What is Friendship?

A couple of days ago Bruce and I were having a conversation that we’ve had many times over the nineteen years we’ve been together. It related to our concern about social isolation. We wondered if we have enough friends and connections and if we spend enough time maintaining such things. We discussed people we know who still keep in contact with friends they knew when they were in school. We wondered if there was something wrong with us. We concerned ourselves about all the people we’ve known over time and have been close to that we don’t have contact with anymore. We raked up their names like concrete symbols of our failure to live our lives according to some arbitrary standard – neither of us knew where this standard came from.

We then went on to rationalize our failure in the ways people often do. We are both introverts so that makes juggling a whole host of friends a challenge. Right now, family commitments – kids and grandkids – are our first priority. We have chosen a lifestyle that revolves around living in an out-of-the-way place – it’s expensive and time-consuming for us to visit other people and over the years we have seen that it takes a lot to get people out here to visit us. We’ve both moved around a bit in terms of jobs and interests so people have come in and gone out of our lives.

(I’ll add a small aside here – having this kind of conversation is indicative of the type of people we are and sometimes I think it is great we have things in common and sometimes I think how much better it would be if one of us could say to the other – let’s just stop trying to rip apart our lives and analyze everything to death, here – OK?)

What was exciting about this recurring conversation was that this time we had a revelation. One of us asked a simple question – why do we always assume that the only valid friendships are ones that have lasted for years? That question flipped the whole topic on end – why indeed?

We started to discuss vital friendships that had been situational – when we moved on from that situation we didn’t stay in contact with these people but that didn’t negate the validity of that friendship. Our ideas opened to all types of encounters that we felt were genuine and life-giving – we let go of the need to judge these encounters based on how long they had lasted. Bruce thought about the campesinos he worked with while volunteering at a cooperative in Mexico. I talked about students I’ve taught and clients I’ve had. We realized that all of these relationships count.

I recalled a wonderfully brief encounter I had with a man while touring around the fabulous balconies and gardens of the Hearst Castle during our recent trip to Southern California. We ran  into each other on a set of stairs and he told me, with great enthusiasm, that the Bougainvillea peeking around the corner was incredible – a must see. I responded with equal enthusiasm, thrilled to actually get the name of this fabulous vine that I had been seeing in glorious bloom all around Southern California. He pointed out a nearby magnolia tree. I said I had lived in Victoria, British Columbia for a while and there were some beautiful magnolias there, too. He talked of how the one in his yard was not doing half as well as this one was. I explained my curiosity to know the names of all of these beautiful plants by saying I’m a writer and I collect tidbits of information – you never know when you will need to include a Bougainvillea vine in a story. He responded with excitement – a writer, how wonderful. I told him I write a blog – he said tell me the name of it – I’ll find it and read it. We talked no more than 3 or 4 minutes at the most but it was genuine and my day was made better by this encounter. I hope his was, too.

Bruce and I discovered that what really matters to us is whatever pushes back the walls of isolation between people. Our conversation ended on that note and the more I think about it, the more I believe it to be true.

We live in a world where most people are busy – things are fast paced – we wonder how time can go by so fast and we bemoan all the things we think we should do that we aren’t doing. Maybe we miss the importance of the opportunities that are presented in the little chance encounters we have with real people in real-time – let’s believe they count, because they really do.

PS to the man I met at the Hearst Castle – if you did find my blog, I hope you enjoy this post!


10 comments on “What is Friendship?

  1. jaschmehl says:

    “why do we always assume that the only valid friendships are ones that have lasted for years?” How incredibly thought provoking that statement is. I have so much guilt that I lug around with me over the connections that I have ‘lost’ over time. I should instead focus on what those short, but important, relationships added to my life as a whole. Thank you for posting this!

    • I hear you on the guilt thing, for sure – feel like shouting – ban the guilt – but we writer’s will use it, too. As I mentioned in another comment, writing the post was a good experience for me and reading comments like yours make it feel even more worthwhile.

  2. Luke French says:

    Wow. If only I could start every day with a powerful piece of writing like that! Thank you for sharing that Francis. I sometimes look at it as a shame, that that person I met that time and really got on with, was a stranger and is now gone forever. But really, my life is enriched for that brief snapshot. And what a great basis for a story…

  3. mysticcooking says:

    This was a lovely post, and a great way to think about friendships. I’m terrible at staying in touch with people, and I’ve slowly become less and less social over the years. Personally, I’m content in the relationships I have, but sometimes I feel guilty about the ones I’ve lost touch with, or wonder if that makes me a bad friend. I think focusing on the strength of the connection while it lasted instead of the duration is a wonderful idea. Thank you!

  4. It was only during my last year at university that I came out of my shell and began to form friendships. I have now lost touch with my friends from university days, however on moving to London in 1994 I made several very close friends who are extremely important to me. I’ve known two of them for over 20 years and another for 10 years or so.
    The word friendship can (and sadly is) devalued by modern society. For example how many of a Facebook user’s “Facebook Friends” are friends in the true meaning of the word? Very few in most instances.

    • I can’t help but think that at each stage of our life we are forming certain friendships for very specific reasons – those that stand the test of time are to be treasured, for sure. It is true that the word friend can seem trivial when looked at through the lens of Facebook – like how does one person maintain upwards of 500 friends?

  5. Wow, what an amazing post this is. I do believe I’ll pick up the phone and call a few of those friends I’ve neglected through time. Perhaps even pen a letter. This line really hit it home for me… [we miss the importance of the opportunities that are presented in the little chance encounters we have with real people in real-time]


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