Until recently I conceived that I could speak with some cogency upon the subject of friends. Probably I viewed the theme as one of public knowledge and therefore common and uncomplicated. I have however learned rather disagreeably that my supposition was mistaken and that the topic requires greater analysis than I first imagined. Over the past year I have incrementally brought to light that I have fewer friends than I thought. What is relieving is my further deduction that I could care less, not because I disavow my friends but because the people I thought were friends are in fact not so. Certainly there was an association with them but that has dissipated. While it sounds to be a harsh realization, the apparent loss is nothing more than a natural amortization of a mandate fulfilled though certainly not a loss of friendship as I had initially feared.
This sticky branch of study is, like most things in life, easily resolved by employment of two tools – instinct and rationality – though neither of them is to be lightly undertaken. One must not allow the threat of loss to overshadow the instinctive sense of value; and rationality must not be so clinical as to disguise the finer human sensitivities. In sum, I have listened with my gut and responded with my mind. The unfolding was slow and taxing. The dissection of any problem is frequently so. The awakening nonetheless dawned upon me and I am satisfied that what I have done is right. There certainly has been fallout not the least of which is the cutting of ties. There are also some sobering precepts which if they are to have any legitimacy need to be implemented not merely dabbled with.
The trump card of friendship is that I must want to be friends with that person. This unqualified prescription excludes for example those associations which, as genuine and honestly prompted as they may be, are fuelled by mutual commercial interests. There are similar alliances which are calculated to achieve the satisfaction of both base and elevated confederacies, the latter of which might include political or charitable motivations. Those congresses are not driven by the desire to be or to become friends even though the inclination may be politely phrased as such. It is dangerous to fail to use language strictly in this context as the shortcoming can lead to misinterpretation and disappointment. I acknowledge that I have allowed myself to fall into that trap. Let me however be clear that aside from the resulting misunderstanding of the nature of the relationship there was nothing inherently wrong about the incentive.
There are two ways to get down a river: either you know where to go or where not to go. In matters of friendship I know that as charming and as provocative as certain people may be, I may not wish to be friends with them. The reason is not their lack of mental agility or personal interest; it is more that I am not prepared to give of myself to them rather than seek what I can gain from their partnership. This manifests what for me is the sine qua non of friendship – the comfort to be oneself. Anyone who imagines that anything more or less will suffice is misinformed. Friendship requires an utter disregard for the consequences of one’s private nature (which isn’t of course to say that one may be rude or calculating but rather that one mustn’t be concerned about tailoring one’s mind or conduct for purposes of cementing the relationship). If one has any worry whatever about that reservation, then better to quit while ahead!
Remarkably the gold digger is not a lost profession. These clever people, while occasionally deceiving themselves into thinking there is some substance to the association, are invariably motivated by self-interest and that is obviously unproductive of friendship. The target of this connivance often flatters himself to imagine that there is foundation for the allure though a cold study of it would readily reveal otherwise (whether based upon demographics or cause-and-effect principles). A quip may help to illustrate the point: “If she knows why she loves him she doesn’t”.
A more difficult admission about the quality of friendship is not one directed at others but one directed at oneself. While it is all too easy to mock the imperfections of others in these sensitive matters, we are not so enthusiastic about confessing our own preconceptions. I for one have foolishly allowed myself to believe I was being a friend to someone when in fact I had just short of an aversion to do so. This error is part and parcel of the misguided attempt to be friends with everyone. Nowhere is it written that we should be friends with everyone; and to pretend to do so does nothing more than trivialize the sanctity of the relationship. If we permit ourselves to lapse into that ambivalence we are destined to dismay.
If one therefore circumscribes the relationship of friendship on these terms it is understandable why we haven’t many friends. Some associations come close to that of friendship but very few succeed. This is no fault of the parties; it is merely a matter of fate and fortune. I venture to say that if you were to think about any friend you may now have, you would be hard pressed to ascribe any design to the connection. And even if you were to do so, I suspect the friendship arose in spite of the design.
My final word on the subject is this: do not pretend that others do not see in you the same opportunity you may see in them. If you are in the least alive to that hazard, I caution you not to presume a resulting friendship. Friendship is a far less blunt instrument of society.