Philosophy and friendship

    Laura Kennedy writes about loneliness in a post that documents her experiences moving from Ireland to London, and then on to Australia. What I’m interested in, though, is the turn of phrase when she states: “A philosopher quite literally wouldn’t know a friend for sure if they were standing in front of us recreating the love declaration scene from Love Actually.”

    I’ve always been a bit hesitant about calling someone a ‘friend’ although I’m getting better at it in my middle-age. I think this is perhaps, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve perhaps had too high a bar in mind. Nothing I experience is likely to hit the heights of Montaigne’s relationship with Étienne de La Boétie, for example.

    In 2018, after first moving to London and a few months into my new life, I was struggling to figure out how I fit into it. I wrote an article in The Irish Times about not having many friends and not being sure what to do about it, or whether it even constituted a problem. Come to think of it, I wasn’t entirely sure what constituted a ‘friend’ at all. I’m still unsure. Yes – I know. This, again, is why everyone hates philosophers. These sorts of questions are appealing only to a very narrow pool of potential future friends. A philosopher quite literally wouldn’t know a friend for sure if they were standing in front of us recreating the love declaration scene from Love Actually. I’ve taken creative licence there. Nobody has ever declared undying forbidden romantic love for a philosopher. Conceivably Spinoza, but apart from him (and perhaps Kierkegaard and de Beauvoir. Frantz Fanon. Max Stirner maybe? It’s the glasses), there really isn’t a looker in the bunch.
    Source: On Loneliness | Peak Notions

    Five kinds of friends

    Anyone who’s read Montaigne’s Essays will probably be slightly jealous of his friendship with Étienne de La Boétie. The latter tragically passed away at the age of 32, something that Montaine, it seemed, never fully got over. I’ve never had a friend like that. I doubt many men have.

    This article from sociologist Randall Collins talks about five different types of friendship. I’ve got plenty of ‘allies’, some ‘backstage intimates’, and ‘mutual-interests friends’. I definitely lack, mainly out of choice ‘fun friends’ and ‘sociable acquaintances’.

    It would be interesting to learn more about the history and sociology of friendship. This article goes a little bit into the realm of social media friends, but I’m not sure you can learn much about just studying the medium. That reminds me of a Douglas Adams quote I can’t quite find but goes something along the lines of people always talking about terrorists planning things “over the internet” but would never talk about them planning it “over a cup of tea”.

    Allies:  talking about money; asking for loans; asking for letters of reference, endorsements, asking to contact further network friends for jobs or investments. In specialized fields like scientific research, talking about what journals or editors to approach, what topics are hot, giving helpful advice on drafts. In art and music: gossiping about who’s doing what, contacts with agents, galleries, venues.

    Backstage intimates: Speaking in privacy; taking care not to be overheard. Don’t tell anybody about this.

    Fun friends: Shared laughter, especially spontaneous and contagious. Facial and body indicators of genuine amusement, not forced smiles or saying “that’s funny” instead of laughing. Very strong body alignment, such as fans closely watching the same event and exploding in synch into cheers or curses.

    Mutual-interests friends: talking at great length about a single topic. Being unable to tear oneself away from an activity, or from conversations about it.

    Sociable acquaintances: General lack of all of the above, in situations where people expect to talk with each other about something besides practical matters (excuse me, can I get by?) Banal commonplace topics, the small change of social currency: the weather; where are you from; what do you do; foreign travels; do you know so-and-so? Answers to “how are you doing?” which avoid giving away information about one’s problems or matters of serious concern. Talking about politics can be conversational filler (when everyone assumes they’re in the same political faction), as often happens at the end of dinner parties when all other topics have been exhausted.

    Source: FIVE KINDS OF FRIENDS | The Sociological Eye

    Image: Pixabay

    Dunbar's friendship circles

    This is interesting: the number of people say they have in different friendship ‘circles’. Extroverts tend to have more than introverts.

    Those numbers are aspirational, right? 😅

    Dunbar’s number really isn’t a single number. It should be a series of numbers. When collecting data on personal friendships, we asked everybody to list out everybody in their friendship circles, when they last saw them, and how emotionally close they felt to them on a simple numerical scale. Relationships turned out to be highly structured in the sense that people didn’t see or contact everybody in their social network equally. The network was very clumpy.

    The distribution of the data formed a series of layers, with each outer layer including everybody in the inner layer. Each layer is three times the size of the layer directly preceding it: 5; 15; 50; 150; 500; 1,500; 5,000.

    The innermost layer of 1.5 is [the most intimate]; clearly that has to do with your romantic relationships. The next layer of five is your shoulders-to-cry-on friendships. They are the ones who will drop everything to support us when our world falls apart. The 15 layer includes the previous five, and your core social partners. They are our main social companions, so they provide the context for having fun times. They also provide the main circle for exchange of child care. We trust them enough to leave our children with them. The next layer up, at 50, is your big-weekend-barbecue people. And the 150 layer is your weddings and funerals group who would come to your once-in-a-lifetime event.

    The layers come about primarily because the time we have for social interaction is not infinite. You have to decide how to invest that time, bearing in mind that the strength of relationships is directly correlated with how much time and effort we give them.

    Source: Robin Dunbar Explains Humans' Circles of Friendship | The Atlantic

    The three things you need to make friends over the age of 30

    This article from 2012 was referenced in something I was reading last week:

    As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added.
    I've never particularly had wide group of friends, even a child. Acquaintances, absolutely. I was on the football team and reasonably popular, it's just that I can be what some people would term 'emotionally distant'.

    But making friends in your thirties seems to be something that’s difficult for many people. Not that I’m overly-concerned about it, to be honest. A good Stoic should be self-contained.

    The article makes a good point about differences that don’t seem to matter when people are younger. For example, coming from a wealthy family (or having a job that pays well) seems to somehow play a bigger role.

    And then…

    Adding children to the mix muddles things further. Suddenly, you are surrounded by a new circle of parent friends — but the emotional ties can be tenuous at best, as the comedian Louis C. K. related in one stand-up routine: “I spend whole days with people, I’m like, I never would have hung out with you, I didn’t choose you. Our children chose each other. Based on no criteria, by the way. They’re the same size.”
    Indeed, although there's some really interesting people I've met through my children. I wouldn't particularly call those people friends, though. Perhaps I set the bar too high?

    Ultimately, though, there’s more at work here than just life changes happening to us.

    External factors are not the only hurdle. After 30, people often experience internal shifts in how they approach friendship. Self-discovery gives way to self-knowledge, so you become pickier about whom you surround yourself with, said Marla Paul, the author of the 2004 book The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making, and Keeping Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymore. “The bar is higher than when we were younger and were willing to meet almost anyone for a margarita,” she said.

    Manipulators, drama queens, egomaniacs: a lot of them just no longer make the cut.

    Well, exactly. And I think things are different for men and women (as well as, I guess, those who don’t strongly identify as either).

    Source: The New York Times