We easily refer to someone as "a friend". But we seldom say of a relationship: "This is a friendship". What, then, is a friendship?
Friendship requires deep sharing
If we only talk about superficial things, even quite freely, it would be better to refer to it as a companionship or a friendly relationship. We can only call it a friendship if there is a sharing of inner life and exchanges about life’s deep values.
There is friendship only if it is mutual
Deep sharing must be mutual. However, when we share much of ourselves with the other we tend to speak of friendship. Yet, when analysing what is experienced in some relationships where we share intimately, we become aware that the other person does not share much of themselves. The other listens, accepts and loves but does not share what they are living. It is therefore not a friendship since there is no mutual exchange. This can nevertheless be a most life-giving relationship if we feel loved, accepted, recognized and encouraged to “exist” fully.
Or this can happen the other way around where I am the listener, the helper and where I don’t get the opportunity to share myself deeply. This is not a friendship. It is a helping relationship.
A friendship requires connection and harmony
There must be connection and harmony at all three levels: being, sensibility and "I".
− Connection at the being level, that is, sharing the same deep values.
− Connection at the sensitive level, and even at the physical level of the body. Different tastes at the sensitive level, however, are not an obstacle to friendship.
− Connection at the level of the "I". That is, sharing of ideas, at least in essential matters. The harmony we are referring to here is like a “harmony” of personalities, in the musical sense of the word. We have to admit that such a relationship is precious and rare.
A friendship is tested by life, and in time
We know from experience that some relationships, which we once called friendships, no longer exist. How do we account for this?
− The term friendship may have been applied to superficial relationships based on connections at the sensitive level, on ideas, or involvement in the same activity.
− The term friendship may have been applied to a growth relationship. Once the need that had bonded us to the other had disappeared or was satisfied elsewhere, the relationship ended.
− At the time there may have been a certain harmony between us. Then I grew, my interests changed, our activities took on different orientations. In short, I journeyed a lot while the other stagnated or progressed at a slower pace or in another direction. We are no longer at the same level. Or it may be it is the other who is growing away from me while I stagnate or evolve more slowly.
− A friendship can neither be sought nor willed. It is received and welcomed as something spontaneously given, a gift from life.
- Adapted from the PRH Observation Note 37 “My Affective Relationships”