Watching my five- and three-year-old sons navigate a new preschool has made me look at the idea of friendship in a new light. I see courage in my little ones, as they approach someone new, asking them to play – asking for friendship. Already in their young lives, they know that the answer might be yes and it might be no. I want to make this journey easier for my children, but know that I cannot. Lately, my older son has been talking of “marriage” with a few of his new friends. I try to encourage him to wait to make any proposals. Telling him that he really does not need to make a decision of such importance for some time. Yet, I see that what he yearns for is connection and a promise. A promise that this trusted friend will be there tomorrow, just as excited to play with him as he / she is today. I wish it were that simple. Maybe in the best circumstances it is.
Wikipedia defines friendship as, “…a relationship between two people who hold mutual affection for each other.”
“The value of friendship is often the result of friends consistently demonstrating the following:
- The tendency to desire what is best for the other
- Sympathy and empathy
- Honesty, even in situations where it may be difficult for others to speak the truth
- Mutual understanding and compassion; ability to go to each other for emotional support
- Enjoyment of each other’s company
- Trust in one another
- Positively strong, deep, close reciprocity, mutuality—equal give-and-take between the two parties
- The ability to be oneself, express one’s feelings and make mistakes without fear of judgement.”
Wikipedia goes on to say that the American Sociological Review found that the quality and quantity of close friendships in America has been on the decline over the past thirty years. “The study states that 25% of Americans have no close confidants and that the average total number of confidants per person has dropped from four to two.” How sad is this?
Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner, is a modern piece of literature that focuses on the theme of friendship. There is something timeless about this novel that makes me want to revisit its message again and again as I move through my life. It is a thoughtful, quiet work that meditates on the half-century long relationship between two couples. Stegner looks at what it is like to truly feel known by other people. Throughout this book, it is clear how much these relationships have shaped each character’s life and been a touchstone for important moments of growth and change. I see this to be true in my own life.
Friendship is unlike marriage, where although it is not always lasting, there is a contract and a stated commitment. There are rarely formal contracts in friendship. Parties take part for as long as it satisfies a need. Individuals are free to come and go. But don’t we have a commitment to one another?
Where I land on this topic is I expect my friends to stick around. As in the Wikipedia definition, I expect there to be a level of trust and mutual respect. In the best scenarios, friends can become the family we choose. These important relationships can be a thing that helps to define our lives. Connection is important. I believe that people with connection live longer, more fulfilled lives. This is what I wish for myself and my family, a life filled with connection and community. As we move towards this season of giving thanks, I find I am thankful for my friends. I am thankful for how many of you have defined portions of my life and helped to shape the person I am. You have allowed my family to become a part of yours.
“There it was, there it is, the place where during the best time of our lives friendship had its home and happiness its headquarters.”
― Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety