Tuesday, March 15, 2011

f r i e n d s

Sorry about the length of this post - the majority of it was penned at three in the morning.


Friends are great.  Friends are my favorite (not favorite in that way I call every second thing that crosses my mind a favorite, but a legitimate favorite, promise).  Sit up with someone at the kitchen table, talking about relationships and independence and God and learning and struggles and people and articulating doctrine versus living doctrine, eating cheese and chocolate chips, and then tell me that friends are not your favorite.

Thanks for tonight, Jill.  Finals week is the one for staying up late.  While most people would have used the hours drinking thirteen cups of coffee at a wild study break in Gwinn and then actually studying, our Robbins After Dark was much more appealing.  Thanks for letting me be vulnerable in our relationship while I talked about my struggle with being vulnerable in relationships.  I appreciate you more than you know.

Friends, friends.  I think our perception of friendship is skewed.  Blame facebook, blame the weird little bubble we live in, blame the deliberate privacy screens we all throw up between ourselves and others.  I think we need a re-evaluation of language when it comes to friendship.  I find the phrases "Oh my gosh, I want to be friends with them," and "friend crush" tripping off my tongue more than is probably healthy.  Especially since the word "friend" encompasses so many different types of relationships and I'm not sure which type I mean.

Let's break it down.  Here are the people I encounter in a typical day in the life.  Take today, for instance:
  • Stranger strangers: this is someone you've never seen before in your life.  Random freshman in the library, that guy waiting at the bus stop, your checker at Trader Joes.  Defined as strangers.
  • Familiar strangers: this is someone whom you don't know, but know, you know?  The people you pass every day when you take the same paths between classes, the guy who works at the Teacup, that one kid from your USEM who you haven't ever had a conversation with.  You might know their name, major, dorm, but that's all.  Defined as strangers.
  • Acquaintances: this is someone whom you know, but don't know.  That person you have two classes with this quarter, a friend of a friend, someone you've been introduced to multiple times.  Maybe you've shared in a conversation; you're probably on smile basis when you pass on the street, maybe even "hi" basis if you're bold.  Defined as strangers or friends, depending on the story you're telling (most often described as "So, this kid in my class").
  • Acquaintance friends: this is someone whom you know and are comfortable sharing in conversation with but have never dipped down into anything deeper.  That guy who works at the desk next to yours, a good friend's roommate, the nine other people who shared that boring class with you last quarter.  Defined as friends.
  • Friends: this is someone who has reached hugging basis, whom you know a bit more than the typical "Hey, how are you?" of acquaintance friends.  Those girls who lived on your floor, those kids you went to school with for eleven years, the cousins you see on every Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Defined as friends.
  • Good friends: this is someone who knows the bad in you as well as the good, someone with whom you can be honest, someone who knows a little of your past, of your struggles, of the person you've been and the person you're becoming.  This is someone who has seen you cry, who has gotten into a huge fight with you but still loves you, the person who is important enough to schedule time for to make sure you see them on a weekly basis.  This is someone who has had an impact on your life because you have known them.  Defined as friends.
  • Soul friends:  this is someone who has had a profound impact on your life.  I can count my soul friends on one hand, minus a couple of fingers.  This is someone who knows you.  This is the one person you want to spend time with when the rest of the world has you feeling awful/homicidal/dejected.  Defined as friends.
The last four and a half categories are all called friends when you're talking about them.  But they are so vastly different.  I'm calling for a revolution in language.  Because some random kid in my class whom I talked to that one time in the library when we were both working on our papers does not warrant the same label as my roommate who stays up way too late, listening to me talk about things I've never talked about with anyone.

Perhaps I'm too liberal with the label of friend.  This is where I'll blame facebook.  "Oh yeah, we're friends."  No, you're not.  Do you know where they're from?  How many brothers or sisters they have?  Do you know what they want to do with their life?  Do you know what their laugh sounds like?

There's something beautiful in the progression of relationships, though, in having someone climb these tiers into your life, into your heart.  Sometimes people never progress.  Sometimes people jump whole steps in one moment, going from acquaintances to good friends with one moment of shocking vulnerability. 

