On the Necessity of Friendship and the Loss of It In Our Times

One 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. People today are quite mobile. It is not unusual for people to move several times during their lifetime. 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. Our daily activity takes us far and wide. Because of the automobile, trains, and especially planes, many people 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. The pace of life today is rapid. 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 helps in 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 on a daily basis. Even family relationships are often 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 can 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 and with whom. 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 true friends.

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

This song is a rather good description of true friendship.

On the Demise of the True Love of Friends in an Age of Lost Innocence

One of the casualties of the sexual revolution has been the love that is friendship.

The Greek language has several different words for love. The love between friends is phileo, and is different from eros (physical, sensual love), storge (family love), and agape (selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love of God or another). Modern English sadly lacks such distinctions. However, in the past we were pretty well able navigate the different types of love and not read inaccurate motivations into them.

But in this hypersexualized world our capacity to distinguish among them has largely been lost and “love” between two human beings is simply presumed to mean erotic attraction.

Consider the awkward moment that might well be generated if one man were to say of another “I love that guy!” Or if a man says to another as he punches him on the shoulder, “Love you, man!” Even two (blood) brothers are almost forbidden to say to each other “I love you.” These once-common expressions from men might today create an awkward moment at best, perhaps arousing suspicions of homosexuality or unwanted advances.

Women also suffer. Consider the following incident, related by Denise C. McAllister in a recent piece in The Federalist.

Bye, I love you!” I said as I hung up the phone. My 15-year-old daughter was in the car at the time and asked who I was talking to. “My friend, Leslie, from Texas.” “A woman?” she said. “That’s just weird, mom.” I laughed. “No it’s not. She’s my friend and I do love her very much. Why shouldn’t I tell her that?” My daughter just shook her head and said, “It’s kinda gay, don’t you think?”

“No, it’s not gay … I have friends who captivate me with their beauty and intelligence. I tell them so. I tell them I think they’re beautiful and amazing. It’s nothing sexual. It’s phileo.”

“What’s phileo?” she asked. “It’s friendship love,” I explained. “It’s passionate, but not like erotic love. It’s wonderful and stimulating. It’s probably the best kind of love when you really experience it, but so few of us do.” She shook her head again. “Mom, you’re weird.”

Ms. McAllister goes on to lament,

I guess I am kind of weird. I confess: I’m very passionate about my friends. But am I the abnormal one, or is there something wrong with our society? My daughter isn’t unusual, and her response was pretty typical. Many people have that reaction to women who are passionate about their friends—and even more so for men!

Instead of friendship being noble, nonromantic, and normal, it has become the exception … [Friendship love is] a kind of love we desperately need in our lives—passionate, nonsexual love.

Anthony Esolen, writing in his book Defending Marriage, expresses the same concern regarding the demise of the love of friendship, but focuses more on its impact on men. Esolen begins by recalling the love of friendship between David and Jonathan in the Bible:

Your love to me was finer than the love of women,” laments David in a public song, when he learns of the death of his friend Jonathan.

Observing that such language (quite common, normal, and non-homosexual in the past) today shocks people, Esolen then ponders,

How have we come to this pass? For corrupted language has driven out the natural. We no longer have words to describe these friendships, or even conceive of them …

Friendship and the signs upon which it most subsist are in a bad way … The sexual revolution has nearly killed male friendship … beyond drinking and watching sports. (pp. 65-66)

He goes on to describe the mechanism by which hypersexualizing and “celebrating” aberrant sexual behavior has led to a loss of innocence. Once-innocent words and behaviors are now charged with meanings that are far from innocent; suspicion is everywhere. Esolen writes,

The bad behavior condoned is [now] suspected everywhere … At the same time, the defiant promotion of homosexuality makes the natural and once powerful friendships among boys [and men] virtually impossible (p. 69).

Thus the libertine views meant to “free” a small minority of men to openly celebrate disordered sexual passions, restricts most other men and hinders their ability to even speak of the love of friendship let alone develop deep (non-sexual) male friendships. If they do develop such friendships, the result is often awkward and leads to many untoward suspicions. It is largely the same with women now as well.

Esolen proposes the following analogy:

Imagine a world where the taboo [of incest] has been broken, and is loudly and defiantly celebrated. [Now imagine] your wife’s unmarried brother [putting] his hand on your daughter shoulder … [or] a father hugging his teenaged daughter … That gesture, once innocent, now means something (p. 63).

