Friendship Archives

The great modern enemy of friendship is…love?

I suppose that sounds kind of counter-intuitive, doesn’t it?

Andrew Sullivan wrote a long chapter about friendship in his book Love Undetectable and says our modern fixation on eros/romantic love is such that “it has acquired all the hallmarks of a cult. It has become our civil religion.”

This means, of course, that friendship no longer has the exalted status it once did, when friendship was viewed as equal to married love. Thus, love (eros) is the great modern enemy of friendship.

Interestingly, Sullivan (a Catholic) partially blames churches for the idolatry of eros in today’s culture:

“[the church] is now our culture’s primary and obsessive propagandists for the marital unit and its capacity to resolve all human ills and satisfy all human needs.

Far from seeing divorce and abortion and sexual disease as reasons to question our society’s apotheosis of eros, these churches see them merely as opportunities to intensify the idolatry of eros.

Friendship is an antidote to this idolatry because, at least according to Aristotle and Augustine, friendship is bound up with the notion of virtue.

Now, I’ve heard this a lot before, that virtue is central to friendship, and I always get a little perplexed. I can’t say I’ve ever entered into a friendship with the specific intent that the friend would help me become more virtuous.

Sullivan expands on this in a helpful way by quoting Aristotle:

And the best works done and those which deserve the highest praise are those that are done to one’s friends.

Sullivan also says:

Someone is not a true friend because it’s useful for him; he is a friend in order that he might be useful for someone else.

That’s pretty cool. Although this is something of a paradox because Sullivan also makes the point that friendship is a reciprocal relationship between equals and friendship isn’t at all about the mutual fulfillment of needs:

A friend will only rarely ask a friend for money, or for lodging or for a favor. He will not want to strain the relationship…this is why a true friend is relieved when a friend no longer has to stay in his house or owes him money or is best by sickness. For then the friendship can begin again…liberated to breathe the oxygen of independence.

This is a relief to me because I’m the queen of “I don’t want to be a bother.”

Maybe I’m not so off base after all (although writing these posts on friendship makes me see how I so need to get my act together as a friend. Ahem). The key, I guess, is reciprocity, which maintains the oxygen of independence rather than polluting it with neediness.

This independence leads to a second way that friendship counter-balances the fixation on eros…it makes possible an honesty that can’t flourish to the same extent in marriage or in a romantic relationship:

We are constantly told how happy marriages and successful love affairs are built on complete honesty, but that is obviously bad advice. All love requires something of an illusion about the other person…

Friendships, in contrast, have enough space that bracing honesty can be a tonic. They are places where the trust is so great, and the distance sufficient, that nothing is out of bounds for discussion, even the most intimate secrets and humiliating truths. For in love, humiliation is a real and constant threat; in a true friendship, humiliation is an impossibility.

What do we tell our friends? We tell them everything. And we are not afraid of embarrassing ourselves or boring each other.

I’ve said before that communication is overrated in marriage. When it comes to friendship, however, this is not the case.

I’ll close with a quote from Cicero:

And this is what we mean by friends: even when they are absent, they are with us; even when they lack some things, they have an abundance of others; even when they are weak, they are strong; and, harder still to say, even when they are dead, they are alive.


What It Really Means To Be a BFF

The phrase “one soul in two bodies” most likely makes you think of marriage or a romantic partnership, right?

Yet Paul O’Callaghan, an Orthodox priest and author of The Feast of Friendship, says “one soul in two bodies” is one of the most ancient metaphors for friendship.

Friendship doesn’t get the attention marriage and romance does, so I appreciate Feast of Friendship and will touch on some of the main characteristics of deep friendship he discusses in his book.

1. Similar temperaments – When it comes to marriage, opposites often attract. This is not so with close friendships.

O’Callaghan says the sense of unity in friendship occurs when friends have similar temperaments. He cites the Myers-Briggs temperament indicator, which is based on the work of Carl Jung.

When moments of “synchronicity” occur, such as uncanny similarities in thoughts, feelings or activities that seem almost psychic in nature, it’s at least partially because the two people are hard-wired in a nearly identical way.

