As someone who possesses a natural suspicion toward human beings, I tend to befriend only a few. With my college years coming to a close – well, with three and a half years left, but – and my already non-existent social life fading away, I’ve caught myself contemplating this question: why do I have friends? Why do I hang out with the people I hang out with? Is friendship intrinsically selfish? Why would others even consider associating with me when I make weird animal noises and overuse the words “pulchritudinous” and “twerk”?
The three rules of social attraction I learned in AP Psychology consist of proximity, similarity, and reciprocal liking. Proximity, which I touched on in this post, details that we like the people we come into contact with more often. Similarity states that we prefer those who have more in common with us, and reciprocal liking reveals that we tend to feel attracted to those who show that they also admire us. These three make sense: you need to see others to form bonds with them, we appreciate people who share similar attributes/ideas because they reflect ourselves, and empathy and our desire for love/acceptance explain the concept of reciprocal liking.
But exceptions abound. Time and place may desensitize us to people or help us understand them, but that does not imply any type of deep or meaningful friendship – you may live with your family for an extended amount of time but maintain better relations with friends. While the ability to fanboy The Hunger Games and a shared cultural background may aid in getting to know someone, certain differences can prevent close bonds despite an abundance of similarities. As for reciprocal liking, just because a person acts with kindness toward you does not ensure that you will do the same or feel in a similar fashion; otherwise, the just world phenomenon would not exist.
Aristotle’s three kinds of friendships add an agreeable layer of complexity that enhances the three rules mentioned above. The first, utility, focuses on friendships in which people “use” each other: coworkers who help each other out when issues in the office arise, study buddies who prepare for huge exams together, etc. The second, pleasure, deals with those who participate in fun activities together: people who you go out and party with, people who you play soccer or tennis with, etc. Aristotle notes that only one type of friendship has what it takes to truly survive and flourish, and he calls this friendship based on “the good.” These relationships take a longer time to develop and form between people with mutual respect and compassion, people who possess similar goals and values, and people who share a common paradigm of what the world should look like. This third friendship, when developed over time, represents to me the zenith of human interaction, the highest peak, the point of it all: to enjoy it is to enjoy a companion who will carry you through anything and everything, solely for the sake of your well-being.
I do not suggest that we can neatly divide all friendships or social interactions into exclusive categories. Nor should we think that we only need friendships based on the good – we should all strive for a healthy mixture of the three, because I doubt that we are all compatible enough with one another to be best friends. However, we should also strive to examine the friendships we have and why we find meaning within them to maximize our understanding of one another. Thinking about this might aid in conflict resolution and it might ameliorate our already existing relationships. Friendships that begin because of a shared interest in Queer as Folk or mutual participation in ping pong club could always develop into something more, with the proper amount of time and effort.
Most of what I referenced in this post comes from courses I’ve taken in high school and college – as I learn more, my view on friendship and social interaction will change. I’m taking a social psychology course this upcoming semester and that makes me super happy because I
can now rule the world with my supreme knowledge of humans and their weaknesses will expand my knowledge and have more to write about! I hope everyone has a fabulous Thursday and you can find my brief thoughts on Just Between Us by J.H. Trumble and A Clash of Kings by George R.R. here and here, respectively.
Why do you guys think you have friends? Do you find yourself nodding along with the concepts I’ve mentioned in this post or do you disagree? I feel that I’m most open, honest, and deep when it comes to my friendships based on the good – would you agree?