Because I can’t quite figure out how to get straight to the point, let me start clumsily from afar. The world is a huge and fascinating thing, the world inside your head is equally huge and fascinating. Friendship is when you somehow manage to find someone in that unbelievably huge external world with whom you can share your internal world and marvel at the wonderful thing that is in their head, whilst they’re doing the same… No, this is terrible, let me try again…
I have been trying to figure out friendship for years now, maybe since I came to UK, probably even before that. Because, really, what makes a person a friend? And, I guess, one of the main problems here is how do you define ‘a friend’? Just to be safe I looked in Merriam-Webster:
1 a : one attached to another by affection or esteem
b : acquaintance
2 a : one that is not hostile
b : one that is of the same nation, party, or group
3 : one that favors or promotes something (as a charity)
4 : a favored companion
5 capitalized : a member of a Christian sect that stresses Inner Light, rejects sacraments and an ordained ministry, and opposes war — also called Quaker
It’s dead easy to make friends in most of the senses above. You don’t act like a dick and it’s usually enough, before you know it you have thousands of Facebook or Twitter friends. And sometimes in the past, lots of times, actually, I used to confuse these types of friends with those that matter.
I guess, the difference is in how you behave around the different categories of friends. Admittedly it took me a while to figure out that it is quite impossible for everyone to like you (they don’t even need to have a legitimate reason, it might be the way you breathe, talk or look). I think I mostly understood it logically before that, but the real understanding came in my mid-twenties and it was a relief. First of all, you totally have the right to do the same and not feel guilty about it. But also, frankly, who cares what acquaintances, not hostiles and those of the same nation, party or group think of you. There is close to zero need to be careful around what you do or say around them, because, well… if you don’t click - you don’t click. You can even go a bit over the top sometimes just to have some fun in the process.
Then there’s people whose company you enjoy when they’re there, and don’t particularly miss when they’re not. You’ve got shared interests, or opinions, some puzzle pieces fit, some don’t and it’s fine, you can focus on the ones that do. A good example are my school friends. We shared interests while we went to the same school, then years passed, the few interests in common diverged and we went on to do other stuff.
But also sometimes I come across people whom I find interesting or intriguing, in whom I see reflections of myself or other people I know, and I start putting effort into trying to impress them. And maybe, for a while, avoid doing those extra weird things you sometimes do. The idea is that in the process of impressing you get to know each other well enough for the need to impress to disappear, maybe to be replaced by more than enough common interests or, who knows, mutual respect. I’m still not sure this is a solid strategy, or if, maybe, I should stop doing that and just try and play it cool. Because…
Well, because there are also people with whom you just click. And it’s effortless. There’s no one-sidedness in conversations, no need to come up with a list of topics to talk about beforehand. You just talk, or just sit quietly doing your own things, enjoying each other’s company. You just fuse. And isn’t that an interesting situation? Because you find yourself caring about what those people think, but you never feel the need to be conscious of what you’re saying or doing around them - because you get them, they get you and you both end up tuned to the same wavelength.
I think that last kind of friend is the only kind of friend that I’m willing to legitimately use the word ‘friend’ for. For me it involves a mixture of love and deep respect that I will never feel towards acquaintances; using ‘friend’ for the 1b, 2a, 2b, etc., definitions above, for me, kind of devalues the meaning. In a world with more than 7 billion people - it is both ridiculously and understandably hard to find friends. However, a comforting thought, if I count the number of friends I have, I will have to use fingers on both hands. These days my friends are dispersed across cities, mostly cities that I’m not currently in. And it is always a little bit heartbreaking to realize that you’ve ended up in the wrong city. But with friends, there is a thing I know from personal experience - they’re like home, it doesn’t matter how far they are, it doesn’t even matter if you haven’t seen them for a year, because when you do meet again - it’s like you never left.