The Art of Friendship

PHONE RINGS, DOOR CHIMES, IN COMES COMPANY!

Her name was Debbie. What was I, 11? Maybe 12, when I met her? Yes, that sounds about right.

Her older brother was friends with my older brother, and they introduced us. And I remember that I went from not knowing Debbie to knowing Debbie in an instant. It was that fast. A light switch flipped on. We were best friends. And we did everything together.

NO STRINGS, GOOD TIMES, ROOM HUMS, COMPANY!

Sleepovers. Birthday parties. Trips to the beach. Vacations. Styling one another’s hair (badly). Crushes on boys. Double dates.

But mostly, just hanging out.

Looking back, it seems we had a lot of time for hanging out.

And you know what? I miss that.

LATE NIGHTS, QUICK BITES, PARTY GAMES

Apparently, I’m not the only one.

I’ve noticed people are hungry to connect in that way. I hear it all the time from clients and friends.

At first I thought it was just the Baby Boomers longing for days gone by. But then I realized all generations are susceptible to this ache. Even my twenty- and thirty-something clients bemoan the fact that they don’t have enough time to be with the people they care about.

Or find a community of people to care about.

DEEP TALKS, LONG WALKS, TELEPHONE CALLS

When I think about my own memorable experiences of community, I recall a brownstone in Brooklyn. The roof top. Warm summer nights. Calling people up at the last minute. No problem!

Or a tight-knit work team. Shared passions. Fiercely stating your beliefs. Collaboration. The gang’s all going to lunch!

Or the world of community theatre. Rehearsals. Costume fittings. Sitting with your buddies in front of those big mirrors, putting on makeup. Cast parties. Want to get together to learn lines?

THOUGHTS SHARED, SOULS BARED, PRIVATE NAMES

I’m sure you have your own powerful experiences of community and friendship, probably vastly different from mine. But whatever they are, such experiences are essential for our continued growth and development. They enable us to transcend loneliness and isolation and move toward belonging.

And remember, even Maslow’s famous hierarchy located friendship right in the middle of the pyramid. Not only was it a building block for goodies like self-esteem, confidence, creativity, and problem solving, but it was also the thing that moved us beyond an emphasis on individual safety and security.

ALL THOSE PHOTOS UP ON THE WALLS

Looking at Maslow’s pyramid, I sigh now and then. Because I wonder if we’ve regressed a little. Collectively, I mean. I worry that we’re losing touch with the art of friendship and community building. And we’ve holed up in our caves, focused on getting as much individual security as we can in order to create the illusion of safety.

I also grapple with the possibility that the more we become connected globally, the more we become isolated individually.

Strange paradox, isn’t it?

WITH LOVE FILLING THE DAYS

And as much as I adore my online community, I don’t think it’s exactly what Maslow had in mind.

Truth is, I miss seeing you arch your eyebrow right before you say something witty. Or how your face goes all goofy when you look at a dog. The sound of your laughter. How it feels to shake your hand or hug you.

WITH LOVE SEVENTY WAYS

Yes dearest, “with love”
From all those good and crazy people, your friends!
Those good and crazy people, your funny friends!
And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
That’s what it’s really about,
Really about!

COMPANY! YEARS OF COMPANY! LOVE IS COMPANY!

And so, my friends, please talk to me about this.

Tell me about the art of friendship.

What’s been lost? What’s been gained? And where are we going?

The bold lines in this post are a song: Company, from the musical of the same name by Stephen Sondheim. Click here to listen:

Rustling sounds courtesy of Max the cat, who has a brief solo at the end.

43 thoughts on “The Art of Friendship

  1. “The art of friendship” This is an interesting aspect to life. I have pondered the reasons why many times, never quite understanding relationship, but forever learning. I think the best explanation I have ever come across, came from Maurice Nicoll in the commentaries.

