If you haven’t already read the first part in this series, you can do so here.
Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit. -Aristotle
Recently, while talking with my Grandmother about the topic of friendship, I shared a thought with her. I asked her to think of her closest friend, and to imagine having to go through all the life she’s been through again without that person. She immediately shook her head and said, “Oh I couldn’t do it.”
It’s a thought I’ve considered several times before, as I think it is an interesting one. A certain friend of mine, before his wedding, gave a gift to each one of his groomsmen. It was a journal, and in mine he wrote that the best gifts he had received in his friendships were the personal ones. He also answered the question the same way my Grandmother did, stating that he couldn’t imagine going through life again without his closest friends.
Typically, when someone says something to the manner of “Where would we be without…or what would such and such be like if not for…”, I tend to lean towards the thought that something else might’ve come along anyway. But even so, it’s an interesting thought that raises another question: Is friendship expendable, or to say it differently, can a friendship be easily replaced? To answer this question, I think it’s important to first consider how friendship shapes us.
In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis said this about friendship:
In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out.
I have found that to be very true in my own experience. Certain friends make me seek out as much laughter as possible, while others slow me down and make me seek to prolong deep discussion. With some friends, I discuss everything under the sun, and with others I linger on a small range on topics. With some, I can go months or even years without speaking to them, and we can pick up where we left off almost immediately. With others, however, we both take the distance hard, and it has a stagnating effect on our relationship. Friendship is an elusive force. All my life, I have somehow managed to make a number of friends wherever I’ve gone, but even so, when it comes to establishing new friendships, I find myself to be embarrassingly unequipped. It is as Aslan said to Lucy in the Narnian story Prince Caspian: “Things never happen the same way twice.”
This is another one of the great mysteries of friendship. When it comes to making friends, we have only our past experiences to guide us, but more often than not, they do little to serve us in creating new bonds. One reason this seems to be true is because we are unable to see the whole picture of what friendship does to us. We can look back on how friendships have shaped us, but the problem there is that memory is a tricky thing that can easily be swayed to adjust to the present outlook. With this in mind, it’s essentially impossible to say whether or not one friendship could’ve been replaced by another.
As I mentioned in the last post, we, like everything around us, are constantly changing. In terms of long-lasting friendship, meaning friendships that go on for long periods of time, this means that some friendships may not always work in every stage of life. A grade school friendship isn’t cut out to handle adult issues. It’s just not fit for it. In the same way, the grade school formula for making friends isn’t nearly as effective in later stages of life. This is easily seen in the case of someone who leaves their hometown after high school, and then returns and tries to rekindle an old relationship. For some this works, but more often than not, the friendship doesn’t go far, because it’s generally too focused on recreating past experiences, thus neglecting the personal changes that have occurred over time.
This is the great difficulty in developing long-lasting friendships, because it requires the friendship to change over time. New seasons of life bring new challenges, and some relationships aren’t always prepared for this. Sometimes, it’s merely distance that creates the divide. Other times, it involves changes in values. Bruce Lee summed it up this way:
Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable.
The fire metaphor is among the best I’ve found. Fires must be kindled in order to grow, but even as they grow, they are constantly changing. Think of how a campfire changes in form over the course of a night. At first, it is generally very tidy, but after the logs burn out, they fall inward, and, as Lee mentioned, they become coals. If more wood is thrown onto the fire, the coals will light them much quicker, but if not, they will eventually burn out. This is the difference in a short-term friendship and a long-lasting one. The short-term friendship catches fire for a while, but in time, it burns out. The long-lasting friendship is the one that remains, and as it matures, the core grows hotter and more potent. (It’s worth noting that a long-lasting friendship can sometimes take place over a short period of time, and the opposite is true for a short-term one. A friend can come and go for merely a season and still have a profound impact. Likewise, a friendship with a lifelong acquaintance can sometimes fail to ever “catch fire.” This is yet another great anomaly of friendship.)
In the third and final portion of this study, we’ll dig deeper still into friendship by asking one simple question: Why Friendship?