fact that different people have different expectations of their friends. And although there are some -for lack of a better word- “universal” definitions of friend, such as someone’s who’s there in the good and the bad, who understands you, cares for you, blah blah blah, I am of the opinion that the true definition eludes us! And just out of curiosity I just looked for the word in a dictionary…and here are the definitions:
1. one attached to another by affection or esteem
2. one that is not hostile
3. a favored companion
*crickets chirping* I think I now understand the confusion, and to me the most disturbing thing was the synonym given… acquaintance. So, anyone who’s not your enemy is your friend. But I do not rest my case. We are all ready to define a good friend’s characteristics in times of difficulty, when we’re sick, when we’re down, etc. But I’m more interested in day-to-day situations. It might appear strange but when you think about it, sometimes it’s harder being a friend on a regular basis. When a friend is sick you go visit them in the hospital; when they’re blue you take them out for a drink and make them feel better. But what happens in the meantime? Here is where the infamous double-standards emerge. There are friends with which you will not speak for a month, or even two, and that’s alright, because you know that when you meet again, it will seem as if barely a day has gone by. I actually find that these friends have a special quality, and from my own experience, I think that such friendships are the ones held together by a unique, honest and mutual sense of respect and affection. This, of course, does not mean this respect is consequently taken out of other friendships or that it makes this one better in any way. But where were we? Oh yes, double standards. So then we have the friends we talk and meet with regularly, maybe not daily but often enough.
What do we ask of these friends, and what do they expect in return? If we only knew the answer! As most people, I have had my share of disappointments, ruined friendships, and ugly fights. On the other end of the spectrum, I have been fortunate enough to also experience a truly wonderful rekindling of a friendship. Ultimately, however, my main question is, how do we choose a friend, and is there such a thing as a best friend? And after much thought, speculation, self-reflection, and observation, I am almost certain that there isn’t. Allow me to explain why.
I believe we can all agree that each person is unique, and every one of us has a finite number of characteristics, likes, dislikes, interests, and so on. But these very characteristics are so diverse that finding two people with the same exact temperament would be impossible. And, if you think about it, why would you want to have yourself as a friend? This actually reminds me of the saying we have in Greece…show me your friend and I’ll tell you who you are. Although I do believe this to be true to a certain extent, I also find it too constricting. Every single friend I have -and I do not use the term friend lightly here- is different… in fact, extremely different, but this is exactly the point! They are supposed to be different, because each friend has something else to offer, and to each one you offer something else in return. One friend will share the same interests, while the other will open your mind to new ones. One will be very kind and sympathetic and tolerant, while the other will be strict and forward enough to tell you to your face that you’re being unfair or difficult or immature. One will make you laugh until you cry by being silly and nonchalant, while the other will engage you in serious, philosophic, life-altering conversations when you least expect it. But again…that’s the point. There is a time, a place, and a person for everything.
I haven’t always shared these views. When I was younger, and more naive, I used to think you had a best friend and then there was everyone else. But as the years passed, as friendships faltered, but, most importantly, as I evolved and grew into the person I am today, I realized that the best friend can be found collectively in a very small number of good friends, all of whom complete the puzzle. At first it was a hard realization, one that left a bitter taste in my mouth. But that was only the initial shock talking. When the notion actually set in, it transformed into something beautiful, and I finally felt at ease. At the risk of sounding utterly corny, cheesy, and even banal, I will compare this to a flower (simply to make my point clearer ;-), where you are the stem, and your friends are the petals.
Too much? Maybe so, but we’re all entitled to our opinion, and I dare you, once again, to look around you and prove me wrong.