By Paul Koch –
I have written a lot on the topic of friendship over the years. It is a subject that I find fascinating and a universal component of the human experience, and deep down I know that it is personally crucial for my life. Friendship is not just a theoretical discussion or a curious observation of social constructs. No, it is something that I need in my life. I am the furthest thing from the “lone wolf” ideal of the American frontier; I need friends in my life. I don’t need a lot of them, but I need them. I need men amongst whom I know who I am; my worth, my strengths and weaknesses, my values and goals are best sorted out in the company of a friend.
Time and again, I have found myself reading what others have written on friendship. From Cicero’s treatise On Friendship to C. S. Lewis’ monumental The Four Loves or even Jack Donovan’s The Way of Men, each in their own way speaks to this deep longing I have for one or two real friends in my life. I have always sought them out and cherished them when I have them. There is an unreasonable strength in friendship, a daring that will throw caution to the wind and zig while everyone else zags. I think that Lewis was right when he said,
Every real Friendship is a sort of secession, even a rebellion… Men who have real Friends are less easy to manage or ‘get at’; harder for good Authorities to correct or for bad Authorities to corrupt.”
It is, I think, well know that with the ubiquitous presence of Facebook our understanding of a “friend” has been corrupted. A friend is no longer that brother who stands with you, works alongside you, or goes to bat for you. Now a friend is someone who follows you through social media and likes things you post online, not by really liking them but by clicking on the little like button. And thus, we create an army of friends who know nothing of friendship. They will not fight beside you, read to you when you are ill, or pray with you in distress, though they might message that they are “sending thoughts and prayers” your way, whatever the hell that means.
As a result, since we’ve allowed social media to redefine the terms, we’ve not only allowed it to redefine how we make friends but also how we lose them. And make no mistake: The ability to lose a friend is as important as making one. I was friends with kids from my high school, some others from middle school, and still others from elementary school. Heck, one of them was a friend through all of it. But they are friends no longer. We grew up, became different people, and no longer walked beside one another and worked on things with a common passion or interest, so the friendship slipped away. In Donovan’s words, we were no longer concerned about the same perimeter. In Lewis’, we were longing for a different rebellion. So, the friendships were lost.
Now the way I see it, a man can only have a certain number of real friends. And in my experience, that number will usually be quite small, a handful or two at the very most. So as one grows in life, as their focus and goals are sharpened, they will need to lose friends to make new ones. But with the wonders of social media, this loss is not much of an option. Without some sort of catastrophic explosion of the friendship, everything just rolls along in a sad and unfulfilling way. And what remains then is some sort of zombie-like friendship. It’s not really alive anymore, but it isn’t actually dead and forgotten either. When friendships die, we keep them alive with Facebook likes, Instagram comments, and retweets.
We’re slowly moving to a place where we will forget what a true friend is—where we will lower the bar of our definition of what a friend is to a happy medium of our collection of friends—because while we may continue to grab ahold of new friends, we will never let the old ones go, and when they are all friends, none of them will really be.
And perhaps if Lewis is right, if we lose friendship, then we lose the rebellion and become easy to manage.