Friendship is a funny word. Put 20 people in a room and ask them to define it, and you’ll get 20 answers. And they’ll all be right, or right enough. Because most folks won’t define the word “dictionary” style, but rather by how they feel about their closest besties. That, to me, is what makes it such a funny word.
As a writer (decades in journalism, plus that whole grad school thing), I tend to view words pragmatically. They mean, well, what they mean. And friendship, like every other word, has its meaning. Specifically: A state of mutual trust and support. (To be fair, that isn’t my dictionary’s first, or even second preferred definition. But when I want unique specificity, “a relationship between friends” is a bit too generic.)
Now, if I were to focus-group my chosen definition, some would agree with me without reservation. As they should. It’s a solid definition. But many – maybe most – would take issue, maybe even argue for more exclusivity in the definition. Friendship, this majority might insist, is actually “an exceptional state of mutual trust and unconditional support.”
Now we’re getting somewhere.
So here’s my real question. What specifically makes someone a friend? Do you differentiate, say, between people who are your “friends” and people with whom you are friendly? At what point does someone move from “associate” past “pal” and solidly into the “friend” camp? Can I assume such a promotion would be based on some level of intimacy or trust?
If our positions were reversed, I don’t think I could answer those questions to your satisfaction.
I spent years – decades, really – specifically not pursuing close friendships. My career path meant moving, on average every three or four years, and experience demonstrated that long-distance friendships really cannot be maintained. (Maybe the advent of social media has changed that, but I doubt it. Intimacy cannot be achieved 140 characters at a time #firstworldproblems #hashtagsarestupid) Even now, after living in Palmyra for six years with absolutely no intention of leaving, I think it’s safe to say I’ve been slow – some might say deliberate – to venture much beyond my “work” circle.
In recent months, I’ve met dozens of new folks. And most of us are certainly friendly.
But are we friends? Have we reached that state of mutual trust and support? Is that trust and support unconditional?
How in God’s name do you know?
I hope this line of inquiry doesn’t offend anyone. Especially if you’ve decided that we ARE, in fact, friends. I would hate to think I just blew it by questioning that very fact!
Please bear with me while I work this out. I don’t have a reference point for determining when the appropriate level of trust has been reached. Surely, there’s never a good time to ask someone “are we intimate enough?” I mean, who wants their presumed friend – a potential future bestie – to suddenly ask, “can I trust you?”
I suppose one way to do it is simply to put myself out there. Presume the trust is there. Assume it’s mutual. Take that scary first step and watch what happens.