    He explains that relationships and the ensuing impressions are encountered as octaves, or if you will, like orbits. We pass into the orbit of someone that we favour relationship with, their life’s orbit then forms relationship with our own. The orbits will continue for a time linked by a common bond. Eventually as orbits do, they pass out of close contact as each continues their respective voyage. The octave is then over. “Like two ships passing in the night” Casablanca

    These octaves can be casual(moving), intimate(emotional, intellectual) or sexual. It can also be affected by the principal of “maximal entropy” whereby there is a common state reached, where there is no further exchange of energy. In that case there will be a disconnect and eventually a separation.

    All relationships whether major or minor, leave us with the gift of impressions and happily, memories.

    Will you be my friend, so that we can share a virtual orbit together?

    As always, great post, great cause for thought.

    Eso

    • Yes, I’m delighted to be your online friend, Eso, in this orbit we find ourselves in! Your comment is right on, and made me smile. I even had some words in my post about the friends that had come and gone over the years, how that was part of the rhythm of life, and the loving memories I have of each one. It reminded me of the Beatles’ song, “In My Life”: “In my life, I loved them all.” I adore that song. But when I wrote all that it just got to be too long, so I’m glad you’ve said it so eloquently and given me a chance to remember it again. Thank you!

  2. Wow – Eso summed that up nicely. I believe that people come in and out of our lives, giving and receiving as they go. It is an exchange – somet relationships are temporary and some are life long. I have a friend that has shared my life since we were in 4th grade. She is a rock – and we take turns giving to one another no matter where in the world I am or how many miles separate us. Another friend from high school and I didn’t talk for a number of years and yet, to day (her 40th birthday) she is one who I count among my dearest friends.
    Friendship is an art – it takes work and time and acceptance and appreciation. It is a continual reminder that we are not perfect – and we can accept one another on those grounds celebrating the successes of another and helping to bare the sorrows.
    I count friends among life’s greatest gifts and treasures…

    To part of your question – I miss the inperson interaction of my youth – going over to friends houses, spending the nights, etc. I miss the late night phone calls of my college days. Now friendships are about e-mail, some phone calls, and lunches if possible. They are about finding time despite kids and relationships and schedules. And yet, they are there!

    Thank you for this wonderful post and Thank you Eso for the insight that added to the post.

    • What you write about your experiences with friendship is absolutely beautiful. I especially love the point about it being a continual reminder that we are not perfect. So true! And I wonder, is that in-person interaction you speak of mostly a function of youth, and it has to change because we’ve become adults, or is it particularly different now because of our virtual and time-stressed world? I’m remembering my parents when they were around my age…you know, I think they had a lot more fun and a lot more friendships! Definitely a different time, though. As always, thanks for your lovely words.

  3. Patti – I love your post and I love, love, love ESO’s comment.

    I’m slowly de-synching orbit with a virtual community I’ve been a part of since June 2007. I’ve moved on, long past the need of support, and now, past the need to continue to support others who wish to remain stuck. (I dunno…I hope that makes sense in a very non egotistical way!)

    As I move on, I am synching new orbits with real people outside the virtual world. In a spirit of collaboration with a like minded friend (whom I met first in the virtual world and discovered we live close by and share a similar interest in yoga, reiki, and teaching) we’re embarking on a new path where we’ve taken what we’ve learned and have created a day retreat for relaxation and renewal.

    It’s all pretty exciting…

    And fun to be in a new orbit…

    Peggy

    • Yes, that Eso is quite a guy isn’t he? I like your story of de-synching and moving into new orbits. The point you’re making is an important one: in order to move up that pyramid of Maslow’s, we need to move beyond the limits of the virtual world. Both have their place, but getting stuck in the comfy cocoon of virtuality is really a way to play it safe, isn’t it? I’m so excited to hear about your new path, and I hope you will keep me updated on it, Peggy! Thanks!

  4. “The more we become connected globally, the more we become isolated individually.” Yes, I’m afraid of that too. I see it in my behaviors. I see it in my household, as Husband plays a game of Scrabble on his iPhone and I browse my favorite blogs, in the same room, while supposedly watching a favorite TV show. I worry about this.

    Finding new friends, cultivating friendships – that is the challenge. I have a small group of a few friends I’m close to, and beyond that many acquaintances. But I want more friends – friends “in the flesh” as much as I love my blogging sisters – and it’s so hard to know where to start.

