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The Anatomy of Friendship


“Life is more cost effective when you have more acquaintances than friends.”

Xenocrates

friends

Have you ever wondered what true friendship really is? It is a most curious thing. Between the people who overvalue casual acquaintances to those who undervalue the one or two people who would truly lay down for them, most people don’t really have any appreciation whatsoever of what friendship really is. But before anyone can appreciate the true nature of friendship, know this:

There’s no such thing as Altruism

All friendships are ultimately based on symbiotic relationships. Even where people appear to do something for nothing, in doing that thing, they are ultimately driven by a desire that they wish to have fulfilled – however intangible that fulfillment may be. Nobody does something for nothing.

Therefore, technically, there’s no such thing as altruism. We use the term anyway to describe the behaviour of people who appear to do good for no explicit reward. The truth is however, that their socially engineered value systems are what give them that reward. It comes from learned behaviour.

For example, if they were socially engineered as children that it is good to be helpful to people in need, then being helpful will reward them a great sense of accomplishment because that’s how their minds were programmed as children. As adults, this behaviour becomes a fundamental part of their psyche.

If a child grows up with a strong sense of service, patriotism and duty, then they are more likely to join the armed forces and risk their lives in the defense of their home country. Their reward comes from the intangible pleasure derived from gained honour, earned respect and a sense of accomplishment.

People are intrinsically pleasure driven creatures. Even when people physically harm themselves in the name of such things as religion, politics and other abstract ideas, they are deriving a sense of satisfaction from the purpose their motivation gives them. That they are delusional is completely irrelevant.

The bottom line is that everyone is driven by self gratification. There are no exceptions.

Therefore, every single one of your friends derives some pleasure from being acquainted with you. For some of them, it is purely materialistic (e.g. in business) or opportunistic (you’re in a position of power). For others, it’s because your life brings them joy. Either way, they all get something from it.

Evaluating Friendship

Friendship involves exchange

Every friendship thrives on some kind of exchange. This symbiotic nature of friendship means that there’s always something for something. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to state at this point that all friendship is conditional (just as how love is selfish). Once there is exchange, then conditionality exists.

But there’s a catch; this also means that once that condition ceases to be, the friendship will ultimately end. But I know what you’re thinking as you read this: “Not all of my friends want something for something!” If That’s what you just thought, then I would like you to carefully consider the following:

  1. If you don’t think that all of your friends require some reward, then this shows that you can’t differentiate between acquaintances and friends.
  2. People tend to subconsciously refer to individuals as friends whether or not the symbiotic reward appears to be something conspicuous.

In other words, most people consider virtually anyone they are familiar with to be a friend. You can see the same fallacious description on Facebook, where some people literally have thousands of friends, many of whom they have never (or will never) meet. But the issue here is not about Facebook.

Fundamentally speaking, while we understand the meaning of the word “friend” in that context, at the back of our minds, we only regard most of them as acquaintances. Thus the word “friend” has become something of a misnomer while the word “acquaintance” is sometimes considered disrespect.

The Nature of Friendship

If you think that friendship should be determined by how abstract the derivative reward is of the people who you are fond of, then you’re probably on the right track. However, this is a double-edged sword since the reward has to be of equivalent value on both sides – even if the reward is intangible.

If this is not the case, then this “friendship” would be nothing more than a parasitic relationship. That’s the key difference between “real” friendships and acquaintances. Unfortunately, most people tend to be indiscriminate of such things, and are more likely to throw everyone into the same barrel.

Parasitic Relationships

If your “friend” appears to enjoy your company more than you do theirs, then chances are, your friendship with them is ultimately parasitic. It is even more conspicuous if that person only appears to be around you when they need something. Such “fair weather” friends tend to be bold and easy to spot.

If however your  “friendship” with someone only appears to be to your benefit, (meaning you are the primary benefactor) then chances are, you’re the parasite and they don’t really consider you a friend. Of course, most people in this position are too narcissistic to ever be honest enough to admit it.

Now the interesting thing is that the person on the other end of your parasitic  bond may not see it necessary to demote you as a “friend”. They are likely to avoid the unpleasantness of calling you an acquaintance, (referring to you as a “friend” anyway) in the interest of keeping up appearances.

The Acid Test

The Friendship Acid Test

Now how many of your friendships are like that? If you can find even one, then I would strongly recommend that you seriously consider re-evaluating all of your friendships. The reasoning for this is very simple: People tend to use the same flawed strategy repeatedly when recruiting friends.

Most people tend to lack the emotional intelligence needed to determine their own level of genuineness. This is why some people can be dishonest and be genuinely unaware of it. Thus they tend to make friendships in the same way they conduct their business – like assets to be counted and valued.

