Thursday, 19 February 2009

For Some Value Of 'Friend'

Have you ever noticed the difference in the way people define 'friends'?

The other day I was talking with someone who told me, somewhat proudly, that he could count all his friends on the fingers of one hand. And he didn't mean in binary.

It reminded me of a conversation I once had with some... well, I won't call them friends, since we haven't defined the word yet. Let's settle for "some of the girls I knew at university". A bit long winded, but it'll do.

Anyway, we were out for dinner one evening and we ended up having a conversation about friendship, and one of them made a similar statement about having a very small number of friends. The others agreed, and they proceeded to discuss how we weren't friends with one another, and wouldn't see each other after we graduated, and that this was how things should be because "it isn't possible to have very many friends".

Meanwhile, I sat there feeling more and more like an alien, as they strongly implied that if I had more than ten friends then I couldn't be very close to any of them.

I appreciate the difference between friends and acquaintances. Honestly I do. I have plenty of acquaintances who haven't made it into the 'friend' category yet. But I also have lots of friends. Real friends - friends I'll call up in a crisis and cry to, friends I'll go out of my way for, friends I expect to stay friends with for life.

I thought those girls were my friends, until they told me they weren't.

I'm not sure whether this is genuinely a difference in definitions, or whether I'm simply more willing than those people to maintain friendships with a large number of people... I do find it hard not to make friends with people. But I think quantity and quality are independent variables on the friendship scale.

What do you think? Which category are you in, bloggy readers - many close friends, or just a few?

P.S. Even I do have my limits. After months of not being spammed on Facebook, yesterday I had four requests from strapping young Kenyan blokes that I don't know from Adam. Four. And Facebook was asking me to "confirm that you are friends". Well..... no. Sorry. Just, no. (I also said no to the topless blonde actress, if you were wondering.)


Diane said...

I have many friends... several I consider 'close'... and some of those are closer than others. Does any one of them know all there is to know about me? Nope. But several of them know an awful lot. I connect with people easily... it takes a bit for me to let someone into my 'inner sanctum', but once they're there, they usually stay for a long, long time. And not speaking to or seeing someone regularly doesn't mean they get expelled. Those girls at school? Silly, in my opinion.

So I guess I fall into the 'many' category along with you. Oh, and I should add that not having met someone face-to-face doesn't mean they can't be a close friend either... I know many people believe that but the relationships developed here in Blogland defy that theory.

Domestic Executive said...

This is a fascinating question that's really made me think. What's a friend?

For me a friend is someone who is there for you. Loves you for who you are and loves to do stuff, say stuff and treats you as they would treat themselves. True friendship is a reciprocal thing. You give, you get, they give, they get.

My measure of friendship has changed since moving to the other side of the world. My true friends are those that still keep in touch, however infrequently, and I still keep in touch with them. I care what's happening in their lives and vice versa.

I have two BFs - my husband and a girlfriend who I have known for 20 years and we've been there for each other over that time and I'm sure we'll be growing old together.

Some friends come and go - but at the time we were friends it was true and meaningful. It's just that as time, circumstances and places change that friendship ended. It doesn't mean we weren't/aren't friends. It's just is was a short lived friendship that was great at the time but isn't going to be long lasting.

Right now I feel I'm building friendships though my blog. Like minded people where give and get is all part of the engagement. Who knows whether that mutual interest, respect and admiration will continue but for the moment I'm enjoying it and I'm proud to call them friends!

Thanks for this question to ponder on!

Heather said...

I'm like you in my idea of friendship, I don't think there's a limit to how many you can have. Those girls are silly. While, yes, I have some people who are merely acquaintances, I do have a good number of true friends that have been there for years and I expect to be there for years to come. :)

Chef E said...

The PS part gave me a good belly laugh. I also have a site and I get requests for friends from young girls wanting to advertise or I guess spam, and occasionally on my blogs too!

I have done a lot of soul searching on the friends thing as well, and it is disappointing to think that when we are of friendly sort that we consider many people our friends, but in reality they do not share the same feelings.

Being a poet and philosopher I would say that we travel many roads in life and sometimes here and there friends go separate paths, and we have to remember that we learn from them and that is what we have left...even the bad experiences we take away a bit part of them...

Kazzy said...

I have many close friends that I met during many different periods in my life. I am a social person and sincere in these relationships. There are maintenance needs, but worth it!

Cheryl said...

As a constant traveler,

A friend, I have email correspondences with.
A close friend, I send packages to, I call, etc.
An acquaintence, I'll say hello once in a while and only really have a conversation with them when I see them again.

I dont know if that makes any sense whatsoever.

Lilly's Life said...

That was a great post, very well written about a topic that is hard to figure out. It is always your personal definition isnt it - I think I have few friends and lots of acquaintances. I can be friendly with people but I regard real friends as those I can tell anything to and they wouldnt judge me. Or I may not see them for a year but we can pick up exactly where we left off. Also, the older I get the more choosy I am as to whom I get close to. As for Facebook friends, its ridiculous, truly ridiculous. Glad you let those Kenyans go...oh they do try.

julie70 said...

you defined friendship well in your note: "Real friends - friends I'll call up in a crisis and cry to, friends I'll go out of my way for, friends I expect to stay friends with for life."

It is possible to have "collegues" you like and who like you, and then friends on which you can count on some level, whom admire you for things often they have not in themselfs and whom who do the same. Who remain at your side whatever you do, siding up with you just because they love you and because it is YOU who are their friend.