    • Yep, I know exactly what you mean, Eva. I’m guilty of it too. And one of the most disturbing things I experienced recently was at a play, and a family was seated next to us: mom, dad, two kids. Before the play started and during intermission, the kids were all excited, jumping around, wanting the parents’ attention, but mom and dad were busily texting. It was such a weird disconnect. They spoke maybe two sentences to each other and their kids the entire time.

      I think you ask a great question: where do we start making in-person friends these days? That could be a whole post. Hmmm, maybe it will be! Thanks!

  5. I find the topic of friendship fascinating, Patty. Sometimes I think we’re here to have as many friends as possible. Other times, I just want to read a book.

    My work takes me to a lot of functions where there’s always an opportunity to make a new friend. Last night, I went to a fundraiser and, while I chatted with a few new people, who did I hang out with? My boss, my former boss and our beloved mutual friend. Four women who’ve shared so much for oh, 8+ years. We were all energized being around each other. The conversation always flowed and we never had to edit ourselves — flaws and insecurities dangling everywhere. But, it’s not so easy to maneuver into by someone who isn’t already in the circle.

    I struggle to keep fizzled friendships even if we’ve drifted too far apart or have outgrown each other. I struggle with making new friends because sometimes, I barely have time for my current ones.

    As for the virtual v. actual friendships, I like to strive for the actual but the virtual is not a bad second. There are some old friends I mostly interact with by text or e-mail and it’s a nice substitute when we’re miles away from each other. As for blogging buddies, I adore them and while they are virtual, their wisdom and the warm fuzzies they bring aren’t. Maybe in the end, the seeming conflict between too much virtual and not enough actual is just another reminder to all of us that we can’t have it all but what we have is enough.

    Thanks for anotehr great post.

    • Hi Belinda – I love your story of these four women coming together, with that longtime bond, letting it all hang out. Those are such rich, amazing friendships. But yes, very hard to break in to. I think a lot of people struggle with how to do that. Or if it’s even possible. I like what you say too about whatever we have being enough. It reminds me of Jack Nicholson’s line in “As Good As It Gets”: “But, a lot of people, that’s their story. Good times, noodle salad. What makes it so hard is not that you had it bad, but that you’re that pissed that so many others had it good.” Kind of like the good old days were noodle salad, but what we have now is as good as it gets? I don’t know, I have to think about that one some more. I’m confusing myself, which I suppose was bound to happen when I started channeling Jack Nicholson! So thanks, my friend!

  6. Hi Patty.
    Your description of friendship when we were young made me smile. I loved those times too when we had enough time to indulge ourselves in the company of friends. But we move on, we very seldom stay in one place long enough to have those close knit communities like they had in the past. We needed communities for survival back then, we needed all hands on deck and we were so less mobile. Now we have freedom to move and go where ever we like to go, I have left many communities behind by my moves. But I always made friends, new friends. We can connect but we need to make time for it. As with everything, do we dare to look at what we really want and then do it or is duty taking over? Do we take time for friendship or is the fear to make money driving me? Oh Patty, I think you touch again on letting us become aware of what is important for us here? Play, creation, warm connectedness with others or ignoring our inner desires in favor of work and drudgery and ultimately loneliness and emptiness. I go for warm fuzzies and play, thank you my friend and therefore a big warm virtual hug, do you feel it? xox Wilma

    • Thank you, my friend. Time keeps coming up doesn’t it? TAKING time. Not making it, finding it, etc. But grabbing hold of it. You lay it out so beautifully, Wilma, because in the end it really becomes a question of priorities. Are we willing to do less of something else in order to have this most precious gift of friendship in our lives? Playful, warm fuzzies, as you call it, Wilma! I’m thinking about all those words I’ve read about people at the end of their lives. They almost always say they wished they’d spent more time connecting with others. That’s what gets remembered. It seems like it always comes around to love and community – those are the essence of life, when all is said and done. So I’m sending love and virtual hugs right back to you!

