Why do we have the friends we do?

Often when considering why we are friends with someone we invoke the admirable qualities the person possesses or shared interests of some kind; however, neither of these is sufficient to explain why we have made the friends we have. There must be some other factor, or factors, that explain why we have the friends that we have.

When I consider those I am friends with I realize that I share interests with all of them, and all of them possess some qualities that I find admirable whether it be generosity, kindness, honesty, a sense of humour, or wisdom; however, I know many other people who equally possess these traits and share interests with myself who are not my friends. I have tried to become friends with many of these people, but the friendships have not formed or have not fully formed nonetheless. Consequently, if my case can be generalized, it seems that the formation of friendship cannot be explained in terms of shared interests, or the fact that the prospective friends find each other’s traits admirable, as there are people who I have tried to become friends with, who have these traits, but who have not become my friends.

In a sense, this is unsurprising as we do not choose our friends as if we were shopping for a guitar. We do not meet people and size them according to our desired specifications for a friend to figure out if we will decide to be friends with them. In fact we do not really choose our friends in the sense that we choose to wear a particular tie to work, rather we meet people and find them attractive in some regard and consequently naturally desire to spend more time with them and get to know them better. After spending time with this person we realize that we either have become friends with them or we have not, but at no point do we explicitly agree to be friends. Accordingly, at most we can try to forge a friendship with someone and choose to end a friendship.

Given the preceding, how do we best account for the formation of friendships? It seems plausible to think that the formation of friendship depends on how the persons relate to one another. In a sense this is obvious, but at the same time too often we think about our friends in terms of shared interests or admirable qualities but forget about how we relate to one another which is in reality the centrality of the friendship.

It is very difficult to conceptualize what it is about a particular person that will enable them to relate to oneself in such a way that a friendship can form. When I first met many of my closest friends there was no way I could tell that they would relate to me in such a way that an enriching friendship was possible between the two of us. As a result, I am skeptical of the idea that an adequate means exists to tell if someone who shares your interests and whose character you find admirable or attractive in some way will relate to you in such a way that an enriching friendship can form. Thus, it seems that the only way to tell if a prospective friend will work with you as a friend is to try to forge a friendship with them. Furthermore, if the preceding is accurate this means that the qualities of a prospective friend can only be understood through the practise of attempting to form a friendship, rather than assessing the prospective friend from some distanced or detached perspective.

At this point someone might nod and say I agree with what you are writing, but this seems fairly obvious and pedestrian. I would agree that to some degree the observations I have made are not particularly ground breaking, but the language of consumer choice has so infected our lexicon that many of us have begun to think about romantic relationships and friendship in terms of consumer choice. Therefore, the observations above stand as an articulation of the practise of forming friendship that displays the distance that lies between how we consume goods and form friendships. This is necessary so that we do not forget that when we are trying to forge friendships with others we are not trying to search for the best product, but rather get to know another to reveal the possible relationships that we might have.

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