2. Creativity – O’Callaghan says it’s vital to understand how friends stimulate our creativity.

Whoa: “Friendship is creative, but it’s the friends who create one another.”

So often our friends see in us a potential for goodness we cannot see ourself. Through their love for us, they bring unsuspected aspects of our ourself to life.
Or sometimes we see these possibilities but are not able to touch them. It does not matter. Our friends touch them, our friends draw them out of ourself. Through them we are put in touch with the deepest, most promising aspects of ourself. They lead us to discover ourself in ways we had not known before.

3. The Unconscious and Archetypes - Friendship largely takes place on a conscious level, but unconscious forces are powerfully active within it. O’Callaghan draws on Jung again to explore this.

Sometimes a friend embodies an archetypal image for another, such as mother, sister, conquering hero, wise sage, etc.

More whoa: The symbolic role played by a friend in one’s life “may be vital to personal integration and wholeness.”

O’Callaghan says that just like there is a greater “collective unconscious,” there is also a collective unconscious within deep friendship that forms and characterizes that particular friendship.

4. Fruitfulness – Friendships “dead-end” when the focus is only on each other, therefore the power of friendship should not be limited to the friends themselves.

When there is deep unity “the relationship becomes an interpersonal person.”

It becomes necessary for the friends to find a common vision or cause larger than themselves. “For a relationship, like an individual, must reach beyond itself or wither.”

He gives as examples ministry, social service, prayer, common projects, and building institutions.

5. Distance – True friends relish the distance between them as much as the communion that unites them. This keeps friendship from turning into self-love, idolatry or narcissism.

O’Callaghan quotes author (and well-known blogger) Andrew Sullivan:

To ask what a friend is for is to mistake the nature of a friend. A friend is for herself and for nothing else. If you enter into a friendship to be less lonely, then it is not friendship.
6. Secrecy – Not secrecy in the sense of things deliberately being kept from others, but in the sense that there are so many things unique to the friendship – euphemisms, private jokes, nicknames, a language all their own – that an outsider couldn’t ever understand it because it’s a world only the friends can inhabit.

Finally, O’Callaghan says that the nature of true friendship is “embedded in the fundamental mysteries of the Christian faith.” He refers to an ancient church ritual called adelphopoesis, which was a sacramental rite for the blessing of a friendship.

Unfortunately this ritual fell into disuse a long time ago so I guess it’s up to us to bless and celebrate the feast of friendship.

The case for 30 minute friendships

In this age of social media, we toss about the term BFF (Best Friends Forever) pretty casually.

Many friendships aren’t of the “forever” variety, however, and have a shelf life even though Facebook makes it possible to artificially extend that shelf life and let us pretend we still have some sort of connection.

Some friendships are only of the 30 minute variety – someone you meet briefly and really click with but there isn’t the possibility of anything more.

For example, a couple of summers ago I was at a park and couldn’t help but initiate a conversation with another mother there who was wearing capris in the exact length and style I had been looking for.

She told me where she bought them and we chatted effortlessly for about a half hour, as if we were old friends, and we laughed and had a good time. I almost asked her if she’s on Facebook but refrained and gracefully submitted to the 30 minute shelf life.

Another 30 minutes friendship I vividly recall was at the end of my senior year of college.

I ran into a student who had taken an English class with me that semester. We hardly spoke to each other while we were students in class together. But this time, as we stood on the library mall on campus, we had a 30 minute or so conversation that was deep and we really clicked.

There was no email or Facebook then so at the end of the conversation I knew that our friendship was only meant to be a 30 minute one.

Except I just cheated…after typing that I googled him (his name is unusual and I hadn’t forgotten it) and see that he has a doctorate in psychology and has a practice a couple of hours from here.

See? Thanks to Google and social media sites, it’s possible to both resurrect old friendships (including ones that shouldn’t be resurrected) as well as artificially extend the shelf life of friendships that would have naturally ended.

I’m content letting him remain in the 30 minute category, however.