Now if you’re the kind of person who is consciously aware of a handful of people you’d call friends, you probably have that emotional intelligence well developed. If you have a lot of friends, (say, more than 5) then you may want to consider doing a friendship acid test. Simply ask yourself this one question:

“What is the one thing that could happen that would render us enemies?”

Depending on the significance of that thing, you will be able to determine the significance of the emotional investment between you two – if any. The less significant that thing, the more easily they can be turned against you. The more significant that thing, the less easily they can be turned against you. In the latter case, you may have a real friendship on your hands.

This acid test question also automatically answers another question: “What is the likelihood that we could become enemies?” The probability of the occurrence of that one thing that could turn you against each other helps you to determine whether you should be watching your back or theirs.

Emotional Investment

If you’re thinking to yourself, “we don’t have to be enemies – we can be civil“, then you’re wrong. You can be civil with someone in whom you have invested zero emotional interest. However, once emotional investment becomes involved, then you’re effectively dealing with a whole new ball game.

You can be  civil with someone at work who you had a political disagreement with. You can be civil with an ex-lover who you only liked as a sex buddy. However, once you become emotionally attached, a disagreement carries a very different weight from before. That’s when the fireworks start to fly.

The anger you express at a friend with whom you are quarreling is rarely about the issue as much as it’s about each individual’s broken trust. Do you notice that when a friend upsets you, you are more angry at them than when you’re angry with someone that you are not quite as familiar with?

The Duality of Love and Hate

Why does this happen? Because people love and hate with the same intensity. Thus the degree to which you could hate a friend is equivalent to the degree that you love them. This means that passionate people are just as loving as they are bitter. This is why family feuds are worse than others.

Do you recall the popular adage that says “there’s a thin line between love and hate“? Technically, it’s actually the same emotion expressed as a duality. Love exists between people as an expression of passionate trust. If that trust is broken, the resulting emotion that follows is an auto-defense mechanism.

The intensity of the defense mechanism depends on the depth of the trust. It’s the same way how a soldier who sold secrets to the enemy wouldn’t just be liable for court-marshal as opposed to one who just went AWOL or disobeyed orders. Betrayal may be brutal, but the acid test can help you to avoid one.

Friendships in Children and Adults

Friendship in Childhood

Children tend to be far better at making friends than adults. This is because children trust implicitly. They quite literally give away their trust just for the sake of having someone to play with. Adults on the other hand tend to trust explicitly, making some kind of declarative action that indicates such.

This is the reason why adults tend to subconsciously put a premium on their friends and why their friendships tend to be significantly more conditional than that of children. There is an unstated value that adults place on each friendship. Once this value depreciates, the friendship is likely to end.

This is also the reason why people tend to be more forgiving of friends they had since childhood as opposed to friends they made as adults. As a child’s brain has significantly less synaptic wiring than an adult’s, every trust that a child makes has to be implicit since there are no other known conditions.

Adults have had significantly more time to learn of the intrinsic duplicity and selfishness of human nature and so they tend to put higher and higher premiums on friendships. While this psychological self defense mechanism serves its purpose, it ultimately compromises the capacity to make true friends.

While every child’s first loving acquaintances become true friends by virtue of first contact, an adult tends develop greater and thicker psychological walls, making it harder for them to trust implicitly. As a result, most adult friendships are actually more likely to be acquaintances which will expire in short term.

This is where the acid test becomes so much more valuable. People tend to think that it is possible to have many, many friends. But the human psyche only has the capacity to bond very closely with no more than 3 – 5 people at a time. The acid test allows people to determine who they trust implicitly and who they don’t. Concordantly, this will make all the difference in evaluating:

The Difference between Friends and Acquaintances

Friends and Acquaintances

Now let me be abundantly clear:

1. Friends

When we use the term “friend”, we’re talking about a relationship that has a notable amount of emotional investment. It doesn’t matter if it’s your Sunday Football sports buddy, your Saturday afternoon shopping gal pal or your significant other – all friendships require emotional investment.

Relationships based on emotional investment are automatically symbiotic. This is because human emotion must first be mutually expressed for the friendship to exist in the first place. Additionally, the intangible value of this emotional connection gives the relationship flexibility, thus making it much harder to break (which also means that it is much easier to maintain.)

With that said, this doesn’t mean that emotionally invested relationships are unbreakable. This is why I mentioned from the outset that there’s no such thing as altruism. Every friendship has a causa finita – the one thing that would make it unsustainable – and thus, which may ultimately break it.

