Sunday, September 18, 2011

Thesis 5: The importance of friendship

My fifth thesis is that friendship is the other core human relationship, on a par with marriage and potentially its complement.

The factors that lead us to marry are many and varied, so it is difficult to generalize. In my own experience, the attraction between the marriage partners obscures their differences. They then spend considerable time dealing with this. The book editor Elizabeth Snowden told me once that she felt that the first four years of marriage or its domestic prelude, sharing a household and daily existence, are spent sorting this out.
    My sense is that beneath that sorting out are deeper differences that can't be fully sorted. For the marriage to continue, there has to be an accommodation. Beyond this is whatever the marriage partners cannot or will not provide each other. Part of the ripening of a marriage is often the desire for a fuller life. Individuality asserts itself, and with this comes the impulse to transcend the marriage - in effect, to enlarge it.
    Part of the initial sorting out early in a marriage is the sorting out of friends. Their claims are examined and their relative compatibility with both partners examined. Some friends survive this vetting and others fall away. The friendships that are made in later life may revive the past or arise anew, but they reflect a truly individual preference.
    Friendship becomes important because it's part of the territory the individual is exploring and extending - the territory of the self. The friends one makes there may be exclusive to it or they may come to relate to the marriage, too - this cannot be said in advance. What is possible to say is that the marriage can be enriched by friendship and vice versa. For this to happen, the territory of individuality has to be respected.
    The other partner may envy or regret the friendship, because it speaks to differences between the married couple. One cannot be what one is not. Yet friendship makes a different point: we are who we are. This applies to the marriage, too.
    Friendship is not a familial tie, although it may become one. The friend of one or the other partner may become the friend of the couple and the family, or may simply be the particular friend of one individual, ideally accepted and respected as such, but not part of the larger circle. Each couple, each family, and each friendship has to work this out for itself.
    What makes friendship a core human relationship is its tie to our individuality. Friendships arise, in the end, because self-fulfillment is part of our makeup. As we get older, this aspect of our humanity comes forward. We may find it entirely in activities, but friends often figure. At this stage in life, a friendship can be profound. Among friendship, marriage, and family, the love and closeness we feel is different in each case. Each has its claims, but of the three, friendship is the least encumbered. It has no dynastic ambitions. Two friends may end up sharing certain things, like a correspondence. They may even end up living together. Still, there's a difference. The heart of it, to me, is the willingness to take the other straight up.

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