Saturday, November 6, 2010

Deep-down Friendship

True, lasting friendship is rare. This is one of the conclusions I drew from a recent Malcolm Gladwell piece in the New Yorker about social networking

He says that Twitter, Facebook and other types of social media might promise "thousands of friends" but really provide only weak ties. While extolling the benefits of such weak ties, Gladwell implies (or I infer) that there is not much lasting strength in such ties since they involve little risk.

People sign up to be your Facebook friend because it's easy, because little is involved. Genuine friends are hard to find in part because so many people aren't able to commit the time and effort to listen and attend to another person, to love him or her. All that takes emotional risk and effort.

I have only one such friend, who's indispensable to me and the most important person, other than my wife, in my life. (The only problem with him is that he works so much I hardly ever see him.) In the 13 years of our association, he always moves beyond surface chatter that men engage in (sports, etc.) to go deeper. His listening is a form of love. This skill, and our friendship, developed during a men's group we were part of for many years. There three of us shared intimate details of our lives and, in confidence, learned to trust and listen to each other, to see how much emotional stuff we had in common.

I used to mention the idea of a men's group to my students in the Masculinity course I developed, and they were amazed that such things exist. I shared with them data on how few men have really strong male friends (due, in part, to homophobia) and how essential such ties are. We looked at the strong male bonds in myth and literature and the way the companion completed the friend, analogous to the way the feminine completes the masculine.

The course is over, the group has ended, and other friendships have ended. That alone is an interesting topic: how do real frinedships end? Apparently, in silence and awkwardness. I've had so few real ones I am no expert, and have always found lasting friendship to be nearly impossible to achieve, a form of love that Erich Fromm talked memorably about and that is greatly undervalued in our culture of weak ties.

I am inexpressibly grateful for strong ties, especially for the ones forged over the miles with my over-worked and over-stressed friend. What would I do without him?

1 comment:

Ned Kessler said...

You are both very fortunate to have that one true friendship. I wish I could say the same. I have many friends, but not at the level of which you speak.