In a hypersexualized world, nothing is innocent. Denise McAllister makes the same point in her article and also adds some other causes:

The problem with our modern culture is friendship has been corrupted. C.S Lewis says it began with the age of sentimentality and romanticism … with its return to nature and exaltation of sentiment, instinct, and the “dark gods in the blood.” … A culture riding the wave of passion abandoned phileo for eros, and the effects on society have been devastating in ways people don’t begin to understand …

Puritanism and Victorian sensibilities have also played a role in friendship’s decline. Puritanism put a damper on passions as if they are the seat of evil within the soul … This tight control on feelings seeped into our culture, worsened by Victorian aloofness … Posture, decorum, and propriety put space even in the most intimate associations …

The sexual revolution, [is] a reaction to America’s puritanical attitudes. Everything became about sex, and this sexualization of our culture has become more intense over time. Just look at advertising … Everything is about sex. We’re saturated with it.

The effect of these two warring attitudes—Puritanism and sexualization—has had a distorting effect on friendship. On the one hand, people don’t feel free to show emotions. On the other, when they do, those feelings are sexualized. The more friendship is misunderstood and ignored, the more people will identify as homosexual and bisexual.

The more we condition our perceptions in a sexual way and the more children are exposed to sex even before they develop meaningful friendships, the less likely they will be able to separate healthy nonsexual feelings from sexual ones. Sex will become the defining feature of all their feelings. Eros will have slain phileo (op. cit.).

Anthony Esolen agrees. While not excluding the issue among women his chapter focused more on men and he concludes:

On three Greek bonds of love all cultures depend: the love between man and woman in marriage; the love between a mother and her child; and the camaraderie among men, a bond that used to be strong enough to move mountains; the first two have suffered greatly; the third has almost ceased to exist (op. cit.).

The demise of friendship is serious; it has deprived many of us of one of the more essential ingredients for life. Friends are not the same as acquaintances. True friends know almost everything about each other. Friendship involves deep sharing, loyalty, honesty, and commitment.

The ancient philosophers often spoke of the love of friendship as being deeper and greater than romantic love. Romantic love (a love that our culture overemphasizes in relation to marriage) is rife with tension, elevated feelings, and quick resentments. It is complex to say the least. Friendship is often less tense, more honest, and less easily offended. Friends can often be powerfully truthful in ways that romantic lovers cannot. The ancient philosophers had some of this in mind when they spoke of the love of friendship in a very elevated way:

  1. Seneca said, “Friendship always benefits; love sometimes injures.”
  2. Euripides said, “Life has no blessing like a prudent friend.”
  3. Plautus said, “Nothing but heaven itself is better than a friend who is really a friend.”
  4. And speaking of the piercing truth of true friendship, Plutarch said, “I don’t need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better.”

Scripture praises friendship in places too numerous to mention, but here are just a few:

  1. Oil and perfume make the heart glad, So a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend (Prov 27:9).
  2. A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity (Prov 17:17).
  3. A man of many acquaintances may be ruined, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov 18:24).
  4. Let those who are acquaintances to you be many, but one in a thousand your confidant … Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one finds a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth. Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; those who fear God will find them. Those who fear the Lord enjoy stable friendship (Sir 6:6, 14-17).

Do not underestimate the need to reestablish in our culture a healthy notion of friendship and the love of friends. As Anthony Esolen points out, strong, healthy, loyal friendships are a pillar of culture. Yet the demise of friendship and friendship love (phileo) is well-advanced today.

Some may object, saying, “That’s not true; I have lots of friends.” Perhaps you are an exception. But be clear that an acquaintance is not the same as a friend. A friend knows almost everything about you. A friend is someone with whom you can be yourself. A friend is able to affect the very core of your life through consolation and rebuke alike.

The loss of friendship and of our ability to speak openly of loving our friends is yet another way that the sexual revolution has wreaked havoc on us. Waving the banner of freedom, the revolution has actually eclipsed our freedom. By sexualizing almost everything, the revolution has sullied the innocence necessary to pursue rich, deep, satisfying non-sexual relationships.

Love is not a word that should be equated with sex. There were once many relationships that people spoke freely of as involving deep love and appreciation that had nothing to do with sex. In fact, the thought of sex even entering the minds of such friends would have been shocking and rejected with confusion or even revulsion.

We are not more free after the sexual revolution; we are less free. Expressing tenderness between friends and speaking of love between friends were both once possible with little or no fear of misunderstanding. In today’s hypersexualized world, they are met with cynicism and suspicion.

Here’s to friendship and the love of friendship, properly understood! Oh, how we miss you!

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

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.