The nice thing about a life peppered with the occasional 30 minute friendship is that these friendships help remind you to be thankful for the friends that actually are of the “forever” variety.


What happens when golf is about golf

It’s funny.

As important as golf was to my friendship with my high school best friend, you’d think my college best friend and I would’ve raced out to the golf course together right after learning we both played golf.

That’s what normal friends would do upon learning they have a shared interest.

Except we didn’t do that.

In fact, we both seemed to go out of our way to not talk to each other about golf after that.

We lived together for three years, spent tons of time together and were very open with each other about everything…except golf and our grade point averages. Those were the two great undiscussed topics.

During the spring of my junior year we worked up the nerve to confess our grade point averages to each other. We braced ourselves, fearing the other person would have a much better GPA. We laughed and laughed when we found out our GPAs were identical.

After that confession it became easier to bring up the topic of golf again. We sheepishly admitted to each other that the reason we never talked about golf, much less golfed together, is because we were afraid we would become competitive on the golf course and that it would harm our friendship.

We laughed at the silliness of that. You’d think we would’ve set up a tee time after that, but no. We were still afraid that golfing together would be all about golf.

Finally, FINALLY, about 12 years after college graduation, we decided to be brave and go golfing together at a golf course somewhere near the Twin Cities.

We laughed uncontrollably many times at our silly shots. We kept score (I won by a few strokes!) but it didn’t matter. Besides, we did so much cheating anyway so the scores were’t all that precise.

We laughed so much I think I was literally high on laughter when we finally walked into the parking lot after our game. It was the most fun we’ve ever had together and the most fun I’ve ever had on a golf course…and it had nothing to do with golf.


When golf has nothing to do with golf

I was an avid golfer for ten years, from the ages of 12-22 years old.

It occurred to me recently that playing golf had NOTHING to do with golf.

Instead it had everything to do with my father, a dead ten-year-old boy and my high school best friend.

When I was 12 years old my dad took me to the driving range.

I had never held a golf club before so he gave me a little lesson. I’m sure I was fascinated by hearing my taciturn father speak so many words in a row.

I teed up my first shot and knocked it about 150 yards. He was most impressed.

Not long after that I scored a 65 during my first round of nine holes and he seemed pleased.

He was not a man to dole out praise so no doubt that’s what fueled my interest in golf in the early going.

Plus I impressed the heck out of the neighbor kids when one of my errant tee shots knocked a squirrel out of a tree. I lived off that story for quite a while.

Anyway, it never occurred to me to ask my best friend to golf with me. It didn’t seem like it would be her thing at all. She was into horses and stuff.

Then, one Friday in May 1982, I cheerfully said “have a great weekend!” to her as we boarded our respective school buses.

Later that evening she hitched her horse up to a wagon and set out for a wagon ride with her parents. Her 10-year-old brother Jeff hopped on his bike and joined them.

He raced a little distance ahead of them. It was near sunset and a driver’s eyes were temporarily blinded by the sun as he drove down that country road where Jeff was pedaling.

His car hit Jeff and killed him instantly. My friend and her parents arrived on the scene a minute or two later.

The next morning my friend’s grandmother called my mother with the news.

My mom came to the table where my 11-year-old brother (who was friends with Jeff) and I were eating breakfast and told us what happened.

My brother started crying. His tears literally splashed into his cereal bowl and he kept eating cereal as he cried, as if he was in shock.

For once, I wasn’t irritated by his noisy way of eating cereal.

For once, I didn’t roll my eyes at the sight of him crying.

It was the first time I saw him cry for selfless reasons. It’s a mental snapshot I feel privileged to have tucked in my memory.

Then came the visitation and the sight of Jeff in his Cub Scout uniform in his casket was too heart-wrenching.

Even my dad cried. It’s the only time I’ve seen him cry. Another mental snapshot that I gently filed away in my memory.

Then came the day that I was anxious about, when my friend returned to school.

What would I say to her? I couldn’t just pretend that life was normal. Plus, I still had a little brother…and she didn’t.

