“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship, that makes unhappy marriages.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
There are four levels of platonic relationships:
- people you know and like
- kindred spirits
Of all of these, friends are the most intimate. Maria Popova does a beautiful job of explaining the four levels.
“Friendship is unnecessary,” C.S. Lewis wrote, “like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself… it has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
I find it interesting that many references to relationships focus on romantic relationships. However, outside of our familial relationships, friendship is our first relationship.
What is friendship?
According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosopy,
Friendship, as understood here, is a distinctively personal relationship that is grounded in a concern on the part of each friend for the welfare of the other, for the other’s sake, and that involves some degree of intimacy.
It requires 3 things:
- mutual caring so we care about our friends and they care about us
- intimacy, meaning we reveal things to friends that we don’t to other people
- and shared activity – we make time for each other because we value our friendship
Stages of Friendship
Across our lifespan, our close friendships provide someone to talk to, depend on and enjoy spending time with.
In childhood, the main purpose of friendship is for someone to play with. In adolescence, the nature of friendship changes. Yes, friends still play and have fun with each other but young adults also develop identity and discover intimacy through their friendships.
Young adulthood is a prime time for creating friendships. It is a time when we connect with people with similar values and friendships at that point in life are crucial for developing a more secure sense of self.
As we continue through life, we typically choose friends that we perceive as being similar to us. This may be part of the reason why cross-racial friendships are rare in some communities. It’s also interesting that research shows similar brain patterns between friends.
Types of friends
Out of our friends, we can have different types. You may have one best friend, the person who knows you without any artifice. This person won’t be surprised about anything they find in your apartment. This is a very special kind of bond. More common are friends that you can be yourself with, but you may still protect your insecurities and failures from them.
Why is friendship so important?
In addition to the specific role that friendship plays at different stages of human development, they are important for our quality of life. Human beings are social creatures and friends are an important part of that socialization.
Do you have a friend that you think about but are not in contact with? What’s the barrier in your friendship? Is it time, or distance? Is it that you had a disagreement and you are waiting for them to approach you first?
During the rest of this mini-series on friendships within this season about relationships, I’ll be looking at female friendships, male friendships, opposite-sex friendships, and friendships across different groups. Join me each week for more on this topic.
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