Never the less, the breaking of a friendship is highly contingent on one’s capacity to forgive. Forgiveness is directly proportional to one’s valuation of a friendship. This is why one needs to conduct the friendship acid test on all ‘friends’. You need to know which of your friendships can be easily broken and which ones may survive even the fiendishly treacherous act of betrayal.

But remember, this works both ways. So while you may be able to forgive a friend of some act of betrayal, they might not forgive you in the same vein. This simply means that they value your friendship less than you do theirs. If you find this to be the case, then arguing is as waste of time. Any relationship that lacks the reciprocation of forgiveness is not worth fighting for.

2. Acquaintances

By comparison, acquaintance level relationships are usually parasitic. Even though the reward system goes both ways, one side tends to fare better – even if both parties aren’t aware of it. Such relationships tend to be based on an explicit exchange, which implicitly becomes the value of the relationship.

This doesn’t mean that acquaintance level relationships are devoid of emotional investment; they just weren’t started that way. The emotional imbalance tends to occur when the explicit exchange (usually a favour) is emotionally valued by one party, but is generally ignored by the other.

The trouble is, if the person expressing emotional interest is not aware that the other does not feel the same way, then the latter could use the relationship as a means of extracting favours from the former – and they will continue doing so until the former realises that they’re being exploited.

Examples of acquaintance exploitation include:

  • The hot guy/girl who befriends the class nerd to do their homework for them.
  • The co-worker who uses a team mate’s alacrity to pass along tasks they would rather avoid themselves.
  • The government official who promotes a loyal supporter to handle a touchy political issue.
  • The king who appoints a duke to carry out executions on his behalf.

This doesn’t mean that acquaintance level relationships are categorically bad. It just means that they are more easily exploited. Thus the real problem with acquaintance level relationships is that people tend to confuse them with real friendships. That’s where the exploitation becomes palpable, or even deadly…

Just ask the ghosts of the following people:

  1. Ann Boleyn
  2. George Boleyn
  3. Thomas More
  4. Thomas Cromwell
  5. Robert Aske
  6. …and many, many more.

As said before, the survivability of your relationships will ultimately determine which are friends and which are merely acquaintances. Even people you like to be around may not necessarily be your friends. In this case, you have to be able to differentiate between novelty and acts of genuine affection.

Being a parasite to someone who can’t do anything about it is one thing. However, if you were a parasite of King Henry VIII, you would have rued the day you first became his royal subject. Henry VIII was not averse to decapitating even those with whom he was fond. Friendship can be costly.

With that said, everyone should learn to evaluate:

The Total Cost of Friendship

Just like anything that one can possess, friendship has a cost. Right away, I imagine some people might be thinking that true friendship doesn’t cost anything. That could be no further from the truth. Every friendship costs something. It’s just the bad ones that have material costs you can measure.

The more of these you can check off, the more valuable the friendship. People tend to be subconsciously aware of these requirements – but emotion has a funny way of clouding our judgement. So evaluate your existing friendships and see if they check out in any of the following sections:

1. It is based on an intangible investment

Friends share a mutually beneficial bond

How did your friendship begin? This is a key determinant in whether or not you have a genuine friendship on your hands. Behavioural Psychologists have determined that people tend to value friendships that blossomed out of mutual interest in each other. Therefore, if you became friends through:

  • A business (0r other monetary) arrangement
  • Favours exchanged
  • Unrequited romantic interest  (i.e. “let’s just be friends”)
  • Sexual liaison (e.g. “friend with benefits”)
  • Association by proximity (e.g. by being coworkers, neighbours, classmates, team mates etc.)

…then chances are, you’re not really friends. In this case, we say that you are only “socially contracted”. This means that your friendship is based largely on situational relativity. It’s the same as making a friend with someone just because you were on the same flight to the same destination.

It’s perfectly natural for humans to become socially contracted to each other. It’s that instinctive component of herd logic that binds us together. However, this is only useful for civility. Real friendship requires genuine emotional interest in each other. Therefore if you became friends through:

  • Sharing common interests (e.g. hobbies, careers, cultural affinities, etc.)
  • Having potent chemistry between personalities
  • Having discourse, disagreement, contention, strife or some other struggle with each other
  • Experienced a life changing event together
  • Sharing the same value systems or life philosophies (e.g. religion, politics, family values, etc.)

…then there’s a very excellent chance that your friendship is the real deal. All of these circumstances tend to generate such powerful emotional connections (even where people originally met as enemies) that ultimately, the bond transcends the humanity of every individual involved. There’s not much in the world that can change that – barring death and betrayal.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to suggest that two people can’t become friends if they originally met in one of the conditions outlined in the first list. So long as at least one of the conditions in the second list is accounted for, then friendship has a chance to evolve from that acquaintance.