I met a girl when I was 16, we shared our different dreams and lived our different lives, she is now, at 75 still my friend, and now we write each other through email. I can go to her, also she lives far away when I want, and she knows she could count on me whenever she wants to come wherever I live.

I had two other friends in my life, one a lot younger then me (almost ten years) and the other older with ten, and we formed, separately with each other a "mutual admiration society", respecting what the other did in her life, how she was. They died. But I knew I can count on them, call them up or go to see them, and neither age nor time or space separated us.

With a friend I lost before I was 11, yes, I can count on one hand their number.

I have a few very nice people I met through flickr or blogs or other organization to whom I feel "friendly" and we feel very well together, however they did not become my "lifetime" friends. And I still hope to find a new one!

Friends never let me down!

Other people, alas did. They did not become my friends as I hoped. Girls you go out with are nice and you do not have to feel left down because they think "friendship" is something special and rare. Each of us finds, in time. The special. Those special ones.

Girls usually do, boys sometime can go through life without having special real friends, only lots of collegues. I am not exactly aware why.

Heather said...

First of all, I have to say I love the title of this blog. Are you by any chance a scientist or married to one? I am (married to one) and the 'value' or meaning of words becomes very important in

But back to what is a friend. I would say it has a lot to do with semantics. That and how much of yourself you're willing to give to people, because if you call someone a friend, then you have given that person certain access to you that may not always be convenient. I would say, up until I moved to Chicago I would have classified myself as one of those 'count on one hand' definers. Mostly because I didn't much like people and I was only willing to give the vast majority of the people in my life acquaintance status. Only the people I felt I could really be open with were my 'friends' and that number was very small. It's hard to like other people and be open with them if you don't much like yourself I suppose. That being said, I've grown up a lot in the last 5 years.

I also like what the Domestic Engineer said about time and space having an impact. I have also now moved to the other side of the world and there are some friends that have kept in touch, but that doesn't mean to me that all my other 'friends' from Chicago or even beyond have lost their 'friend' status. My DH and I went back to Canada to primarily see family before we moved and there were friends that we had not kept in touch with, not spoken to in over 3 years, but they came out for a big dinner with us and we had a blast enjoying ourselves just like old times.

So I guess what I'm saying is this (sorry for being so long-winded), I have had tons of friends, everywhere I go I make friends, even on our honeymoon. Some of those friends have, in a sense, travelled with us in that we have kept in touch, sometimes a lot, sometimes sporadically, but I know that there are many more out there that would come to dinner if I was in town.

Anonymous said...

That's a hard one, but over the years, my friends have settled down to three women and one many (outside of my husband).
Very thoughtful post!

Dave King said...

They do say there are three types of friend: utility friends that you make because you need them - eg, work mates who are left behind when they or you are promoted or change jobs; activity friends with whom you share interests, go to football together etc; and quality friends with whom the relationship is personal and will last a lifetime

J Cosmo Newbery said...

I must apologise. That topless blonde waitress was me.

erin - heart in ireland said...

I would say many. I have a few close friends from the different places I've been and a few super close from college.

I have my berries - 2 of my super close friends from college, my loves 3 other super close college friends, my best friend from HS, and then my twin(not real twin) who is the overall bff. These are the girls who even though I only get to see them a few times a year we are always emailing, calling and still manage to keep in touch, and even though there is time we aren't in close contact when we see each other it was like no time has happened. I would say I have many different circles of friends. Because right behind these girls is about another 10 people who are still friends, but not as close as the first circle. And then there are different circles out depending on how much we talk, what we talk about and such. But to me there is a huge step between friends and acquaintances.

Louiz said...

Due to some difficulties in my mid 20s*, I have managed to retain only a few of my friends from school, but those I have are really good friends. Since then I've found it not so easy to make new friends, but have a wide variety of acquaintances, but I'd say the friends I've made in blogland are just as good as the ones I've made face to face.

*acrimonious divorce with backstabbing "friends" stirring to add to the mixture

gentina said...

I think that relationship between people evolve (and friendship is no exception). As people evolve and change with time so do their relationships. There are usually a few special people that remain close to you throughout life and they are many more that are near you during a specific period. This is life and english language has a nice way to put it: " some friends from the university" sounds a little bit different from "a friend of mine that I known since university".

Soma said...

Rachel it just depends on each personality I guess. There are some who makes friends i mean close friends very easily & manage to retain & cherish them.. there are others who are happy with just a few. There is nothing wrong with either, as long as they are happy right?:-)

That picture of Las Medulas is stunning! i wish i could visit it some time in this lifetime.
U look Stunning as well!

Sam said...

Hi Rachel, I love your question on this one. You once wrote me that I ask questions which leave you pondering throughout the day. This may be one of those for me.

I'm a people person (versus a task person) and have many people I consider friends. The people I am most cautious about befriending are those who want a certain exclusivity in the friendship. It would be hard maintaining a friendship if someone, for instance, reacted jealously because I spent time with someone else. The only ones who are allowed that level of influence on me (besides God) are my immediate family. Consequently, my best friends are those who have a life apart from our friendship. One of those moved away to another part of the country about 7 years ago. I have seen him once or twice since then and we occasionally correspond or talk on the phone. I have no doubt, though, that we can instantly pick up where we left off.

Thanks for making me think. You often do.

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