When Henry David Thoreau wrote, ‘the language of friendship is not words, but meanings’, I called pretentious bullsh*t. Literature of all time periods has attempted to define, satirise, and romanticise the complex relationship of friendship – a conundrum. From an early age, we are thrust into an A. A. Milne world where the sky is forever rosy, friends are quirky, and ever in abundance. Upon growing up, we are naturally more exposed to the complexities of sustaining and nourishing these bonds – leading many of us to grow wary of the concept itself. Is it a friendship group or a clique; a fun friend or a growing bad habit? This branch of cynicism probably stems from common experiences we have all faced in the playgrounds and classrooms of our adolescence; making friends, fights with friends, and moving on from ‘stale’ friendships. In parallel to the road of academic maturity, we navigate a similarly precarious route of social relationships and interactions. There is certainly no manual, nor is there any sign of a blueprint which could guide us on how to deal with relationships at each stage of life.
The reality of friendship is that they simply cannot come flat-packed, vacuum sealed, ready-to-open for our convenience. Yet, in our modern world where next-day-shipping is too slow and 24/7 is unambitious, I couldn’t help but wonder whether even our friendships could be expedited? Is there some form of debit system in place, where friendships have become transactional interactions? Is the currency: emotional involvement, obligatory bath & body related Christmas gifts, or something similarly superficial? The economic notion of friendship being a commodity, ready to be bought and sold, in our capitalist society thoroughly aligns to its origins of philosophical enquiry into human associations. Aristotle asserted that humans are social (and political) animals by having the psychological impulses to interact. Human associations are thus essential because it is a “union or pairing of those who cannot exist without one other”.
However, thinking critically, even this philosophy hints to a sense of economic utility. We prioritise 'reward' through personal happiness, so we interact with others who can provide this. We perhaps become friends with a limited amount of people because we may have a scarce amount of resources – time, money, interest. Is there a need to socialise and partake in relationships only because we, as humans, can offer something to each other? Do our interactions have no more significant value than just biological?
Clearly, platonic friendships bring a host of benefits that stretch beyond academic jargon. They bring gratitude, happiness, and fulfilment, as well as teaching us key lessons about accountability, responsibility, and trust. The deeper questions may flare up occasionally because we all go through phases in life where our mental and emotional wellbeing is low. The social environment we get to choose – friends - certainly has a deeper effect on our perception of self-worth, ego, and even ambition. The axiom of ‘surrounding oneself with good people’ goes beyond a parent’s worry, to the extent that mindsets and habits are contagious
The impact of social media also cannot be overlooked. I believe the new brand of ‘quick n’ easy’ friendship is popularised and lead by the league of social media influencers who seem to share endless posts of different friends, parties, and social gatherings. Publications like the Daily Mail have also, to nobody’s request, contested issues such as, “Having friends less attractive than yourself really CAN make you seem better looking”. We are suddenly living in a time of friendship hyper-awareness – where, as cliché as it sounds, good friends seem rare. But this isn’t a particularly new phenomenon. Cast your minds to the most iconic friendships we’ve seen on our screens through the years, with the likes of the fabulous four in Sex and the City, duos like Thelma and Louise, Serena and Blair, and the literal entire concept of Friends. They’ve been sources of envy (where do you find friends like this?!) as well as fictional guideposts, as the characters guide us through the tumultuous journey of having close friends in your 20’s and 30’s.
It is also not particularly genius to point out the significance of friendship in one’s health. There has been scientific study conducted by Harvard Medical School that proves friendships can actually extend life expectancy and decrease risk of heart problems. At its core, friendship, in the words of Thoreau, is about meaning. People who inject meaning into every aspect of our life. The people who not only uplift us but are sources of constant inspiration. Friendship is definitely not sold on Amazon, nor is it easy to assemble, but there is universal sense of relief in knowing that we all still struggle with our Aristotelian ‘associations’.
In this essay, there may be a not-so-discreetly hidden declaration of love for the meaningful relationships in my life - in particular, my best friend. I have realised that it is only as we get older, do we value those who have been with is through all the moments – good, bad, ugly, and secondary school ugly. From when we annoyed each other at 11, to 'I cannot imagine a life without you at 20'. There is something exceptionally special about having a friendship that has grown up alongside you throughout the years. Its meaning is a deeper sense of love, commitment, and pure joy; one meaning out of many. To my best friend, all the friends we are lucky enough to exist with, and all the friends we are destined to meet soon: you are so adored.
Edited by Ellie Muir