2. It is low maintenance

Real friendship is low maintenance

What are the functional requirements of your friendship? What are the conditions upon which your friendship is maintained? Real friendships make very little demand of each individual involved. This is because the mutually expressed emotional interest usually fills that requirement.

In other words, relationships that make an inordinate demand on the kind of interest that each party is to play is a parasitic relationship and thus not a true friendship. However there are a few extenuating circumstances in which you may find yourself that are very clear indicators that you have a parasite on your hands that is falsely masquerading as a “true” friend:

  • People who are constantly in need of attention. In any kind of relationship, this is manifested as people who are overly dramatic about everything. They tend to make a mountain out of every mole hill and / or are constantly in need of someone on which to vent their passions, troubles, life challenges, romantic failures, whether or not it is of any genuine interest to the person they’re venting on. These people are emotional leeches. They are selfish, self serving, egocentric hypocrites who are using you as an emotional punching bag. You’ll want to be sensitive, but firm when dealing with such people. Be sure to indicate you have little interest in people who constantly place themselves in the same problems over and over again. You are not their shrink (unless you are being paid to do so) and they need to grow up. Alternatively, gently remind them that happiness is an inside job. People are only happy when they want to be.
  • People who regularly expect material gifts as a precedent. There are people out there who would take offence to not receiving a gift for their birthday or some other special occasion. It doesn’t matter if it is a romantic interest. You’ll want to keep these people as acquaintances so that the requirement doesn’t apply to you – even if it means sacrificing a potential romantic pursuit.
  • People who make a big deal about your frugality. Have you ever been invited out to an occasion that had financial obligations (whether for protocol or otherwise) that you simply could not meet, and were razed by your friends for being frugal? Remember this: Friendship is about the person, not their effects. True friends would step in to subsidize the cost instead of criticizing you for “being cheap”. This shows that they care more about you as opposed to what you can afford. Failure to do otherwise shows they only value the friendship for the status – not for the camaraderie.
  • People who are constantly borrowing money. Real friends never demand money of each other as favours tend to reduce the intrinsic value of the friendship. There should be such a level of interest in each others’ well being that if there is a monetary requirement, it would be automatically offered, however small – often times completely eliminating the need for anyone asking for anything. With that said, people who are constantly borrowing money are only interested in immediate self gratification and you are their ATM machine. Concordantly, you should never lend your friends money – otherwise you will have to decide between them later. If you cannot afford to give cheerfully, then don’t make (or promise) a loan. Friends often assume that the words “loan” and “gift” are interchangeable. Acquaintances however, rarely make this mistake.
  • People who ask you to breach your moral standards. If you have ever had a friend who asked you to do something that broke a personal standard or moral code, you can only forgive their ignorance if you knew they didn’t know you better. Otherwise, it’s a clear sign of a lack of respect. These people are not your friends. You are a pawn in their game of chess. You’ll want to keep them in the acquaintance bin indefinitely.

When evaluating the cost of a friendship, one should always remember a very simple rule: Life is more efficient if one has more acquaintances than friends. Thus if a friend should become too taxing to maintain (whether in terms of time, finances, emotional involvement or otherwise), it may be prudent to seriously reconsider noting them as a “friend” in any significant context.

3. It has survived (or was spawned by) contention or betrayal

Contention among friends is inevitable

Individually, people are different. Therefore disagreement among friends is inevitable. If you’ve never had a disagreement with your friends, then that’s probably because you aren’t that emotionally invested to be considered friends in the first place. You can’t get that close without disagreeing at least once.

Now when we consider forgiveness, we have to note that people only forgive when the benefits outweigh the risk of reinvesting trust. Therefore, if you and a friend had a disagreement, you can determine how well they valued your friendship by examining their willingness to forgive. This of course goes both ways and ultimately determines if  the friendship is worth fighting for.

Concordantly, just as how a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, the value of any friendship is measured by the least frivolous thing that could cause it to end. Thus if one were to try and measure a friendship qualitatively, it could be done in degrees of frivolity. The more frivolous the cause of the end of a friendship, the less significant its intrinsic worth. So, save your tears.

I’ve seen friendships end over politics and religion. That’s could be considered significant – but not quite as significant as a friendship that ended over a betrayal of trust. However, I’ve seen friendships end over things as frivolous as insubstantial sums of money, sex, an off remark and bruised egos.

Friendships that can’t survive such trivial events were never really friendships to begin with. In fact, it would be safe to say that they were nothing more than glorified acquaintances. This is commonly the case with people who are extremely popular who love attention (more on this in the next section).

