Primitive Authors… deliver themselves very dubiously. — Sir T. Browne

It is a sign of a degenerate generation that upholds romance above friendship. Romance, that is, in the erotic sense,[1] for every friendship is a sort of romance in the literary sense — life is romance. But today the whole attitude regarding friendship is that it is a right and not a gift. It is similar, I suppose, to the common notion of happiness and pleasure, two concepts the average American lives for and believes he deserves. Friendship, in like manner, because it has been downgraded from a gift to a right has lost much of its value. For if friendship is a gift, one can properly appreciate its function; if friendship is a right, one can merely look at it as one does oxygen or their living quarters. In our times, friendship is misunderstood, though, not because it is undervalued so much as because the pleasures that come from it are overvalued. In overvaluing the pleasures, we undervalue what is the spiritual substance of friendship, and those companions and cronies with whom we revel in the night become means to an inferior end.

A very wise man[2] has made the distinction between the nature of romance and that of friendship. Friends are friends not necessarily because of anything peculiar about the companion but because both men have a common interest. This is why the common church practice of placing eight random people in a room and expecting them to be lifelong soul mates rarely works. But I do not wish to comment on the modern church here. I wish to make the argument that a true friend sticks closer than a brother partly because the true friend knows half as much as the brother. It is simply to say that friendship looks outward and upward in a way that romance and solitude, family outings and social gatherings, cannot.

Friendship is simply two like-minded individuals coming at a thing from the similar yet different perspectives and complimenting each other’s opinions. When strolling across this globe in solitude, I may muse on the beauty of a tree or seek to discover a new path, fraught with danger and excitement. Like Andrew Marvell in his Garden[3], I bask in the glory of my own free-flowing imagination, and rest in peace, knowing that no one can possibly contradict me. But the nature of my adventures changes when a companion comes alongside and agrees with my thoughts. While there is a danger the man will disagree with me, if he is a true friend, it is only a disagreement that presents a new way at observing the same reality. In the miracle that is humanity, he adds something both unexpected and enlightening to my own opinion. Friendship gives us added perspective to a world based in absolutes. It is not to say a friend must necessarily agree with you that the rhino at the zoo is majestic. The friend may think the rhino a very hideous creature. It is to say that friends, true friends, will at the very least agree that a rhino is rhino.

It should be noted that the temptation of friendship is exclusiveness. Friendship must necessarily have some degree of exclusiveness, but it should never look down on outsiders. But this has been discussed,[4] and what I believe is even more dangerous to friendship today is that two men can stare at a rhino and disagree that it is a rhino at all. That is, so few people today believe in any common ideal of morality or truth that their basis for friendship becomes, out of necessity, open-mindedness.

Now, friendship based on open-mindedness is like a sailing ship with multiple masts, hoisting sundry sails all pointing in different directions causing the ship to spin around in awkward circles upon a raging sea of hot air. And the irony of open-mindedness is that it is the surest way to close-mindedness. Consider a day at the zoo among modern pseudo-friends. One member of the group, a Marxists perhaps, is forever commenting on how the bourgeoisie have improperly commodified the rhino—not using it for something productive, while the eco-critic comments that the rhino should be set free to wreak havoc on the Marxist. The feminists of the group agrees with the eco-critic but only if the conditions on freeing the rhino allow for a female human to release a female rhinoceros, keeping the male rhinos in captivity. Of course, this is complicated if the Marxist happens to be a female, in which case, the feminists has to make a calculated decision: either the female rhino must be slaughtered for the sake of female commodity, or the female Marxist must be sacrificed for the sake of feminist rights making way into the animal kingdom. We then ought to muse a bit on what happens when their dear friend the existentialist comes along and questions whether there actually is a rhino or Marxist at all.

In saner societies friendship can be based on common standards. If friends agree that the rhino was created by a transcendental God, they can both look at it with a wonder that is founded on truth but colored and flavored by individual experience. We can both marvel not even at the majesty of the rhino but at the very fact that a rhino exists at all, and that it looks like a rhino.[5] We can both place value on it because the rhino exists in a worldview where things can be valued because there is a common standard. One friend believes the rhino is quite a disgusting creature, wallowing in the mire; another friend believes the rhino’s habits proper and pretty; both agree that the rhino looks like a pre-historic version of the unicorn.

All this is to say that friendship, true friendship, cannot exist properly without a foundation. Without some agreement on morality and truth, with mere open-mindedness, the friendship will inevitably be based on the lesser pleasures, those toys that give instant gratification and allow men to forget or ignore the differences that divide. This is why so many pseudo-friendships fall back into the same petty pleasures such as drink or sex or T.V. For these pleasures are instant and allow for a certain level of disinterestedness toward those in company, and any chance of intellectual or spiritual conversation is squelched as quickly as any campfire within eyesight of a raging rhinoceros.

True friendship, then, embraces generalities and common beliefs; it sticks closer than a brother because it can offer a much different perspective on a very similar reality. It is this foundation that allows friends to fall back on each other—why a three-fold cord is not easily broken. It is why true friends can stand side by side, and, without ever acknowledging the other, take pleasure in the company. For both men look out on to the same horizon but through their conversation look beyond to those higher plains, more magnificent than any mountain, more spacious than sea. Friendship affords us what solitude only hints at and romance impedes. It gives us not a lone world but multiple, not a world limited to the beloved, but a world unlimited with things to praise. With friends one sees multiple worlds in one, full of plentiful perspectives and cascading colors—full of as many possibilities as there are souls.


[1] I proceed to use Romance in the erotic sense throughout.

[2] C.S. Lewis, in The Four Loves.

[3] See Andrew Marvell, “The Garden.”

[4] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves.

[5] Thought courtesy of G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy


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