There is this idea that friendship involves “hitting it off” with someone. A friend is someone you get along with. A friend is someone who understands you and a person with whom you have rapport.
This view of friendship only accounts for the easy good times. With this view, friendship is valuable if you generally have good feelings about your friend. If you benefit from the relationship, the friendship is also worth maintaining.
The flip side of this philosophy is that Americans are vigilant when it comes to guarding against what is called a “toxic” friend. These friends are to be discarded. I do not want to discount the possibility that some friends truly are toxic. If a single individual is entangling you in a web of emotional drama that is slowly taking over your life, it is good to make an effort to disentangle. Having a decent sense of self is just as important in friendship as in marriage.
However “toxic” is used to describe almost anyone who has any problems. A person who may be a little bit too emotional and clingy is labeled as toxic. A person who may feel more attached to you than you do to them is someone worth letting go. Someone who may be (even just a little bit) critical of your “dreams” is not a good friend. We must not allow people into our lives if they are experiencing any kind of mental illness. And if someone needs real physical help, like a few hours of emergency childcare? This person cannot be allowed to suck energy away from our own lives, dreams, and goals.
What does it say about us when we only keep friends who are easy and fun to be with? It says that we are people who have no friends. What value does a relationship have if it evaporates at the first sign of any difficulty? Very little.
Recently people have started talking about revisionist marriage. Roughly speaking, revisionist marriage is emotion based. This form of marriage is not permanent. In fact, there are few norms other than the maximization of enjoyment or usefulness for both partners.
Like marriage, friendship can be revisionist. That is to say, it can be based on emotion and a utilitarian view of relationships. Some people describe this in terms of the “throw away culture”. When a relationship loses its luster or experiences strain, it is tossed out.
The entire attitude of the revisionist or throw away view of relationships in general misses the fact that strain and conflict can strengthen bonds in the long run. When things are not easy, people’s true colors come out. Conflict reveals the edges of a person. It can show their deepest hopes and their deepest fears. Through even the most frustrating or painful of conflicts a newer sort of intimacy can develop, one that may even have more beauty than before.
There are some trees that need the wind. The wind breaks some of the bonds within its trunk and branches, but these bonds grow back stronger. The tree becomes what it is supposed to become through this stress of the wind. Friendship is like a tree. We are stunted, immature, and weak if we constantly shy away from the difficult process of holding on during the windy times and rebuilding when the calm returns again.