Surviving contention is one thing. Needless to say, any friendship that survives betrayal of trust is virtually unbreakable. Betrayal is the least forgiveable act in a friendship because it breaches the most critical foundation upon which friendship was originally built: Trust. Without trust, a friendship simply cannot survive. However, let us be clear about what we mean trust is:

If you befriended someone because you trusted their expertise about something (like the stock market) and they gave you bad advice, that does not constitute a breach of trust in the friendship. In fact, that would not be considered a friendship at all. That’s a relationship whose intrinsic value is based on their expertise. There’s no significant emotional investment here.

If however, you trusted a friend with details or assets of your personal life while they in turn used it against you (however they do so is irrelevant), that could be considered a breach of trust fatal to the friendship. The people who trusted Bernie Madoff with their savings are not quite as pissed as the parents who trusted a family friend who sexually molested their daughter.

It easier to turn enemies into friends than to regain the trust of a friend who has become an enemy. Thus if a relationship is capable of surviving a betrayal of trust, then that is a true friendship for which no valuation exists. Unfortunately very few people are capable of sustaining such a breach. This proves categorically that no one is truly altruistic as we all can be broken.

4. You are in an “inner-circle”

An Inner Circle of friends

There are only a very small number of people with whom you can develop a deep emotional bond. Everyone else is an acquaintance. This has some very serious implications for people who are extremely popular. Having a lot of friends doesn’t necessarily speak very kindly about one’s personality.

In fact the number of friends one has is inversely proportional to their capacity to value friendship of any kind in any way. Thus the more friends one has, the less discriminate they are about what friendship actually entails. This is why friendship with popular people tends to be flaky at best. They are not particularly as interested in friendship as they are in gaining attention.

Yes, you read correctly.

Even people who are rich and famous only have a very small set of people who they consider friends – again, no more than 3 – 5 people. Therefore if someone says to you that “I have like, 400 friends on Facebook“, they don’t have the first clue of what friendship is. Having friends is not the same as having fans. There’s a huge difference – and popular people can rarely tell.

Attention junkies tend to measure their happiness by the number of people they know – not by the quality of their relationships with them. People who are very extroverted tend to be like this. While there is nothing wrong with this, they tend to have a much harder time finding help when in need.

It’s one thing to desire friends – it’s a whole other ballgame to desire attention. People who are very liberal with their Facebook profile are not interested in making new friends. They’re more likely to be attention whores. However, even attention whores have their inner circle. You just don’t know it.

Don’t be fooled by numerical bloat. Inner circles loose their cohesiveness when they bulge beyond 5 people. This is where you’ll have a prevalence of a lot of hear say, “he said, she said” arguments, among a great deal of wanton and indiscriminate drama – which ultimately causes the circle to implode.

Usually, the “inner circle” of people tend to know each other. This isn’t always the case especially if that inner circle doesn’t consist of friends who grew up together. The congruity and number of people within the inner circle really depends on the person and how they choose to invest their trust.

Depending on the individual, that inner circle can be one person or it can be a small selection of family and close friends. With that said, this small inner-circle only consists of people who enjoy the trust and loyalty of all intersecting members of the circle – as each member may have their own circle.

You can tell if you’re not in someone’s inner circle. Inner circle members get first dibs on everything – including time and affection. They’re the ones that are trusted with secrets and other matters of deep personal interest long before all other acquaintances. If you find that you are not privy to this kind of detail in first person, then you’re out. Second hand receivers are outside the circle.

Having membership in an inner circle is an indication of the highest level of trust. These are the people who are often selected to become a groom’s best man and a bride’s maid of honour at a wedding. It’s a certification that is the equivalent of what knighthood originally stood for before the English royal court decided to lavish it liberally on every person of some remote repute.

Of course, with the highest level of trust, comes the expectation of the highest level of loyalty – even though that is ultimately fallible. In fact, friendship is expressed as the Greek Philia love (you might want to examine my write up on the Five Types of Love for more details on this).

5. They are there when you need them

Friends staging an intervention

This is the ultimate test (and perhaps, the ultimate purpose) of friendship. There are some people out there (and very few of them at that) who would have often inconvenienced themselves (or so you think) to be there to assist when you’re going through a rough patch. Sometimes they’re even there when you don’t need them at all. Needless to say, they are keen to your needs.

The sad thing is that people who are always there to help are rarely ever appreciated (inasmuch as most people take for granted that they have running water in their homes). They’re what I like to call “dial-tone” friends, because just like the omnipresence of a dial tone, they’re almost always available.

They’re the friends who would gladly jump at the opportunity to take you home when it rains, pick you up at the airport when you’re stranded, watch over your kids when you’re not around (even when the kids don’t know it), subsidize your lunch when you’re a little short, be the first to forgive you when you get mad at them, and would never render evil for evil. Ever.

