I’ve had a number of conversations in the past month or each revealed the same sad story—friendship crisis. Why does it seem so difficult today to connect with someone else on a meaningful, fulfilling level? Where have all the friends gone?
In his Confessions, Augustine described friendship as a delightful bond of souls in unity and goes on to compare true friendship to the kinds of relationships he experienced in his younger years when he spent his time being seduced and seducing, being deceived and deceiving.
Aristotle gives three kinds of friendships in the Ethics: utility, friendship and perfect friendship. The first two are concerned only with the moment and what suits a person’s immediate needs. Perfect friendship, though, consists of two (or more) people who are alike in virtue and goodness and constantly seeking truth and goodness for their friend and themselves.
So what’s our problem?
One answer is distance. We can very easily keep people at a distance and therefore, no open ourselves up to going deeper in a relationship with someone else. It’s safe and a protective measure and in the end, lazy because it takes work to get to know someone and continue a relationship for a considerable length of time. Facebook has three options for people when they are invited to an event and it speaks glaringly about our culture. You can say yes, no and maybe. The fact that you don’t have to respond at all is perhaps the most problematic because it requires no effort. The second most popular choice is maybe because it requires little effort and leaves the decision in a sort of limbo.
Now put yourself on the other end of the invite and become the person who wants to invite people to get together. They look on the event page and see that people have read the message (it tells you) but you see only 3 responses out of 50 and they are maybes. How would you feel? Probably a little dejected since it seems as if people couldn’t care less about you. We’ll call that digital friendship anxiety.
Now what about this word ‘Community’ that keeps popping up on church signs and seems to be a buzz word the government wants to promote but has no clue how to do it. I’m more than a little annoyed at the use of community in churches because a number of these conversations I’ve had recently were about people who felt abandoned by their church community…their supposed “friends in Christ” (another annoying phrase that needs deconstructing). Why pretend you’re a community when you exhibit none of the signs of true friendship? Friends get together and share experiences. Does that happen on Sunday? Maybe but it’s a few hours out of the week. Have your church friends been to your house or the houses of other people in church? Are they beside you in a crisis? Or abandon each other when it becomes uncomfortable? Do they call you friend but never come to your house or call or text?
The amount of pathetic excuses people come up with today is enough to make one give up and become a hermit. However busy you are should never take precedent over friendship. Your personal insecurities cannot be an excuse because it is in the community of friends where comfort and help exist. If you have a fight with someone the friendship isn’t over because friends fight.
Emmanuel Levinas’ idea of radical hospitality is an interesting way to look at friendship and would be a great place for people who are suffering from friendship anxiety to start. Open yourself up to people around you and expect to get hurt, be disappointed, experience love, etc. We have to be able to overcome our own little quirks when it comes to other people because they are going to have little quirks as well. It may be that you are the one who has to do the calling or texting or planning at the start but if everyone took on this burden many more would benefit. It’s something worth trying.