Friends versus Acquaintances

Last night, the concepts of “friend” versus “acquaintance” spun through my mind. I won’t try to explain why, because I think the explanation would only serve to erroneously paint me as a depressed skeptic. I’d rather think of myself as a disappointed realist. According to an online dictionary upon which I tend to rely when I’m not particularly fussy, here are the definitions:

Friend:”a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.”

Acquaintance: “a person known to one, but usually not a close friend.”

Admittedly, the definitions could be more precise, but they serve the purpose of comparison. The core differences are the “feelings of affection or personal regard.” What’s missing in both definitions is the concept of reciprocity. So, I may consider a person—for whom I have feelings of affection and personal regard—a friend while that person may consider me only an acquaintance. Questions then arise.  Are the two of us friends or merely acquaintances? Is it possible for one of us to be a friend and the other simply an acquaintance? Of course it is. And then there’s the degree of affection and personal regard involved between friends. Again, differences may well exist between the two parties to friendship, wherein one is highly invested in the well-being and happiness of the other while the other’s stake in his friend’s welfare measures far lower on the scale.

My definition of friendship differs from the dictionary definition in that I consider factors beyond affection and personal regard in the “equation” that defines friendship. In my romantic world, there would be two levels of friendship. At the first level, friends would have feelings of affection and personal regard for one another, but those feelings would translate into only a moderate willingness to sacrifice one’s comfort or convenience for the well-being of the other. For example, if that “first level friend” were to call me to ask me to come help push his car to a gas station, I might be willing to do it if I had nothing pressing on my schedule and I had to drive no more than twenty miles to reach him (obviously, there’s no fixed distance involved here…only an arbitrary and abstract measure). If those limits were exceeded, I might offer to call someone else for whom the endeavor would be less inconvenient.

But a “close friend” could expect far more from me. I would readily adjust my commitments so that I could go to my friend’s aid. It’s probable that I would be willing to drive to the next town or even the next state to help, if that’s what it took. A close friend can absolutely depend on me to go to great lengths to help.   A close friend is, in many respects, like a member of one’s family, in that the relationship suggests a willingness to commit to a person’s well-being, even at the risk of doing damage to one’s own. And it’s not just willingness, either. It’s the sense that one wants to be there for a friend and that the inconvenience or discomfort that might accompany the act are irrelevant and, in the final analysis, negligible.  Perhaps “love” is not too strong a word to describe the bond involved in true, close friendship.

So, my romantic definitions of friendship suggest that these relationships exist in the real world. And I’m sure they do. But, in my experience, they are rare, Neither “first level” nor “close” friendships have been common in my life. Acquaintances are far more common than friends and far less fulfilling. The paucity of friends, regardless of “level,” leaves big, aching, empty vacuums in one’s heart, or wherever one chooses to suggest emotional attachments reside. The absence of knowing there’s someone who’s available and willing to come to your aid, whether physical or emotional, at any time, anywhere, creates a painful, tender place in one’s psyche. I suppose the best way to describe it would be to call it the embodiment of loneliness.

I’ve written so many times about friendship and what it means, or might mean, that it’s obvious to me that the idea of friendship or the absence thereof has left a raw spot inside me. I wonder how many people feel they are sufficiently close to me that they could call me, day or night, and ask me for help and expect to get it? I suspect the number is considerably lower than the number of people who could actually make the call and get the help they need. And maybe that’s true of me, too. Perhaps there are more people who would be readily available for that midnight call from me than I think.  If either is the case, I wonder why the sense of closeness isn’t more obvious? A sense of commitment differs from a sense of appreciative obligation. I wonder how the disparity between those two concepts fits into friendship?

One day, if life is long enough, I shall explore all I’ve written about friendship and try to make some sense out of what I feel, what I think, and what I believe friendship is. And, if I can make sense of it, I’ll commit to writing my final assessment of the matter. Ultimately, though, a written assessment, based on extensive study, cannot possibly be as meaningful as deeply experiencing the real thing. While I’m philosophizing on the subject, I’ll go on record to say that it’s bloody hard to have even a surface conversation, much less one that digs beneath the surface, about friendship with most men. I think masculinity has been twisted and disfigured so damn much that emotions have almost been completely wrung out of it. I won’t go down that rabbit hole this morning. I’ve done that enough already.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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