These are the people who will also be willing to tell you the truth – even if it means that doing so will put their relationship with you in jeopardy. You see, people sometimes don’t always know when they’re in need. Real friends can tell when that need is apparent and will automatically rise to the occasion.

Dial-Tone friends are extremely rare. They’re usually the kind of people who are so forgiving that they appear to be totally selfless. The real issue is however, that dial-tone friends tend to be the kinds of people who love like children. They trust implicitly. They are good people purely by natural design.

Those special folks aside, if you have even one person in your circle who would genuinely put out to keep you afloat even when you’re not requesting help, then you’ve already secured yourself a real genuine pal. Even if their efforts prove to be moot, the mere fact that they went all out is proof enough.

About Romance and Friendship

Romantic Friends

It would suffice to say at this point that you may enjoy the company of your platonic friends more than you enjoy the company of your romantic interest. If this is the case, then you may want to re-evaluate your romance. Too many people become “romantic” before they’ve become friends. The former must precede the latter, as romance is inextricably based on friendship.

The failure of a romance can often be linked to a failure in friendship. Romance is nothing more than friendship with a sexual texture. Take away the friendship and it becomes a sexual arrangement. People who cite irreconcilable differences for divorce never learned to become friends first.

With that said, it is completely ludicrous to marry someone who isn’t your best friend. Some people would argue and suggest that your best friend isn’t necessarily the man or woman you marry – it could be someone of the same gender you grew up with. But that is utter rubbish for the following reasons:

Eros love (love of the sexual kind) must contain Philia love (love of the loyalty kind). If you’re going to share your body, your house, your bed and your bank account with a romantic interest with whom you do not share a higher level of affinity than your boys (or girls), then you have a serious problem.

Your lover, the one person in the world you desire to share your entire life with, must be more trustworthy than the girlfriends you vent on when your husband goes rogue or the wing men who helped you score her in the first place when your wife gets obnoxious. It can’t work any other way. By doing this, you’re betraying the foundational trust of your marriage.

The one person in the world who brings you the most joy should be the same person who you would marry. If the person you intend to marry isn’t your best friend, then you are providing room in your marriage for a breach of trust. As we’ve already established, betrayal is almost irrecoverable.

Choosing Friends

Choosing Friends is a critical task

The act of choosing friends is largely subconscious – albeit, it’s not foolproof. However, human nature is a machine that can be deciphered and manipulated to obtain the best results. Therefore, if one were to follow these 10 basic rules, then choosing friends should become a more fruitful exercise:

