This is the first entry in a series of posts on friendship. To find the others once they’ve been published, find the menu button in the upper right corner of the blog and see “Summer Friendship Series.”
Friendship is quite a strange thing if you really take some time to think about it. It doesn’t really make sense, two people feeling drawn to each other and wanting to be in a relationship that doesn’t necessarily seem to serve a purpose on paper. Familial relationships we’re born into, and they nurture us until we’re ready to go out into the world on our own. Networking relationships exist because we get something out of them, and sexual relationships exist for the purpose of procreation. Of course, that’s oversimplifying all of those types of relationships to the extreme, but it still gets the point across.
Friendship doesn’t really seem to have a point because while it can sometimes take on certain aspects of those other kinds of relationships, it also stands independently from them by definition. We have friendships simply by virtue of wanting to have a relationship with another person, not because we might get something out of it, not because we were born into those relationships by default, not because we found someone physically attractive, but because those are the relationships that we’ve chosen. Friendships are born when one person sees something that creates a longing to know and be known by another person and that person does likewise. It’s a connection that bursts to life like a spark or one that organically sprouts over time, but no matter how it develops, it can’t be forced and must be chosen, something that makes friendship so mystical and sacred.
We have friendships simply by virtue of wanting to have a relationship with another person, no strings attached.
These things might seem rudimentary at best, because most people could likely tell you the reasons why they’re friends with the people in their lives, but that’s after those bonds have already been formed. What drew you to those people in the first place? Why did these specific people catch your attention out of all the others in the world before you really knew them? Do you even remember when or how you met some of your friends? And even if you have answers to some of those questions, how can we explain the friendships we have with people who seem to be the polar opposites of us, people that wouldn’t picture ourselves with in our wildest imaginations? How does friendship break barriers of difference when, for all intents and purposes, it doesn’t even seem to have a purpose?
I don’t know, but perhaps that’s part of the reason that friendship is so beautiful. C.S. Lewis wrote about friendship on the same level as love, saying, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival. - C.S. Lewis
I think he’s right. Friendship is completely unnecessary. It doesn’t keep us alive. It doesn’t provide us with any inherent advantages in life. It doesn’t solve any of our problems, and sometimes it might even create some, but friendship gives depth to our existences. It injects color into the black and white routine of simply inhaling and exhaling and adds more rhythm to the monotonous drum of our solitary heartbeats, punctuating the otherwise repetitive pace of our lived narratives. While we might only be trudging along our path with the bare necessities of food, water, and shelter, friendships and other relationships transform our mere surviving into thriving, filling out our flat profiles with dimension until our empty mannequin shells really come to life.
That’s the wonder of friendship. It’s unnecessary, superfluous. It doesn’t serve any purpose, and yet it simultaneously defines our being, giving us purpose and a reason to continue being at all. Though it doesn’t contribute to our survival, it is part of the reason that we choose to live. Perhaps that paradox doesn’t seem to make sense, but then again neither does friendship. It’s a human enigma that continues to amaze, fueling the lives that it is concurrently comprised of and creating more of its own kind using itself as the medium.
Though it doesn't contribute to our survival [friendship], it is part of the reason that we choose to live.
Friendship is a mystery locked within the human condition that is both fully understood and fully rational while at the same time fully incomprehensible and fully nonsensical, but that’s where the beauty of friendship lies. It defines itself, making the unnecessary necessary, creating love from where there was once nothing.
That’s another thing about friendship. It doesn’t necessarily abide by any rules and it isn’t always bounded by time or proximity. If I think about my friendships, my deepest and closest ones aren’t the ones that I’ve had the longest or the ones that have been most convenient or the ones in which we’ve had the most in common. They’re the ones that were difficult, the ones that we struggled through and the ones that we hurt in the midst of together. But friendship doesn’t even necessarily define itself that way either. Sometimes it just forms and you don’t really have a good reason for why it did.
One of my friends, Clara, and I often forget how long we’ve actually been friends, because the real duration is always much shorter than it feels like. Clara and I have only known each other for a little over two years, but it feels like it’s been much longer than that. Sometimes, we try to rationalize it because of all the stuff that’s been packed into those two years, but even that doesn’t always square everything up, because it still sort of felt like we had known each other for a long time the second time we ever saw each other, and it appeared that way to everyone else too.
I met Clara coincidentally about four months before we would actually become friends when my best friend and I took a day trip to Duluth to see one of her friends that she hadn’t seen in a while. Clara happened to be her friend’s best friend (so literally a friend of a friend of a friend), and we met while she was working in an art studio because Clara is cool like that. The four of us spent some time together the rest of that day, but Clara and I probably knew each other for a grand total of three or four hours over two days before I saw her again that fall when she started at Bethel.
The funny thing about mine and Clara’s friendship is that it just sort of happened, and it still doesn’t make much sense to this day. She and I don’t have an awful lot in common. She loves science, specifically botany, specifically hydroponic plants (which I didn’t even knew existed until she told me about them), and I was quite satisfied with myself when I finished general biology as my last science class ever for the rest of my life during the spring semester of my junior year in high school. She loves the outdoors, forests, lakes, and cliffs, and I like to look at those things, or perhaps pictures of those things, but it would take a very specific kind of mood for me to want to go hiking or be outside in the real outdoors for fun. Despite those differences and many others, it still felt like a reunion with an old friend when I saw her again come August, and other people assumed it was so. Little did they know that we were essentially two strangers embracing during Welcome Week.
Like I said, that’s the crazy thing about friendship. It knows no bounds and respects no barriers. It defines itself and creates bonds out of nothing even when two people might seem to be completely incompatible on paper. That’s part of the magic of friendship.
Friendship knows no bounds and respects no barriers.
In our world and our society, friendship seems to get a bad rap sometimes for being a lesser sort of relationship when compared to familial relationships or marriage relationships, but perhaps if we took a moment to slow down and reflect on how astonishing friendship really is we’d be able to reclaim some of its sanctity because it’s a very beautiful and very underrated thing.
Coming up in this series on friendship: covenant friendship and intimacy between friends, friendship in a world obsessed with sex and marriage, and reviving friendship by untangling romanticism and sexuality, among other topics. Subscribe to the blog and like ‘Jonah Venegas’ on Facebook in order to get updates as posts come out, and let me know in the comments or on social media if there are any other aspects of friendship I should write about!