Friendship Series (Part 1): What Is Friendship?

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I have had a file titled “Friendship” in my “Future Posts” folder on my tablet since the second week of the existence of Every time I sit down, open the file, stare at that blank page, and prepare to write though, I get started and think of another idea or story that I just have to include. As a result, this topic has sat and languished away as I tried to decide how to best address it. I have finally come to the conclusion that this concept is just too big and far too complex to be covered in a single post. However, it also plays too important a role in determining the success and happiness of your life to not be discussed at all. To reconcile these two conflicting points, I have decided to write a series of posts on “Friendship,” and I will publish the posts individually over the next several Monday’s here on the website. The posts will each focus on a specific aspect of friendship, but they will also build upon ideas from previous weeks. By reading all of the posts in the order presented and thinking of them as a single entity, there is a synergistic effect on the concepts that cannot be found in reading the posts individually. So, without further ado, I present the first post in my “Friendship Series.”

Scott Drotar Friendship
One of my friends that I have had in my life the longest before our junior prom. Looking snazzy, no?

Friendship is a huge concept with far reaching effects on nearly every part of your life. It covers almost every non-familial relationship in your universe. Since we do not live in a vacuum and are constantly interacting with others, these relationships have an impact on every decision we make and everything we do. Any idea with that amount of influence, needs to be examined and discussed so that we can best understand, and hopefully learn to control, its impact on our lives. The first step in this quest for understanding is to ask yourself, “What is friendship?”

In a world where social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace have turned the whole meaning of the word “friend” into a kind of joke, it is necessary to carefully decide what a friend or friendship is in today’s society. In the dictionary under “friendship,” it says “the state of being a friend.” Very helpful, Mr. Webster. Under “friend” it reads “a person attached to another by feelings of caring or personal regard; a person who gives assistance; a person who is on good terms with another, not hostile” along with a few other meanings irrelevant to our discussion. These 3 meanings of the word “friend” essentially cover the entire scope of the relationships present in your life. It includes everyone from the coworker you nod to every day in the hallway whose name you don’t know, all the way to your lifelong best friend. In order to make sense of all of this, we will have to break this definition down.

Looking at each meaning individually helps to create divisions between the types of friends you have. The first meaning, “a person attached to another by feelings of caring or personal regard,” is the most specific. It is the only definition that includes feelings of caring and empathy. It covers your close friends, or as I like to say, your friends with a capital “F.” These are your “bffs,” your “friends until the end,” and the people that are not blood but should be. These are the friends that would do anything for you without a second thought. These relationships are few and far between, and require the most effort, time, and trust to maintain, but all of that work is what makes these people so special to us. The second meaning, “a person who gives assistance,” is much broader, but I take it to cover your average, everyday friends. These are the people who you know fairly well and would ask to go see a movie, feed your fish while you are on vacation, or over to watch the ballgame, but you wouldn’t tell your deepest, darkest secrets to. You probably have dozens of this type of friend. The third meaning, “a person who is on good terms with another, not hostile,” is even broader still, and covers pretty much every person you interact with personally that is not your enemy. These are your acquaintances. You may know their name and recognize their face, but that is about it. You may have made small talk at a party once, but afterwards you don’t remember much of what they said. There is no emotional attachment with these friends. This is where most of your Facebook friends reside, if you are completely honest, and you have hundreds, if not thousands, of these types of relationships.

Scott Drotar Friendship
Your Friendship Rings

It may help you to think about these 3 levels of friendship as rings of different sizes. You are in the middle with your best friends, or Friends, closest to you in the smallest circle. In the next biggest circle are your everyday friends, or friends. You keep them at more of a distance, but you also have a lot more of them than your closest friends. Finally, in a much, much bigger circle are your acquaintances. You have hundreds, or even thousands, of these friends, but they are kept at a large social and emotional distance from you. Everyone you know fits somewhere within the biggest ring, and the closer to the center they are, the stronger your relationship. It is also worth noting how the rings fit within each other concentrically. This shows how your closest friends will do everything your everyday friends will do, plus more. These “Friendship Rings” differing sizes illustrate both the number of friends at each level, as well as the strength of the friendship bond.

Scott Drotar Friendship
All of these guys were normal friends when this was taken, and now 3 are barely acquaintances and 1 is my closest friend. Changes, changes…

You always should remember that your relationships are constantly changing, which means that people may move from one ring to another as you get to know them. I have an everyday type friend now that over the last 8 years has moved among all 3 friendship levels. We met my second year at Notre Dame and were merely acquaintances for about a year. We then got to know each other more through a mutual friend, and we found that we had a lot in common, which moved him into my everyday friend ring. A few months later, we became roommates, and he moved into my “bff” level of friendship. After I graduated and moved to Kansas though, we began losing touch, as often happens with long distance friendships. Now, we are regular friends. We keep up on each other’s lives and send the occasional email, but we are no longer that close. This relationship clearly illustrates how dynamic friendships can be.

Another thing you must keep in mind when thinking about your friendships is that we all have our own set of “Friendship Rings.” Just because you have me in your “bff” ring, does not necessarily mean that I have you in mine. Maybe it takes me longer to let people get close to me than you, so I only consider you a regular friend. If you start to tell me your “mother of all secrets” when I have you in my regular friend ring, I may get uncomfortable and pull away socially. It is important to use a little empathy and ask yourself how they see the relationship when assessing your friendships. Do some “Mental Optometry” and see things through their lens. Not only will this help you avoid making people feel socially awkward, but it will also strengthen your relationships.

Having now begun the exploration of the meaning of what friendship is, and the various types of friends we have, you can see how complex this concept is. That is probably why making and maintaining friendships is so difficult for most of us. In order to more fully understand this crucial part of our world, we need to more closely examine each level of friendship and the role it plays in our lives. That is where we will start in the next installment in my Friendship Series discussing our acquaintances.

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