  1. Powerful friends are potentially deadly enemies – Never befriend the King of England when he’s so willing to crop his detractors at the shoulders. Even if they are your friend today, their fickleness could make them your enemy tomorrow. Powerful people are rarely genuine people. While they may be powerful allies, always remember that their power can flex both ways. Powerful people tend to have a very fickle mind. Tread cautiously.
  2. Passionate People are just as loving as they are bitter – When befriending someone who is intensely passionate, you have to remember that they are intrinsically insecure. If you’re not willing to invest an equivalent level of emotional intensity into your dealings with them, you might want to keep them as acquaintances. When they get pissed, they take the histrionics to a whole new frightening level of alacrity. They love to make a scene and they usually don’t work with a script.
  3. Popular People are highly conditional friends – Befriending popular people is like trying to build a sand castle on the ocean floor. They are only as loyal as the novelty of the acquaintance. The value of the friendship is not quite as significant as the volume. As such, most of their “friendships” have a very high turnover rate. As a result, they tend to have as many enemies as they have friends and are likely to be in category #2 above.
  4. Chatty people have the least regard for loyalty – People who are loquacious (i.e. talkative) usually have zero emotional intelligence. This means that they are rarely able to monitor their own behaviour. They tend to be driven more by the thrill of the revelation. Just because people are willing to divulge others’ secrets to you doesn’t mean they are loyal to you. Gossip mongers are only loyal to their own lust for sensationalism. You, and everyone else are all fodder for their sordid entertainment.
  5. You can make friends in business, but never business with friends – Business partners know what’s up. They know that if your parent companies can’t agree, or if the deal falls through, it means no more power lunches or country club memberships. If you can transcend all that, then even if your bosses can’t agree, then at least you can still go grab a cup of Joe. Friends on the other hand always expect you to be helpful – even if it’s bad for business. This is not a flaw with friendship. It’s a flaw with social networking. Trying to integrate business into an already existing friendship lowers its intrinsic value and thus makes it easier to break.
  6. There’s friendship without romance, but not romance without friendship – Every romantic relationship must begin as friendship in the very real sense. If it didn’t, then it is nothing more than a tryst. If it somehow evolves into marriage, then it is going to be a very expensive tryst. Romance without friendship is not very different from prostitution.
  7. Fear not them who love not, but rather them whom everyone loves – Do you know that one girl (or guy) whom everybody fawns over when they’re around? Someone with an entourage is like a King with loyal subjects willing to die for their monarch. That’s their inner circle and it tends to be a viciously defended one. This social construct only trusts within the entourage. Outsiders are seen as trespassers – even if they seem to like you. Keep them as acquaintances. As an acquaintance, they are simultaneously easier to manage than friends and less dangerous than enemies. People who are easily liked are much more powerful by virtue of the number of people at their disposal. Being loved or hated by them is equally dangerous (see points #1 & #3).
  8. Never destroy your enemy completely – For enemies may one day become powerful allies. Always leave room for forgiveness. In fact, never make enemies where friendship is more cost effective. While duplicity is one of the least desirable traits of humanity, it is not altogether useless. People who are easily vexed are easily manipulated. It is almost always more costly to fight a war with your enemies than to let them fight one for you. Therefore, never unsheathe a sword when an open hand will suffice. The spoils of victory may be insignificant in comparison to the spoils of diplomacy.
  9. Ugly ducklings make for the most loyal of friends – People have a natural propensity for being inclined towards people who are easily liked (for whatever reason). This is a function of herd logic. While it does have its uses, people who are not as easily liked tend to have a much stronger appreciation for the few friends they have and thus their loyalty usually comes at 100% right out of the box. Never pass up the opportunity to have one or two ugly ducklings on your team, for when the faeces and the fan become intimately acquainted, they’re usually the last ones standing around.
  10. Trust implicitly – Do you know the expression that says “first impressions last“? Well know this: The first impression of someone is usually not authentic. When you meet someone for the first time, you’re actually meeting their representative. As people get older, they tend to develop a façade – a pseudo version of themselves that handles all first time acquaintances. People use a representative of their personalities when they are insecure about themselves and as a conspicuous display of not trusting by default. Where people feel that they are trusted, the façade slowly disappears and you get to know them for who they really are. This is why trust is so important. Therefore, like a child, (within reason) trust with faith but never distrust without proof.

With specific reference to #10, it has been scientifically and mathematically proven that people who are more trusting tend to have more meaningful relationships. This is because most people naturally return trust when it is implicitly invested. People who are not rather trusting tend to be more lonely.

Friendship is about Trust

Business enterprises which are more trusting tend to attract more viable partners and more brand loyal customers. Trust automatically defeats jealousy in a romantic relationship, gives it a greater degree of longevity and binds friends together even in the face of what appears to be inevitable betrayal.

One of the single most important things to understand about human nature is that hurt is inevitable as humans are inherently flawed. However, we must strive to remember that no matter how much we are hurt, we still have to learn to trust in order to heal. Otherwise we will grow old and lonely as stubborn old fools who’re always suspicious of everyone’s true intentions.

While we were children, we fully appreciated the inherent necessity of trust. As we grow older, let us not forget the things that made childhood a beautiful thing. For what is humanity without friendship? And what is friendship without trust? It may be easier to trust an enemy than a friend who has betrayed us, but it only takes one bold act of forgiveness to renew all.

True friendship is defined by trust. Without it, we are no more than animals.

Friends Anew

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  1. January 14, 2010 at 8:19 am

    Muito bom o artigo

    • January 16, 2010 at 7:36 am

      Obrigando, William. 😉

  2. interfiend
    December 24, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    I belief the subject of marriage is very culture-tainted.

  3. Richard
    September 24, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Got this in an email
    The less you associate with some people, the more your life will improve. Any time you tolerate mediocrity in others, it increases your mediocrity. An important attribute in successful people is their impatience with negative thinking and negative acting people. As you grow, your associates will change. Some of your friends will not want you to go on. They will want you to stay where they are. Friends that don’t help you climb will want you to crawl. Your friends will stretch your vision or choke your dream. Those that don’t increase you will eventually decrease you.

    Consider this:
    Never receive counsel from unproductive people. Never discuss your problems with someone incapable of contributing to the solution, because those who never succeed themselves are always first to tell you how. Not everyone has a right to speak into your life. You are certain to get the worst of the bargain when you exchange ideas with the wrong person. Don’t follow anyone who’s not going anywhere.

    With some people you spend an evening: with others you invest it. Be careful where you stop to inquire for directions along the road of life. Wise is the person who fortifies his life with the right friendships. If you run with wolves, you will learn how to howl. But, if you associate with eagles, you will learn how to soar to great heights.

