Although sexual love is an important part of Catholic thought, it’s not the single overriding issue that some people make it to be. So it’s time to shift to another happy circumstance, friendship. I’ve been reading C. S. Lewis, and The Four Loves, really for the first time. And it’s a wonderful book, full of cheer and practicality, like the joy of the door marked with “Gentlemen”, and it does not take God’s world as evil. His chapter rehabilitating Friendship as love, philia in the Greek, correlates highly with a conversation I was having a few weeks ago, about what defines a Friend. For that person’s benefit, and others, here’s my list.
- Shared Activity. Pretty much anything can be the common connection: school, work, gardening, walking the neighborhood, softball, church, dance, Mah-jongg. There needs to be something to bring people together. I’ve found friends through school, work, church, and cards myself. Of course, this isn’t enough for philia. Lewis calls the people we interact with Companions, a fine term. I’ve used Acquaintance before to describe the same situation. Modern American society, like The Facebook, will often call these people Friends, but that’s a little cavalier. The Australians use “mate”, which works better. The majority of people we meet here remain separated from our small circle of Friends.
- Values. Companions tend towards deeper relationships when they find that they share an outlook, a vision, something more than participating in the activity. Lewis states this well: “Do you see the same truth? Or at least, do you care about the same truth?” Sometimes this isn’t a positive belief; I once bonded with someone over our shared dislike of a teacher. People that share our values, but nothing else, are political allies or, as Lewis notes, Fellow-Travellers. This might be the trickiest of the four qualities to find, because it comes from outside ourselves, and thus the scariest. I can take up all the activities I want, but unless someone else shares my view and communicates that, I won’t find a friend. Fortunately for me, this has been not impossible.
- Trust. The Counselor is Trust without activity or value. Trust is the respect to listen and provide advice, and to believe the inherent good intent of the other in those suggestions. It makes it easy to speak about the shared values. We of the Don’t Talk to Strangers generation often have trouble here, as our upbringing makes trust challenging. We can spread emotions publicly like on TV, unlike the older generations, but intimate confession is difficult. We often wind up with lots of decent Mates.
- Power Equality. Finally, friendship is shared between people of equal standing. Lewis wonders why Scripture doesn’t represent the relationship between God and Man as Friendship, when it does use Affection (storge) and Eroticism (eros, like in some way the Song of Songs). He misses this point; since we should never consider ourselves equal to God, we cannot use the language of togetherness. The sharing, the belief, the trust of this type of love are extremely difficult when one person has responsibility or power over the other. The temptation is to distrust, to hold back, to consider how the information might become used. This is hard enough when of the same rank, and I think unfeasible with power. Instead, we can have a Mentor, or a trusted Boss, or a Student, or a TA. Although those relationships can convert once the power is removed, they’re not Friend-love.
As you might suspect, the bar for full Friendship is pretty high. And this state can be lost as the relationship changes. In my transient school-based life, Friendship is generally lost because one party graduates and moves away, losing the common activity. Then I get another Old Friend, or Friend Emeritus. So I don’t consider it unusual that I would call just four people Friends right now, and I don’t think I’ve ever had more than six. (I also have two current relationships that may become Friendships.) My current active Emeritus count is five. Actually, I would suspect that this total is higher than most Americans’, when they truly searched under the definition. And as such, I take this kind of love seriously. I’m still pained by my error sixteen months ago, when in the start of my latest severe depression, I confused the signs of friendship with romantic friendship and hurt someone. Pain is always a potential consequence of any type of love, it seems. But like all the loves, there are great benefits.