I had a bit of a weird moment a couple of years ago that turned out to be quite significant because I’ve thought about it often since. I walking with my friend Sam around Burnley Gardens. We came across this plaque on a bench overlooking a quiet corner of the gardens –
Sam asked me what words would be on my plaque (which wasn’t weird – she knows me well). Without hesitation, I said “Friend, swimmer, reader.” Sam replied, “Not mother?” And no, ‘mother’ was not what immediately came to mind. Analyse that whatever way you want… actually, it has come up a few times in my own therapy and I’m no closer to understanding my response, short of saying that my friends always have been, and always will be extremely important to me. I think much of it relates to what I witnessed with my grandmother.
That’s a long intro to Elizabeth Day’s memoir-ish exploration of friendships, Friendaholic.
Day describes herself as ‘addicted’ to friendship, and determined to be a ‘good friend’ because ‘…having lots of friends meant you were loved, popular and safe.’ But the result of this was that she was exhausted (because she said ‘yes’ to everyone), and her personal boundaries were constantly tested. This lead her to consider the difference between quality and quantity. She goes on to explain how she rebalanced her friendships, alongside an exploration of the evolution of friendships, and the types of friendships we might have (the fun-night-out friend, the frenemy, and so on).
From the outset, Day emphasises the lack of language and protocols around friendship, in comparison romantic love, stating that as a society, there is a tendency to elevate romantic love. Of her own friends she says –
There wasn’t any language I could reach for to describe precisely what they meant to me. Most of the vocabulary around love had been co-opted for romantic relationships. I told my friends I loved them all the time. But of course I wasn’t in love with them. It was more nuanced than that. I was passionate about them.
Later in the book she takes a scientific angle, stating that
…scientists have routinely overlooked the study of friendship because it has no reproductive value… But if friendship has no survival value, it certainly adds value to survival. We choose friendship – and this, in Aristotle’s view, makes it a higher-level love because of the freedom of intention that lies behind it.
In other words, we can’t choose our family but we can choose our friends. One of Day’s close friends grew up in very difficult family circumstances and stated that friendships were vital for her because they provided a way to ‘…understand that you can be loved in a different way outside of your family.’
Equally, unlike romantic relationships, friendships lack obvious or broadly accepted milestones –
Friendship is unique in not having anything – no birthdays, no anniversaries, no ceremonies to mark it. This means it’s also uniquely difficult to manage the development of a friendship in a careful and caring fashion.
It also means ending a friendship can be tricky. I have deliberately ‘broken up’ with two friends in the past – both were difficult experiences . Day describes her experience of ‘break-ups’, growing apart from friends and ghosting (interestingly, the research here suggests that we ‘renew’ half of our friendship group every seven years, so friendships are ending, either actively or passively).
There was nothing in this book that was new to me but I enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on my own friendships. Day notes that most of her lasting friendships were ‘…sparked not by a shared hobby but by an initial frisson of kindred feeling.’ It’s the same for me and I always think of the Anne’s (of Green Gables) definition of a ‘kindred spirit’ when I think of my very closest friends.
I received my copy of Friendaholic from the publisher, Harper Collins Australia, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Emma and I have been best friends since meeting in freshers’ week at university. She was funny, smart, half Swedish, and popular. I was unsure of myself and had sprained my ankle after the Lacrosse Club fed me one too many vodka jellies and encouraged me to run for the ball while wearing high-heeled boots on the college bar’s concrete forecourt (which, if anyone reading this is tempted to try it, is definitively Not A Good Idea).
I wonder if the need for friendship has anything to do with being an introvert or an extrovert?
Hmmm…good question. I am certainly extroverted (and if I see someone standing alone at a social function, I will always go over and talk to them). Day describes herself as introverted, and having friends around her were a buffer.
Most introverts prefer to have a small number of close friends… and find social events exhausting.
That’s me! I hate social events, especially parties, and if I go solo I usually latch on to some poor person and chew their ear off all night because i’m terrified of mingling. Recently did some psychological testing at work and it showed I’m excellent at relationship building (in fact, this is supposedly my number one skill) but only on a one-on-one basis; not in groups.
I think I’ve got worse since covid. At the Bendigo Writers Festival I want to the ASA 60th anniversary reception, and I lasted no time at all. And as I waited outside for The Spouse to come and collect me, there was a small but steady stream of fellow introverts leaving too.
My standard strategy is to head for the kitchen and help with the dishes….
I usually say I’m going to the loo and then I leave. I think this is called a “French Exit” 😆
I find it interesting that friendships have not been widely studied.
Same! I had not really thought about it until I read this book.
I occasionally have to think about friendship in the context of people thinking of themselves as my friend, when I see them as an acquaintance, because they’ve said or done something that makes me aware of our different perspectives. I’m with Lisa on the introvert/extrovert thing. I’m introvert with a social front, and I have tiers of friendship, I’ve come to realise, with a handful who are close friends (the kindred spirits that I am fully myself with), maybe a dozen that I socialise with meaningfully, and then arms-length acquaintances who get the social front. I left a job I’d held for almost 20 years this week, and navigating the acquaintances’ demands for a leaving do was quite a task!
Pingback: Six Degrees of Separation – from Friendaholic to Loneliness | booksaremyfavouriteandbest