I grew up as a homeschool kid in New Jersey, under the wings of two very conservative Evangelical Christians. For 18 years, I had a singular primary social context for how the world worked, and how I interacted with others. The idea of a “friend” or “best friend” was not often discussed, because we were all “brothers” and “sisters” based on our relationship with God and Jesus. We were all part of a flock that supposedly believed in a few basic tenets about relational love for others. These “rules” about how to treat a sister or brother-in-Christ were often broken, in my own household growing up, and at church.
This left me confused about relationships in general. I found it hard to relate to people in college, as I strove to mimic my parents’ behaviors out of habit, and ignorance. I began to deceive my friends as my parents deceived people; I downplayed my emotions until they either became a drama volcano or a breakup. Sometimes it was both. Everyone around me in college had to deal with this, and as a result many of them don’t speak to me. I would be sad to hear what they had to say about my behavior almost 10 years ago now, but I would accept it. I was not a good friend. I did not know how to be a friend.
This decade-old quest to understand how to interact with others and how to relate to them, plagues me. It dogs the steps of every friendship I have. So lately there’s this big question on my mind.
What is a True Friendship?
First, I have many mythical or literary comparisons to answer this question. There are countless examples of True Friendship* in fiction. The story of Gilgamesh and Enkidu is a great example of true friends. Enkidu dies for his best friend and adventure companion, so that Gilgamesh can seek eternal life. Another favorite example of True Friendship are the March sisters in Little Women. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are some of the sweetest and most honest young women I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about. They sacrifice themselves for one another daily out of real, gritty love, in a time of darkness and death.
Of course, I could go on for quite some time about great literary and mythological True Friendships. Eustace and Jill, from The Silver Chair. Sam and Frodo, or Legolas and Gimli, or Gandalf and everyone, from The Lord of the Rings. Hermione, Ron, Neville, Luna, Sirius, Remus, Tonks, the Weasley family, and countless others from the Harry Potter series. These are people who fight and die for each other. They are honest with one another, and when they are not honest they regret it. There are no hidden agendas, no unspoken feelings. These people, fictional though they may be, have given me something to aspire to. They have shown me what True Friendship really is.
Some of my friends have shown me what a True Friendship is. A few people have lasted decades with me, despite all of the struggle, change, grief, and joy we have both gone through. I have best friends, newly made in the last seven years, somehow glad to put up with me and I with them. A True Friendship gives me a place to stand that makes me feel true to myself. These folks make me a better person, and I hope I improve their lives, too. The freedom to be ourselves tugs at our souls, and emerges within that open bond between two people.
This also highlights the consideration of relational connections that are not True Friendships. These humans are still friendly, and I will still support them. Perhaps we are even acquaintances. I enjoy their company, and enjoy hearing their stories or following their interesting lives. When I have the emotional capacity, I try to be sincere, and kind. I try to be honest. Sometimes, they need that kind of love from me, the same way I need it from others. Other times, my friendly advances are met with a closed door. That is OK. Everyone cannot be True Friends with everyone else. That is something special.
I wonder, what is an individual’s responsibility in a friendship? I think I have more responsibility towards a True Friendship than a basic, relational connection with someone. What do you think about friendship, and friends? What has your experience been with your fellow humans?
True Friendship – A term used to describe an intimate mutual, relational respect and candor between two creatures.