    “A mirror reflects a man’s face, but what he is really like is shown by the kind of friends he chooses.”

    The simple but true fact of life is that you become like those with whom you closely associate – for the good and the bad.

    Be not mistaken. This is applicable to family as well as friends. Yes…do love, appreciate and be thankful for your family, for they will always be your family no matter what. Just know that they are human first and though they are family to you, they may be a friend to someone else and will fit somewhere in the criteria above.

    “In Prosperity Our Friends Know Us. In Adversity We Know Our friends.”

    “Never make someone a priority when you are only an option for them.”

    “If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.”

    Colin Powell

  4. Stewart
    September 1, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    Another wonderful post, I truly enjoyed reading that as it showed that I apparently have been following the more scientific rules in friendship than just going about it all willy nilly. Anyway I do have one thing I want to discuss.

    I went to an all boys school (Wolmers 🙂 Age Quod Agis!!!), and there I met with a number of guys who I was forced to hang out with for 7 years. Now one thing that happened during these 7 years is I made alot of – and i’m using the word loosely – friends. Now of course there was always that inner circle of people who I kept as closest friends (as we all tended to clique in high school), however I still maintained acquaintances with basically everybody in my year group. Now the reason why I’m giving this backstory is because of something I’ve realized among men (especially men who went to all boys schools). But alot of them maintain relationships with each other that is possible to fall under the genuine friendship title. I maintain somewhat minor contact with the majority of them and yet I realize that we still are there for each other (through some recent experiences), in the ways that true friends are. Now note well, i’m not saying 300 people were there for each other…. but well over the 5 limit that u gave lol

    The complete opposite goes for women however, where most women have very very few friends, especially those that they kept from high school days (even the set that went to all girls schools). As a matter of fact, some of them have absolutely no friends from high school at all, I know of 4 cases in particular where they say they have no female friends, at all.

    Now the reason that i’m saying both these things is this. Could it be possible that males find it easier to keep close friends than women. Why would this be, seeing as men are supposed to be the more competitive sex.

    • September 6, 2009 at 9:19 pm

      Stew,

      What you speak of is not “Friendship”. That’s “Male bonding” and that’s a whole different kind of animal. Allow me to clarify:

      Men and women make friends in different ways. You might have already noted that men have a much greater propensity to form informal cliques without precondition. For example, if you should walk up to almost any guy on the street and bring up the topic of sports, politics or women, I can guarantee you that so long as you both are from relatively the same point of view, you’ll walk away feeling as though you just earned another friend.

      Why is this possible? Because men tend to bond as indiscriminately as magnets bind to anything metallic. Men all subconsciously recognize that they belong to a clique – a club for “men only”, so to speak. (That’s how GOLF got its name, by the way. It stands for “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden”).

      As such, we bond through an unstated code of honour that is driven by the subconscious “ego”. That’s where you get colloquial expressions such as “bro’s before ho’s” etc., because there are no sophisticated emotional preconditions involved as is required when women make friendships. It’s a club to which we all belong by virtue of being born with a penis.

      In a sense, men derive greater pleasure from camaraderie than friendship. The feeling of “brotherhood” that men engender when they’re out with the boys is far more primal than real friendship. It’s invariably as strong as the desire for sex from women, but not quite as binding. While men were pre-programmed with this genetic predisposition, it is far more fragile than actual friendship.

      Male bonding can be broken once the “code of machoism” is broken. Therefore things like effeminate behaviour, lack of emotional “resilience”, betrayal (especially of one to a woman) and even homosexuality will invariably excommunicate one from this clique. These kinds of things are just… well… “understood” – and are also why men have very little trouble making very strong acquaintances with each other.

      This is also why homosexuality in the US Army is seen as such a dangerous thing – because it subconsciously breaks this “male bond” that keeps soldiers’ fighting morale at its peak. Speaking of which, most of the men in the US Army are subconsciously blood bound to each other – even though in most cases, they barely know each other. Once you’re wearing army colours, you belong to an elite club of men who’ve maximized their total masculine capacity for a cause that they all collectively see as being greater than their individual selves. They would quite literally give their lives for each other because of this bond.

      Now while this is a very powerful thing, it has virtually nothing to do with friendship. The thing keeping that bond alive is a lot thinner than if they were actually friends. Friendship is a lot more emotional, flexible and much harder to break. If you take the acid test with those friends of yours, you’ll realize that most of them are really not that important to you (or vice versa). The thing keeping your friendship alive is male bonding – not genuine emotional interest.

      So basically what I’m saying here is this: Try not to confuse “respect” and “loyalty”. Those are two very different kinds of emotion and men are capable of both.

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