I was only 15 and didn’t have enough life experience to have anything profound or comforting to say.

Inexplicably, I ended up inviting her to the driving range and she accepted.

I gave her a little lesson at the range and she knocked a 150 yard drive before we were done.

A neighbor gave her an old set of clubs and we proceeded to play golf together as often as possible during the next several summers.

Golf gave us something to do with our hands as we talked and laughed. And dissed the Illinois golfers who would clog our southern Wisconsin golf course on the weekends. And rolled our eyes at the drunken twentysomething male golfers who would hit on us sometimes.

Golf also made it easy for us to be quiet together.

In short, golfing had NOTHING to do with golf.


Tomorrow’s golf story will be more upbeat. Stay tuned!


Another ode to George & Martha

Yesterday a neighbor friend wandered into my yard and noticed that there were crocuses in bloom in the “way back” of my yard.

This was news to me. I had no idea we had crocuses back there. My back yard is very large and, sadly, I often don’t go into the way back unless I’m mowing.

Then I told her I need to buy some more bark chips for a flower bed and she pointed out all the bark chips at the base of my silver maple trees.

She said she uses those in lieu of buying mulch. Funny, I had never really noticed those bark chips before and certainly never thought to use them in that way.

Then in the evening I walked briskly through the living room, my mind focused on the pressing tasks on my agenda.

My youngest daughter stopped my and pointed out the picture window and said, “Look at the sky!”

She insisted on taking a photo with my Blackberry phone.

My oldest daughter, the only one who knows how to use our complicated Nikon camera, would be appalled that I posted that photo, because it’s unedited (I don’t know how to use PhotoShop).

But I’m pretty sure she doesn’t read this blog so I’m safe. :D

Then I sat down to read a hilarious blog that I had discovered a few days ago. Someone brought a post to my attention that was hilarious and I showed it to a friend.

She went on to discover other great posts on that blog that I hadn’t noticed myself and brought them to my attention. These have given me much needed laughs this week (and will be this week’s Fun Friday feature).

It seems the people in my life are forever noticing things I would have missed.

All of which reminds me of my favorite George and Martha
story (George & Martha is a children’s book about two best friends. It’s my favorite book about friendship and I’ve written about it before here).

It’s a nice sunny day and Martha sees that it’s a perfect day for a picnic.

George keeps snoozing on his bed and refuses to budge. So Martha pushes him to the park in his bed and they have a picnic.

George finally gets up and notices that it’s a great day after all and enjoys the picnic.

Martha falls asleep because of all the work she put into pushing George to the picnic.

I’m sure I’ve exhausted a few friends over the years as they’ve “pushed” me.

But that’s what friends are for I guess. :-)

Or as that U2 song goes: “A friend is someone who lets you help.”


Fun Friday: Imagination Girl and Vicki the Biker

We’ve had a few unusually warm March days this week so I spent quite a bit of time at the park with my youngest daughter.

Yesterday she didn’t have playmates at the park because there were no big sisters or other kids around, so she played alone for some time while I sat and read a book.

After a while she ran up to me and said that her new friend, Imagination Girl, had to leave for a few minutes.

“Imagination Girl?” I asked.

“My new invisible friend,” she said.

“What’s her superpower?”

“She makes little girls feel less sad and less lonely,” she said.  Awwww.

I thought it was fun how she invented a new character in her life on the spot.

It occurred to me that this invisible friend thing isn’t just a kid thing.

Moms have invisible friends/alter egos too, as the Vicki the Biker character in Rose is Rose shows us:

I love Vicki the Biker (check out an archives here) and wish that character appeared in Rose is Rose at least once a week:

Rose Is Rose

Here’s one more:

Rose Is Rose

In almost every close friendship I’ve had since I was a teenager, the friend and I have had various personas, alter ego characters and sometimes nicknames for each other that are unique to the friendship.

These alter egos/invisible friends have been named The Phantom, Sybil, Dixie the diner waitress, etc. For some reason these characters just
developed naturally and if one friend was struggling with, say, being assertive in a situation the other could say, “It’s time to channel your inner Vicki the Biker.”

