According to Glenn – What Are Friends For?
“I see it’s more than one page now,” my childhood friend Adam said dryly via text message late one Friday afternoon in March, referring to my column in the last issue of mvm.
“No, not normally,” I told him. “I went long, and we had the space available.”
Then I told him the subject of my next column was going to be about friends who bust balls (and when he reads this, he’ll realize I wasn’t kidding). He responded by saying, “And what are friends for, may I ask?”
And that got me thinking about the meaning of friendship.
Another friend of mine — we’ll call him Uncle Si in order to keep his identity a secret — thinks I use the term “friend” far too loosely. In fact, he’s told me “he/she is not your friend” so often that the phrase echoes in my head like a cheesy song that won’t stop. But I use the term to describe personal relationships that are more comradely than is typical.
Those people might include customers, vendors, freelancers, even employees, but according to Uncle Si, these are all people who benefit in some way by dealing with me, so they’re only nice in order to continue benefitting in whatever way that is, thus not friends. Friendship is a more exclusive construct to him, although I’m not sure how he really defines it.
My conception of friendship can best be thought of as concentric rings, with the innermost ring being those people outside of family who I am closest to and who have, in times of real distress in my life, been there to lend genuine help with no expectation of reciprocity. Successive rings are differentiated by a number of factors, including frequency of interaction, the nature of the relationship, and whether there is a real give and take with each party that is supportive, nurturing and beneficial in some way.
Clearly, not all relationships are friendships, but not all friendships are qualitatively the same.
Uncle Si thinks that is crap. He’s never given me his concise definition, although I suspect the longevity of the relationship has significance to him. I don’t object to that criterion, but to me, it’s only one factor.
People can move in and out of my concentric ring concept. There are certainly people who I once thought of as friends who I don’t speak to anymore. In some instances, the choice was theirs; in others, mine. And in one or two instances, it bothers me that a relationship evaporated for reasons unknown to me.
But I think it’s better to focus on and appreciate the friendships that have sustained, and to always be open to the creation of new ones. After all, aren’t the connections we make with people what we really value most in life? I think Facebook provides plenty of support for that position. That’s why it’s been co-opted by the 35-plus crowd and has more than a billion users.
So whether he likes it or not, I consider Uncle Si to be in my inner ring, having helped guide me through some seriously troubled waters, and for that I’ll always be grateful. As for Adam, well, in addition to being my oldest friend, he was the one by my side when my dad died. We were 16, smart-asses, and not just a little shaken up by the event. And we’ve been there for each other ever since, through marriages, children, careers, business, family — a river of life filled with more than one set of rapids.
Glenn J. Prezzano is the president of 512 Media Inc., founder and publisher of Merrimack Valley Magazine, Merrimack Valley Home and book publisher Merrimack Press. You may talk back to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.