I read an article last week in the New Yorker about how an increasing amount of people living in New York City have been posting Craigslist ads seeking platonic friendship. The title immediately got my attention as I’ve often thought about how mystifying it is that people flood to places like NYC in an effort to avoid living in small isolated towns, yet walk around all day with headphones on and their eyes glued to their phones all while complaining about the surrounding amounts of traffic and people. My wife and I live in a small town but love NYC, so this naturally interested us.
It also reminded me of a sermon by Tim Keller that I listened to this year about “friendship.” Keller, who ironically live in NYC, says “you will not make it in life if you are not good at choosing, keeping, and forging terrific friendships.” He also points out that our culture, particularly movies, focuses solely on romantic and familial love and that there’s virtually nothing out there about friendship besides the hobbits’ relationships in Lord of the Rings. And isn’t this true? How many romantic comedies can most of us name off the top of our heads? Or, how many stories about someone overcoming adversity powered by a familial relationship can we recall? Dozens, right?
A lot of my time is spent immersed in a smaller, tight-knit Christian circle in which we spend a lot of our time discussing the importance of things like “healthy community.” However, I think that we actually often fail to understand the true importance of friendship. One of my favorite writers, C.S Lewis, says in The Four Loves, “The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides friends.” In other words, the people who just “want friends” are the very ones that struggle to make them.
Friendship is deliberate and takes much more effort than we often realize. Your family is your family whether you like it or not, and there are some obvious personal motives for seeking out romance. But as important as friendship is, it’s the fact that it’s the least necessary that makes it so sacredly unique.
The problem with just wanting friends is that wanting a friend is not wanting a friend at all. It’s wanting a companion or a buddy to be there to keep you company or to listen to you vent. True friendship should be rooted in the fact that you and another person see and believe in the same truths, as Lewis puts it. I think this is a good way to differentiate between friends and close friends. Who in your life shares your passions? Who believes in pursuing the things in life that you innately desire?
Ironically, my wife and I were just in NYC to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary, and although we were there to see the greatness that is Hamilton, we also ended up seeing Dear Evan Hansen, this year’s most raved about musical. Aside from the truly astonishingly perfect performances in the show, one of the things that stuck out to me was that in some ways this show portrayed what Keller and Lewis are getting at. The show starts out with the main character, Evan, singing things like “On the outside, always looking in” and “Can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me?” yet has him evolve to singing “Even when the dark comes crashing through/When you need a friend to carry you/And when you’re broken on the ground/You will be found.”
It’s a beautiful story of the need for friendship in this world, and I certainly neglect not only to appreciate my friends, but to appropriately value what they mean to me. I find my self all too often focusing on logistical and practical things when it comes to life like finances, location, and accomplishments rather then focusing on my friendships. I too often ask myself things like “what could I achieve and where can I achieve it” rather than “how can I orient my life around choosing, keeping, and forging terrific friendships for the rest of my life?”
Lastly, I don’t want to diminish the reality that this friendship thing is difficult. A good friendship should be characterized by both pain and laughing, and at its core, humility. Friendship is about the other person, not you. Ralph Waldo Emerson says it best in his essay on friendship: “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”