July 31st, 2006

water is thicker than blood

Different words for friendship

feliciakw and I were discussing friendship and the different ways people view it, the different ways they define or live that type of relationship.

And we decided that there aren't enough words in English for the varying types and levels of friendship.

There are, of course, various ways to indicate particular closeness. Someone is your "best friend," "kindred spirit," or "close." Maybe, if you want to be specific and archaic, "anem cara" (Gaelic: "soul friend").

From there, we have "friend" (unmodified noun), and then "acquintance."

Not much else.

I grew up reading Louisa May Alcott, L.M. Montgomery (Anne and Diana), and J.R.R. Tolkien (Frodo and Sam). I do not give my deep friendship easily, but when I do, I expect the sharing, the caring, the level of reciprocity and trust, to be like that. For me, for a long time, "being a friend" meant being like Samwise. You love and serve and take care of your friend. You share life with them; rather like having siblings not related by blood.

Then I went off to university, and was in a culture of almost solely my own age for the first time. (I was homeschooled through high school.) The shallowness of most people's so-called "friendships" made me sick. I couldn't believe how people would hang out all the time for one semester, and then almost never seen each other again once they no longer shared a class. It made no sense to me.

To an extent, it still doesn't. And I still have trouble applying the word "friend" to such on-the-surface social relationships.

A real friend, as feliciakw once defined it, is the person you can call at 3am when your car breaks down a hundred miles away, and know that they'll come and get you.

Those are the few we are so blessed to have.

There are many others, kindred spirits with whom we share much, but whom we are not committed to in that way. They, too, are precious.

But shouldn't there be some way to describe these lower relationships? Those we barely know, mutual friends, friends-of-friends, members of our bookclubs, our flists, people who attend our Bible study and know our struggles with seeking God, friends we ask to pray for us, and friends we can call in the middle of the night when we get bad news....

Our language gives us such a poor selection of phrases for such a multiplicity of relationships. I suppose I shouldn't expect it to be any less messy than we humans, ourselves, are.

I still think we could use a few more words to define friendship.

Or, we could just agree not to apply it to people who are only acquintances or co-workers, not friends.

Any thoughts? I may be the only one who ponders this, but if you agree or disagree, feel free to comment. I'd be interested to know what you think.