  7. Hi there!

    People instantly get in sync together if they’re totally compatible. First time you meet the person, you know you’re gonna be with him/her for the longest time.

    At my age, I think I’m enjoying all of these. There’s sleepovers, texting and talking all through the night, hanging and partying out a lot even if there’s classes tomorrow, and then there’s boys and gossip. LOL. I love doing everything this way.

    I guess now, a lot of people are too focused with their work, with getting successful that sometimes they don’t know the Art of Friendship but the Art of Using People Until You Drain Them Out.

    • Welcome, HalfCrazy! So nice of you to stop by. You may be half crazy, but your words are very wise. You made me smile with your stories of friendship. I think we all could use a little more of what you have. And interesting juxtaposition about the befriending people vs. using people. So thanks!

  8. When I was married and raising a child, I didn’t want a computer, though my son tried his best lobbying for one. But in the last nine years on my own, I would have been lost without my on line pals, who incidentally, have frequently become face to face friends, at least as distance allows. I can’t even imagine that I might have missed the many talented, funny, warm-hearted, amazing people I have met through blogging.

    When I came out–or was outed–to my original family in 2004, they all dropped me like a hot rock, except for the two who stuck around to preach at me. But I have found community with other LGBT people, many of whom have similar stories to tell. As I said to my bloggy friend Tab, I do not believe that people are meant to walk alone.

    • Well, Shay, all I can say is they are a bunch of very limited people. Actually, I’m trying to be nice. I could say much more but, you know. I absolutely agree with you that the virtual world creates an important space for people to band together. And your story makes me think at a deeper level about my own experience. Because I’m here as a member of this community, but also as the face of my business. And in the work I do, confidentiality is incredibly important, and I can’t be friends with my clients. So I walk the fence a little with this blog. Because who knows if one day someone here might become my client? Which means my experience of online community is probably different from other people. And also, in my work I hear the ache and yearning, the profound desire to belong and be part of community, the frustration of spending five hours on facebook and still feeling lonely. Missing the experience of real connection. So I think when you put the two together it puts me in sort of an in-between space, and part of that is coming out in this post. Thanks for helping me to see that.

  9. I think we’ve forgotten to listen. When I do get together with friends, we seem to be in a hurry, finishing each other’s sentences or barely nodding to a statement before rushing on to the next topic. Not complaining, because I enjoy getting together, but notice that things used to be different. Comparing this to online communication, it’s nice to sit with someone and share moments of silence too, where you’re both absorbing what someone has just said.

    • Yes, I’m shaking my head “yes” as I read your comment. There’s this constant sense of something else to be got to, something to go forward to. What’s missing is that glorious sinking in, staying awhile, soaking in that experience of deep sharing and listening. That’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. I want more of that for all of us. Thank you, Davina, for putting that into words.

  10. Ah, yes, we’ve lost the art of making friends. It’s very natural to make friends when we’re younger, in school, in college. We isolate ourselves as we age, quietly and unknowingly. So many other things take up our energy, and friendship doesn’t have material payback, and in these times of quantification, it doesn’t get priority.

    The internet has opened up a new sort of friend-making, virtual, which can be interestingly wide open because of the anonymity, and some of these do end up friendships in real life.

    I do have close family, though I am distant from most of them, and that has kept me floating.

    Thanks for a poetic post on friendship.

    k

    • Perfectly said, K: “In these times of quantification, it doesn’t get priority.” And the point you make about anonymity in the virtual world is so true. We know each other, sort of, but not really. I know some people transcend that, and it’s wonderful. But the sheer numbers of virtual friends we have makes that unlikely in most cases. I read somewhere that a human being can only really handle 50 connections in their life. Or is it 100? I don’t know, but a much smaller number than what we have nowadays. So I’ve got a little theory brewing that we’re also in a state of overwhelm, and that in itself keeps us from knowing how to go forward to make real life friendships. In any case, I can relate to what you say about floating. Thank you.

  11. I love the sound of your voice, Patty.

    Thank you for a lovely post.

