In The Four Loves, published nearly sixty years ago, C.S. Lewis declared a truth that still echoes in today’s blogs, fathomless Tumblr posts, and buried Twitter threads: “We are born helpless. As soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness.” We’re all too familiar with unanswered texts and the silent hallways of life. We gather followers and Facebook friends like social butterfly collectors, but while we are only a wi-fi password away from global communication, we are still lonely. Even as we send messages or slip through party crowds, we can still feel cut off. Some point to technology and the way it changes how we relate to each other, but it’s more likely this is a far older problem. Perhaps we have forgotten what friendship is.
If we listen to ourselves, we can hear how little value friendship holds in our lexicon. We call people online we’ve never met “friends.” Being “friendzoned” is a terrible fate. When we want to assure others there’s nothing important between us, we quickly bluster, “we’re just friends.” Sadly, we’ve lost sight of what love looks like outside of eros. In the stories we tell, real friendship must progress to romantic love, as if romance is the pinnacle of relationships and friendship is a phase. Talking about a tv show, a friend once told me that she hoped for something more between the main characters. With a sigh, she said, “I ship them together, but as friends.” When I reminded her that friendship was, in fact, one of the obvious themes of the story, she laughed, “Well, I wanted them to be better friends.”
And there it was again, the same yearning for more meaningful relationships.
Friendship is an oddly selfish thing, selfish in many senses of the word. Aristotle claimed a friend is an inner self, and that “to know a friend is in a manner to know oneself.” Lewis seconded him, saying, “We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves.” As desperately as we might wish it differently, we never enter into a friendship, or life, completely formed and self-sufficient. Friends allow us to learn about ourselves, who we are, what we enjoy, what we can handle. Our identities can develop together—if we allow them to. When we relegate friendship to the lowest form of affection, we cut ourselves off from a life-giving, formative force. To nurture meaningful connection, we need to cultivate friendships as spaces where we can be intellectually and emotionally intimate with others. This is a radical idea when we find ourselves more comfortable with physical intimacy than telling the truth or expressing deepest feelings. It requires two important elements usually reserved for romantic relationships: trust and time.
We know life is a journey rather than a destination, so choose traveling companions to stand by your side and look ahead to the future together. Willing to be truly known is the first step.
This short piece was originally written for a newsletter article. It ultimately wasn’t chosen, so I thought I’d share it here.