The Problem With Friendship

Written By: Timothy Fish Published: 10/1/2007

“How are you friend?” the man asked as he extended his hand and shook mine. Aside from the warmth that I could feel emanating from his hand, his hand was weak, limp, dead. I tried made eye contact and tried to tell him that I was fine and enquire about his own wellbeing, but he ducked his head out of the way as if he feared that my gaze would harm him in some way. Our hands parted, he quickly turned away and moved on to shake hands with a friend of mine who was standing a few feet away. “How are you bud?” the man asked my friend. I did not hear my friend’s response, but I did see the man make that same ducking motion as my friend also attempted to make eye contact. I could not continue to observe the man because there were other people coming through the door.

Friend, it is an interesting term, but how do you define it? The man above seems to think it is just something to call people. I have sixty-four friends on, but many of them may see me as just another name that shows up on the Internet from time to time. In grade school, kids will sometimes ask each other to be friends, but adults do not ask, they are or they are not. Then some friends are closer to us than our families.

We all want friends and I suppose that if friendship cost us nothing then we would all be friends, but what good is a friendship that costs us nothing? Friendship is more than calling someone friend or liking someone. I was reminded of this when I noticed that Jenny B. Jones jokingly (I think) tried to send a subliminal message to Brad Pitt for him to call her. I did not expect him to call her, but why not? Would it be a bad thing for him to add one more person to his circle of friends? He has so many already, would one more make that big of a difference? I do not know how many women have put up blog posts suggesting that Brad Pitt should call them, but I suspect that it is several. A quick Google search shows that there are even a few who have posted their phone numbers. The reason I don’t expect Mr. Pitt to call Jenny is because calling every woman who wants him to call would cost him significantly. I do not know why Jenny wants him to call, but I am sure that he does not have time to develop a friendship or working relationship with all of the women who would like him to do so.

Friendships are costly. We must spend time conversing with the other person to develop a friendship. We may even have to spend money because of our friendships. If those requirements were not enough, there is the question of how much of a friendship the other person wants. Will the other person find it bothersome if I ask for help? If so, will that harm our friendship? Does this person want to spend time with me, or is he doing it to be polite? It gets even more complicated when we start considering friendships where the possibility of a romantic relationship is involved. What if one person just wants to be friends and the other wants more?

When we begin to talk about the friendships that develop online, there are additional issues to consider. Aside from the fact that many of the people we encounter online use pseudonyms rather than actual names, it is difficult for us to determine whether a person is telling the truth or not. This was a problem that I eluded to in Searching for Mom. There are some situations in which we can have a reasonable expectation that the other person is telling the truth, but if a person wants to go to, it is possible for a person to create an online presence that is different than the real person behind it. This forces us to be extra critical of the people we encounter online.

The problem with the need to be critical is that it makes it difficult to get to a level of trust that is needed for even the weakest of friendships. A critical statement, a misplaced word or a mistake of another kind can result in one person writing the other person off as just another person to avoid. Things that might be ignored in a face-to-face encounter may be dissected and analyzed until none of the friendship is left.

I do not have a solution, but I know that one is needed. We are going to see more and more interaction online, but unless we can solve the problem of getting people close enough together to develop a level of trust then there will be few true friendships that develop online. Instead, we will have strangers who hold themselves at arms length. We will all be in a stalemate, as we never learn enough information to determine whether we can trust other people and we will never give other people enough information for them to trust us. We may even walk around on eggshells for fear that out actions and our words may be taken the wrong way.