    I miss friendship. It seems very hard to come by these days. My childhood friends were left behind in Poland when my family emigrated to Australia and I never regained that same sense of company with anyone else. Maybe the two cultures are just different? Or maybe the huge shock and depression I experienced in the process made me highly sensitive and paranoid, unable to bond with anyone for a quite a long time.

    It is only in the last few years, as I began discovering myself again, began being true to myself again (something which so easy for us as children), that I find myself being able to form easier and yet stronger friendships with people. I trust them more and yet don’t rely on them for my own happiness.

    And I really, really enjoy the company of my online friends. There are so many now! People that I sometimes feel I know better than those I see daily. It is an interesting phenomenon – would I still be friends with them if I met them in person?

    • Welcome, Dorothy! Thank you for stopping by and your very kind words. And I so appreciate you sharing your story, putting another spin on this and helping us understand it from another perspective. Being true to yourself – trust – such an important point. There’s this wonderful spirit of balance between independence and collectivity in your description of where you are now. I’m fascinated by your question about online friends, too. Do we really know them better, or is this an illusion? I don’t know the answer, certainly, but it is a phenomenon worth exploring, I think. So thank you again!

  12. Love this post! There is so much in it. I am, later today, going out of my house to see a friend from childhood and high school. The occasion is not a happy one as we will bury her mother today. Some others will be there but she knows to expect me to be there even though we had not seen each other in 20 years until last summer.

    Those friendships we have from years past or months past make us who we are. Those virtual communities we become part of allow us to share who we have become with others. At that point in time, the real and the “virtureal” – a term stolen from Aidan – combine.

    • What great wordplay, Nicki! Virtureal. That Aidan is a smart cookie. I think the word implies so much, especially about the sweet spot that may exist between the two. Hard to center on, though, for a lot of people, I think. And your point about friendships making us who we are…oh yes! Beautifully put. So thank you!

  13. Patty –

    I resonate with this post. I have so many “friends” all over the world, some real, some only virtual. Yet I rarely get the immediacy of that very personal connection that comes from just being together with someone. I miss it and it is isolating. I have some very close friends, but geographical dispersion and the intensity of modern life can limit the frequency that we actually get together. Sometimes I yearn too for the good old days – time wasted at college, hanging out, chewing the fat, playing cards, laughing, day turning into night. Yet, if we create our own destiny we choose when and how we see friends and can make it happen too. If you miss someone, pick up the phone, plan something, make a date, have fun! Thanks for sharing and a great post.

    Phil

    • Immediacy is such a good word, Phil. That’s exactly it. And the intensity of modern life. Day turning into night. You’re full of poetry today, my friend! You create such a felt sense of what I’m writing about. And then you remind us, again, that we have a choice. We can do something about it. The only thing I would add (from experience) is that those friends out there are also on the treadmill of intense modern life, and sometimes when we pick up the phone they don’t know how to say “yes” to anything but the treadmill. I’m kind of thinking we all need to be educated about this! Thank you for making a start!

  14. I love how kids make friends. They basically say, “Let’s be friends”, and then they’re off playing. I once did that in my adult life with a friend’s new girlfriend. Yes, I was a bit tipsy, but it worked and she’s been a great friend for the last 5 years. We still laugh about it.

    I live in a community house with my husband, daughter and two other friends. I absolutely love it! It’s hard to call these people friends because the word doesn’t seem strong enough. Quite a family. We have others who are at our house all the time and just a as close.

    We’ve also run a coffeehouse over the last 14 years that stresses community and taking care of each other. This is my even bigger family. I can’t imagine life without them. As you can probably tell, I love people. The good, the bad, and even the ugly.

    • You know, Angela, your experience is like my dream. I’ve been fascinated by co-housing for a long time. And I think that’s a big part of the answer. Being willing to live in different ways. Creating new kinds of communities. Giving up some of our precious privacy (aka isolation and loneliness). Oh, and you would laugh if I told you how often I’ve fantasized about running a coffeehouse that would be a community nesting spot. I’d have my office there, have space for workshops and groups, and get a decent latte whenever I wanted! Hey, aren’t you a counselor too? Are you my alter ego???? As always, thanks for being here!

