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What Has Happened to True, Deep, and Lasting Friendship in our Culture? Do You Have Close Friends? Really? Who?

September 14, 2015

blog9-14-2015One of the (many) troublesome aspects of the modern age is the demise of friendship. While the terms “friend” and “friendship” might be bandied about rather easily today, they do not usually mean friendship in its deeper and original sense. Rather, we use the terms to refer to “acquaintances” rather than friends. True friendship has a depth, history, and stability. It involves some sort of commonality of life and a deeper knowledge of the other.

Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, drawing on the Thomistic tradition, has this to say about friendship:

Every true friendship, St Thomas tells us, implies three qualities: it is first of all the love of benevolence. By which a man wishes good to another as to himself … [Further] Every true friendship presupposes the love of mutual benevolence, for it is not sufficient that it exist on the part of one person only …. Lastly … friendship requires a community of life (convivere). It implies that people know each other, love each other, live together, spiritually at least, by the exchange of most secret thoughts and feelings. Friendship thus conceived tends to a very close union of thought, feeling, willing, prayer, and action (Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Spiritual Life, Vol II, pp. 188-189 Tan Publications).

Notice the emphasis on sharing private thoughts and feelings, as well as the close union of thoughts, feelings, actions, prayers, and wills. True friendship involves more than the knowledge of acquaintances.

A director of a clinic for the treatment of psychological matters once recounted that as he conducted entrance interviews for those beginning an inpatient treatment program, he would ask them how many friends they had. He would often receive expressive answers such as “Oh, I have lots of friends!” Their answers indicated that they did not really understand what he meant. So he would rephrase the question: “How many people do you share deeply with? How many people on this planet know almost everything about you? How many know that you’re here at this treatment program and why? Did any of them help to get you here?” Questions like these tended to generate blank stares.

Fewer and fewer people have relationships of this deeper nature. True friendships, with all the qualities described above, are increasingly rare in our culture today.

There are many reasons for this.

  1. First, many people today are quite mobile. It is not unusual for people to move several times during their life. Fewer and fewer people grow up, live, and die in the same town. And even those who do have long roots in a certain community will tell you how dramatically it has changed over the years.
  2. We are also very mobile in terms of our daily activity. Because of the automobile, trains, and especially planes, many no longer limit their activities to their home town or places nearby. They may commute a couple of hours each day and be involved in activities far away from their neighborhood churches, schools, doctors, and hospitals. They may not even frequent the neighborhood shopping centers. It seems there is little opportunity or need to interact with people who live close by.
  3. And then there is the pace of life. We all seem to be in a big hurry to get somewhere else. The idea of lingering over a cup of coffee seems rare. The few times we do take our time to converse and such things, it is usually in loud bars where communication is actually quite difficult. And if perchance we are in a setting where we are in the presence of others for a lengthy period (e.g., a subway, train, or plane) most people are focused on their cell phones. We seem more interested in information about people far away, many of whom we have never even met.

None of these factors is the stuff that leads to the development of deep, lasting friendships. Most people in our lives are merely acquaintances. We know very little about most of the people we interact with, even those we encounter every day. Even family relationships are often cursory and shallow. Long dinners or extended conversations are rare as family members run off to practices, meetings, shopping, and work.

The lack of deep friendships in the true sense of the word causes many issues. True friends help form our personalities, completing what we lack. True friends rebuke sins and other troublesome quirks we can develop. True friends encourage and enrich us. Without true friends we remain incomplete. Without the necessary rebuke that friends can give, we suffer from pride and other egotistical character defects.

Scripture both commends friendship and warns against regarding mere acquaintances as friends.

  1. Woe to the solitary man! For if he should fall, he has no one to lift him up (Ecclesiastes 4:11).
  2. Let your acquaintances be many, but your advisers one in a thousand (Sirach 6:5-6).
  3. A faithful friend is a sure shelter, whoever finds one has found a rare treasure. A faithful friend is something beyond price, there is no measuring his worth. A faithful friend is the elixir of life, and those who fear the Lord will find one. Whoever fears the Lord makes true friends, for as a man is, so is his friend (Sirach 6:14-17).
  4. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy (Prov 27:6)
  5. A true friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity (Prov 17:17).
  6. A man of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov 18:24).
  7. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away (Prov 27:10).

Therefore our friends should not necessarily be numerous. We ought to be selective in what we share with whom. But all the more reason, then, that we should have close friends with whom we share almost everything.

Do you have close friends? 

  1. Are there people who know almost everything about you?
  2. Are there people who can rebuke you, correct you, or summon you to humility?
  3. Are there people about whom you know almost everything and whom you can rebuke with love for their own good?
  4. Is there anyone who looks to you for advice, and who can turn to you for necessary encouragement?
  5. Is there anyone whom you love and esteem for his or her own sake, not merely for what you can get?
  6. Is there anyone whom you are not anxious to impress, to whom you can speak the truth, and who will speak to you truthfully?
  7. Is there anyone who would care enough about you to be present with you in great adversity?
  8. Is there anyone whom you would gladly assist in his or her time of need?

