People say I need friends. Is that true?

| Father Michael Schmitz | November 7, 2018 | 0 Comments
Friendship

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Q. I keep being told that I “need friends.” I don’t know that I do. I have enough people in my life (and more than enough stuff to keep me busy) that I don’t think that I need “another thing.”

A. I appreciate your honesty. I can imagine that, with all of your busyness and all of the people to whom you are responsible, friendship can just seem so unnecessary. And it is likely that there are many people in our culture who would say the same kind of thing.

There have been numerous articles written recently about the reality of friendlessness in our culture. One described how this is especially pronounced among men, particularly those who are 40 years old and older. They may have wives and children, people with whom they interact at work and even some “buddies,” but they experience a friendlessness in the midst of all of this. Even more, there are many people who don’t have families around them or children of their own. They merely have a list of relatively “disposable” relationships that are fine, but not what they might call “friendship.” And the number of people who experience this absence of friendship is growing, not shrinking.

As you wrote, you indicated that you don’t experience friendlessness as a pain at all. It sounds like you are like the person who is being told that they need more calcium in their daily diet, but you don’t experience fragile bones yet, so at this point calcium still seems optional. Sure, you could take a supplement every day, but you aren’t going to feel your bones becoming healthier. Likewise, you could not do anything and you will not feel your bones becoming more fragile. Friendship is a little bit like that: We know that it is good for us, but as long as we are trucking along and staying busy, it is optional.

But you have heard of osteoporosis. And you have heard of loneliness. So you know that there is something to all of this talk about the crisis of friendlessness, even if you haven’t felt it. This could be for a number of reasons, so let’s look at a few.

First, maybe you are very much like the person who isn’t taking calcium supplements who remains relatively healthy because you get calcium from other sources (like your food). There are a few different kinds of friendship as well. Two of these friendships might already be present in your life, serving as a kind of stop-gap when it comes to loneliness.

Aristotle taught about three kinds of friendship. There are friendships of pleasure, in which you spend time with friends for no reason other than you enjoy yourself with these people. They are the friends that you might most quickly call your “buddies.”

The next kind of friendships are those of utility. While this might sound the most sterile, friendships of utility can often be enjoyed just as much as (or even more than) friendships of pleasure. These could be the people with whom you work, the people with whom you play on a sports team, or the people with whom you like to do projects. Useful friendships don’t have to be reduced to “use,” but they are friendships oriented towards a goal; once the goal is gone, the friends will often have to find a new goal to occasion their time together.

The downsides of these two types of friendship are that they are both potentially fragile and fleeting. You desire something that is stronger and something that lasts. The friendship that transcends the first two that Aristotle described is called virtuous friendship. While the first two are based on mutual enjoyment and mutual help, virtuous friendship is based on “the Good,” in the sense of pursuing the virtuous life. What knits the two people together is the mutual pursuit of something bigger than they are that has captivated both of them individually, that they later discover has captivated them both together.

That might sound highfalutin, but this pursuit becomes the source of the highest kind of friendship. The two (or maybe more) people who are in this friendship will enjoy each other’s presence and will often find this friendship useful, but those are not the reasons why they are in relationship. They experience something bigger than the friendship itself.

Last thing. You may not want that kind of friendship because you are too busy. That makes the most sense. Because the single most important ingredient for friendship is time. But take a deeper look into this. Often, people’s loneliness is not felt simply because they have busied themselves so fully that not only do they not feel the sting of loneliness, they don’t feel much at all. Don’t be that person. And also, all of the great folks who have written on this topic point out that no one ever has many virtuous friendships; they might be lucky to have one in their lifetime. But you and I will never have that if we are living in a way that makes even one virtuous friendship impossible.

This entire article I have written as if loneliness is a bad thing, but I do not believe that loneliness is the enemy. Loneliness can move us to a deeper interior life with Christ, and it can move it outside of ourselves to learn how to give to others. It can be painful, but it doesn’t have to be bad.

Father Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Reach him at fathermikeschmitz@gmail.com.

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Category: Ask Father Mike