      • Not a counselor, but an office assistant in a counseling office on a college campus. almost the same thing sometimes ;-).
        my dream job is to be a professional coffee drinker and an idea maker. I would have my office at the coffeehouse. When ever people need a for something, like a headline or news story, or a theme for a party for instance, they can come to me and we’d brainstorm. then they can do the work. sounds fun, easy, and always inspiring. do you think it exists? well, at least in my dreams it does!

  15. There is nothing as sweet as laughter, great conversation, a road trip, words of encouragement, or breaking bread with friends. Makes our lives rich. Thanks for a beautiful post. Warmed my heart for the day.

  16. What you say is true. We have lost much of what we used to have as a community. Part of it seems to be the less you have in regards to money and material things the more time we had for each other. We could not afford the distractions that many of us get caught up in today and therefore we pooled our resources and gathered together. The advent of on-line community has also taken away from are opportunity to talk on the phone for hours or to get together face to face. Ah, the hungry years, in many ways they are the best.

    • You do know how to bottom line it, Mark. Thank you so much for that. Prosperity is indeed a two sided coin. I wonder, though, is there a way to maintain the essence of the hungry years, even when we’re no longer hungry?

  17. I believe that there some truth to ‘different stages in life. different friendships’. When responsibilities and challenges take over it’s much harder to find the time and leisure to just ‘hang out’. Friendships evolve, just like us. Right now the Internet is perfect because it fits in nicely with my healing journey.When I’m well I hope to move physically closer to some of my friends. Going out more; eye contact. My parents, as they grew old, had plenty of that. Again, their friendships changed alongside them.
    As long as we remain open and vulnerable to love’s touch, friends will find us and we’ll find them. 🙂

  18. Oh wow…this post really poses deep questions for me to think about. It is true that I have lost some connections with my older friends. I think it is because we have grown apart since I have decided to take a different path and perspective in spirituality. While online friendships may not sound as engaging, I am thankful that the internet exists. The “friendship connections” on the internet is different but is no less important.

    • That’s a great way to put it, Evelyn: different but no less important. I think finding that balance between the two is the challenge we all face right now, and seeing as how the internet is such a relatively new medium, I’m not surprised to hear that many of my clients are struggling with it. It will be interesting to see how it evolves in years to come. Thanks for the comment!

  19. Hi Patty! Well in over 60 years (yikes) I have experienced a revolving door in terms of friendships – but on the other hand, so many were acquaintances rather than close friends. I have a friend that I’ve known since 19, who lives across the country, but we are still close – another in a neighboring state from my early 20’s and one that is a hour away from my late 20’s. These are the most enduring of all – certainly withstood the tests of time and distance.

    I’ve learned that although you can become “attached” to people in the guise of friendship, they are often just messengers/teachers passing through your life and many of them are not meant to be a part of your life as much as they are to make you aware of things. I have to tell myself to let go and stop clinging when it appears the Universe has us going different directions. I love the ebb and flow of people that come into your life and embrace all of it!

    hugs
    suZen

    • Hi suZen – That’s wonderful to have those kinds of friends, that withstand the tests of time and distance. Truly precious. And interesting about how you’ve discovered many people are meant to be messengers and teachers. I love thinking of it that way. Leave it to you to share that lovely bit of wisdom. So thanks! And hugs!

  20. Hmmm… what is this “friendship” thing that thoust speakest of? I am unfamiliar with it. In fact, I’m sure I would not know it if it came and bit me affectionately on the posterior. 😛

    Seriously though, I love your fond recollections of childhood community because that is something I never had the fortune to experience when I was a child.

    Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever really felt a sense of community in any social circles I’ve frequented over the years. Scary. 😦

  21. Great post! In addition to your wonderful post, I think friendship is all about accepting one’s friend: his strengths and flaws. I think what makes a friendship last a long time is being able to share a part of one’s self to his friend completely. This means that an individual should first learn what his underlying values to be able to accept himself before being able to accept others.

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