As young adults, we devote a good deal of time and mental energy to our friendships. Part of developing our identities involves carving out a place for ourselves through relationships with those who surround us and within the social circles of our own choice. The people we chose to be with in our lives become increasingly important as we move toward independence from our families and the familiarity of our childhoods.
This newfound emphasis on relationships goes hand in hand with pondering the nature of these friendships and trying to find ones that work the best for us.
What is the nature of friendship, and can friendships that arise from different circumstances all be equally beneficial? Is it necessary to split the effort invested in the relationship 50/50? Is it even possible to maintain relationships in which one commits the majority of the emotional energy?
There’s an infinite number of questions that we may, consciously or subconsciously, ask ourselves regarding our friends. What makes a good friend, while a subjective judgement call, is defined in a unique way by the philosopher Aristotle. He suggests that there are three types of friends that people make: friends of utility, friends of pleasure, and friends of the good. Perhaps one of the most relevant questions people ask themselves when looking at a relationship is whether or not the friend is a friend of convenience or, in Aristotelian terms, a friend of utility.
Convenient relationships usually arise out of proximity, such as floormates in our dorm or other students in our class. Much of the dialogue shared often consists of questions about the force behind your proximity, such as homework, along with plenty of occasionally awkward small talk thrown in. For many people, finding themselves surrounded with friends of this type is incredibly frustrating. Aren’t friendships supposed to bring about a deeper connection in which two people can highlight the best in each other and enjoy things together? If we can’t be friends of the good (essentially Aristotle’s friendship goals), what’s the point of being friends at all?
Ultimately, however, even though the end goal of friendship is often idealized as finding some sort of life-changing, deeply profound connection that will last for your entire life, more menial relationships are entirely necessary as well.
Humans are social creatures, and we often can’t afford to be as exclusive as we’d like; it goes without saying that every friend we make can’t possibly be a perfect match for our personalities, interests, etc. But, we won’t come across as very kind or tolerant if we simply refuse to associate with those who don’t fit our Best Friends Forever standards. Small talk is not a bad thing, and friendship shouldn’t have to be black and white. Our relationships with others can fall anywhere on the massive, wonderful spectrum of human connection. Sometimes, we just need someone to walk to class with, grab a quick bite, or even text at ungodly hours to complain about an assignment. That doesn’t mean that everyone we share a piece of ourselves with has to know our life stor or have a spot on the guest list for our future wedding.
In my opinion, the more friendly interactions we can have with people we see frequently, the better. As long as we can distinguish between these friendships born of convenience and the deeper, more life-giving ones that may be harder to come by. Don’t glorify a friendship of convenience as something it’s not; it’s absolutely healthy to surround ourselves with all kinds of people.
Finally, the more friendships you experience, the more knowledge we gain as to what we’re really looking for in a true friend. Drama and heartbreak are pretty much an inevitable aspect of the human experience, but that doesn’t mean we should hold back- it’s as necessary as it is unavoidable, and every connection we make (and even sever) helps us grow as people.
And who knows? Give those friends of convenience a chance, and we just might have a friend of the good someday.