If so, who? Please consider naming your true friends in your heart.

I pray that you do have true friends. But true friendship is rare in this changing, hurried, and polemic culture. Consider well the need for true friends, for deep friendships that are stable and lasting. We all need friends for the reasons stated and more.

What has happened to friendship in our culture? How do you see it?

This song is a rather good description of true friendship.

Comments (7)

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  1. Katherine M ERT says:

    You have a very interesting observation on true friendship, because it is true, at least in my own life. I do have many that I would call friends, but only a few that are very close friends, to the point where we know everything about one another and call each other out on stuff. True friends won’t leave you or get really mad at you for screwing up, or making a mistake. I tend to connect with people and form friendships on a very deep conversation or insight. It makes me frustrated when I do connect with someone that could be a good friend, and they stink at e-mailing or calling people back. I don’t expect a response instantaneously, but I do expect a response nonetheless especially in the being-absorbed-in-the-smartphones era.

    Great post, as always, you give food for thought!

  2. Cynthia Simon says:

    Both my husband and I came from big families. Our brothers, sisters and cousins were our first best friends. We prayed, played, worked and even had some arguing and fights together. We still call them the good ‘ole days and we remain close to this day. We grew up in towns that had loads of kids. They were our second best friends. We were a true community, where the kids joined the same parks and recreation activities, went to school together, and most of us went to the same Catholic Church together. We played, prayed, went over each others houses and later were reunited by school reunions and such. Once college days came along we all mixed with the larger world. Families grew smaller. People are absorbed by their electronic devices. We’ve lost a lot of real connections by substituting self absorbing activities in an increasingly secularized society among an explosion of broken families. The children coming out of so many broken families today have more problems than a generation ago, leaving the young parents of today swapping stories at work break times about unhappy children who have difficulty socializing and who deal with a plethora of psychological problems. With the breakdown of the family and more committed childless couples, you are left with asking not where are the deep friendships; but where are the whole happy families with a mother, father and lots of children who make the best of friends first out of the family unit and secondarily with neighbors and people of the world. We need to preserve the family unit. Love starts here and friendships are made possible through good wholesome families. We all have to take a serious look at what we need to do to preserve the family unit.

  3. Cris Riego says:

    You speak truth Msgr….you speak truth! Another factor is that people are so guarded for fear of hurt or rejection (me included) that they choose not to have a deeper friendship with others. In a sense it becomes second nature or a triggered response.

  4. edraCRUZ says:

    Three very good friends in times of joy and sorrow. We evangelized together from place to place being available to give talks about our faith even before the call of the Popes for The New Evangelization. Though we are far apart now, sent forth to different countries, we still contact each other and one even became a business partner. We have the same bucket list of visiting Jerusalem, Rome, Lourdes, Fatima, and Basilicas of Guadalupe and Washington. They say familiarity breeds contempt but to us familiarity breeds understanding and agape love. We also have our prayer communities who provide support one way or the other. Of course, we have a great friend in JESUS and HE is to whom we truly run to and to HIS Mother to whom we pour our hearts to when we think JESUS is kinda busy with the other petitions. Hehehe. YHWH SHAMMAH.

  5. Jamie Ryan says:

    Your words ring so true, Msgr. Those of us who relocate for work or other reasons almost inevitably lose our childhood, hometown, or college friendships. It is extremely hard to cultivate new friendships (with the qualities you describe) in new locations.

    Upon my relocation to Washington, DC seven years ago, I looked to new church community as a likely source of friends. What I surprise I got. No welcome; no interest; nothing…and I am talking about a couple of the major churches in the downtown area. Later, I learned that my evangelical work colleagues EXPECT to find a welcoming community when they relocate and join a new church. They have Bible study and so on…but they also reach out to new members, invite them out, have them round for dinner, help them get settled, take steps to become friends. Seven years later, I can count on one hand the number of acquaintances (let alone close friends) that I have developed in Catholic congregations.

  6. CMP says:

    My one friend is my older brother, because he’s the only person I can be completely honest with, and I know him very well (I can practically read his mind). The sad thing is I rarely see him because of our conflicting schedules. I am recently graduated from university, and recently I’ve realized that my “friends” really are more acquaintances. They live far away, or are out of town, and rarely reach out to say hi or ask how I’m doing . I do have many, many aquaintances, but I never feel as if they really know me. Life can be tough if you don’t have a friend to lean on and support. I started praying a novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help for a couple of true friends, and it was perfect timing that you wrote a post on Friendship, Monsignor, in the middle of my novena. 🙂 I’ve been reading the Anne of Green Gables series, which has also reminded me of the need for true friendships. 🙂

  7. JP says:

    It’s not just friendship. Marriage has disappeared. Single Catholics can’t get married.