I guess you don’t have to be a novelist to create characters in your life.


We are caretakers of each other’s stories

Whenever I get together with the woman who was my best friend in college, we inevitably tell each other stories from our college days.

Because we were roommates for three years and spent an enormous amount of time together, she is part of most of my college stories.

Fortunately we have many shared memories. Yet many times, when I tell her a college story about the two of us, she doesn’t remember the particular memory I’m talking about. The same thing happens when she tells me a story about something the two of us did. I can’t recall that memory.

We always laugh about this and neither one of us can figure out why this happens.

It’s almost as if, when the actual event happened, I subconsciously said to myself, “I don’t have to remember this because she will.” And vice versa.

It’s also frustrating because some of the stories she tells are wildly interesting and I wish I could remember them!

I don’t know what to make of this except to say that it’s like each of us has been appointed to be caretaker of some of the other person’s stories. For some reason, it’s my job to keep the memory alive of certain stories about my friend and vice versa.

It’s also humbling…my memory of my college experience is incomplete because I need my friend to provide the missing stories.

It’s also highly intriguing to listen to a story of myself when I can’t recall the actual memory. It’s like watching myself in a movie.

All of us are caretakers of each other’s stories.

When you discover that you are in possession of a story that the other person doesn’t remember, treat this story like a gift.

Just like libraries have rare book rooms where they put their most special books, you should, with the same care and reverence, file these stories in a special place in your memory and bring them out on special occasions.


17 lessons in friendship from George and Martha

On Amazon there are 34,656 books about friendship.

Half of these books are children’s books.

Clearly friendship is perceived as a kid thing and doesn’t get the publicity that other relationships do (there are 92,769 books on Amazon about marriage).

My favorite book about friendship is George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends by James Marshall.

It’s a children’s book, of course, and the two characters are hippopotamuses. But I think even adults can learn a thing or two about friendship from George and Martha:

1. It’s OK to be honest. George didn’t have the courage to tell Martha he didn’t care for her split pea soup but she found out and was happy to make him something he liked instead.

2. It’s OK to be nosy but privacy is important. Martha didn’t let George peek in her diary, even when he asked politely.

3. If you’re too vain your friend has a right to call you on it. George put a silly picture on Martha’s mirror because she was too fond of looking in the mirror.

4. Friends always look on the bright side and know how to cheer you up, even if, like George, you have a broken tooth and feel ugly.

5. Friends show interest in their friend’s interests even if they have no interest themselves. George dragged himself to Martha’s dance recital and ended up enjoying it.

6. t’s hard to fool friends. When George wore different costumes Martha always recognized him.

7. Friends never say “I told you so.”  George quietly took care of sunburned Martha who had ignored his advice to put on sunblock.

8. A friend hates to see you unhappy. George bought tulips for Martha when she cried about how her garden was overrun with weeds.

9. Friends know right away when you aren’t being authentic. George told fibs about being a champion jumper and a snake charmer but Martha knew better.

10. Friends nudge you outside your comfort zone sometimes. George wouldn’t get out of bed to go on a picnic with her so she pushed him in the bed all the way to the park. He ended up enjoying the picnic.

11. There’s no reason to be jealous of your friend. George wouldn’t let Martha see the secret clubhouse he was building and she was beside herself with jealousy, only to find out later that it was a fan club for her.

12. Friends help you regain your confidence. Martha started wobbling on the tight rope so George did some fast talking to restore her confidence.

13. Don’t scare your friends because they might scare you back.

14. Sometimes friends need time alone. Martha was angry when George wouldn’t spend an afternoon with her but she ended up having lots of fun by herself playing her saxophone.

15. Sometimes a friend has to be dramatic to make a point. George wouldn’t listen to Martha when she told him to stop eating so many sweets. So, to George’s horror, she started smoking a cigar. He stopped eating sweets.

16. Laughter is the best gift you can give your friend.

17. Good friends can’t stay cross for long.