Not everyone fits into one of these categories.  And, unfortunately, it's possible for people to fall down the tiers.  Some sort of pyramid is formed here.  I find that I focus more on wanting to make my acquaintances, acquaintance friends and friends into the same group; I want to know and hug and be comfortable around as many people as possible.  But shouldn't my focus be on gaining more good friends?  More soul friends?

There has to be something pertinent about the desire to be known by a lot of people.  But what do I mean when I say known?  Is hugging basis really enough for me?

I think, somewhere in the back of my independent mind, I think it is.  But, even further back than that, buried underneath some random facts about James Joyce, my high school fight song, and the entire prologue to the movie version of the Fellowship of the Ring, I know that is not enough.  I need to be known.  To be forced out of my comfortable, singular existence.  I need to question people, and be questioned in return.  I need to be forced to think about things, to hear ideas from other peoples' minds.  I need people to come alongside me and say, "I know you.  And because I know you, I know some thing's wrong, even when you're trying to hide it underneath a smile and a hug and a squeeze of the arm."  I need someone who will be there to offer help even when I am too stubborn to ask for it.


  1. Anna, this is beautiful. I love this post, you are not allowed to apologize for it. It is now five hours since I woke up from my nap to study for finals, but they have been filled with important and significant things, so I'm okay with that.

    Friendship really is a spectrum, I think. Adding more boxes makes things better, and helps flesh out the spectrum, and better understand it. Seven boxes is certainly better than two or three (or even one, which I've been only-semi-jokingly accused of doing at times). But no matter how many stars a rating gives me, I always need a half-star sometimes. And if they give me half-stars, sometimes I just really need that quarter-star. And so on.

    I lament that you are probably a little above acquaintance friends, if that. Which brings up your point - what do we do with that? Especially given your other posts, do we strive for better relationships with everyone on our friend spectrum? Every stranger a potential acquaintance, working acquaintances to friends, and friends on up the scale? Obviously that's not entirely practical, but should it be our goal? Chance and happenstance (and God, if that's your bent) bestow us a very limited number of potential friends, compared to the nearly limitless pairings that could possibly work out. Most people you'll never even get to Stranger Stranger level, because they live in a different country, or go to a different school, or even are a different year and/or major at the same school.

    But even then, no one could sustain friendships with all of their Stranger Strangers, and it's unlikely that you could maintain long-term higher friendships with all of your acquaintance friends.

    I think it ends up looking like a pyramid, because while friendships are energizing and wonderful, they also take energy and time and commitment, and there's a limited supply of that. Some people seem to have more than others, but there's a limit, especially of time.

    And some people's pyramids are lopsided or misshapen - I know mine is very, very wide at the base and first few levels, but maybe even truncated at the top, without a defined point. What does a "healthy" pyramid look like? Can you be too topheavy? Or should we just work to make all of our relationships better? Do friendships sometimes need to slip down the scale, as people move, times change, and new friends come along? Is that healthy, okay, natural?

    And then I've experienced friends that you talk with sporadically, maybe a few times a year even, but when you do, they are way up on the friend scale. Time may not necessarily a limiting factor. And what about directionality? Are two people necessarily at the same friend level with respect to each other? Can I be a Familiar Stranger with James at the Teacup, but I only a Stranger Stranger to him? Does that work higher up the scale?

    Speaking of which, I might have to hit you up for tea sometime, where James works - I think, for me at least, he's bordering on Acquaintance, maybe still in Familiar Strangers though. Thoughts thoughts thoughts.

  2. This was a beautiful post. Gave me shivers. I use that friend-word way too liberally, too, but it has so much more meaning than the relationship I have with the random guy in my creative writing class, or whoever. I think Facebook (maybe social media in general?) definitely makes us too focused on quantity of friendships vs. quality. Sometimes I feel like I should know more people at school just so I can say hi to more people, or feel more popular -- but the quality of my soul-friendships here are so much more important to me in the long run. Thanks for a thought-provoking post :)