So where would we begin to find ‘friendship’?
C.S. Lewis warns us against looking too hard. Part of the difficulty is that ‘being friends’ is not about friendship. “That is why those pathetic people who simply ‘want friends’ can never make any.” (C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 80). Lewis portrays friends as those who stand side by side and gaze out at the world, in contrast to lovers whose gaze is fixed on each other. It is with this image in our minds that perhaps we can feel our way forward to friendship. Friendship arises not out of ‘naturalness’, sameness, or narcissism, but from a third: an object, goal, vision, project, vocation. Genuine friendship doesn’t arise from within friends, but between friends and an ‘outside’. It is essentially orientated away from the relationship itself. Pathological, counterfeit relationships always fail to have this ‘other’ centred-ness: counterfeit love fails to be ‘other-person-centred’; counterfeit friendship fails to be ‘other-thing-centred’. This is why friendship is best understood in its traces, as Tennyson knew.
We study it when we are lonely.
Maybe there is another reason that friendship is hard to find: that it is somehow essentially resistant to definition. To begin with a definition is to seek the ‘sameness’ of friendships, to isolate the distinctive patterns and markings that make ‘friend’ into a kind. I don’t want for a minute to deny that there is something distinctive about this relation. But what if its distinctiveness lies in its freedom, in the basic unboundedness, the foundational non-obligation of the relationship which makes it into such a gift? If so, maybe we should start with the ‘different-ness’ of friends. Perhaps here we will find traces of the friend who is to come?