On Friendship

The intimacies shared with our closest companions keep us anchored, vital, and alive
By Edward Hoagland

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“Let’s just be friends,” lovers proverbially say when breaking up, even if their empathy is shredding and they mainly mean to try not to sabotage each other by blabbing their secrets wholesale. Friends spread their arms, not their legs, but otherwise move in the opposite direction from sundered lovers, becoming unreserved. You’ll know when your friends’ kids are taking their SATs or applying for a first job, and you don’t begrudge the number of alternative pals they see. The other day a man I drove across the country with in a Model A Ford 60 years ago called me up “to use up some cell-phone minutes” he had. Like calories, friendships keep us warm, and serve as a badge of normality.

“He has lots of friends,” we’ll mention in recommending somebody, whether a plumber or a stockbroker: he’s okay, he’ll lend an ear, he won’t leave a customer in the lurch. Lending an ear is essential in mainline friendships, and less disruptive than lending money. “I’m always here for you” is the desired pledge (like the colloquial promise “I have your back”) of best-friendship, a category often lasting at least until marriage, if not beyond. The personalities that occupy the niche—nerd or happy-go-lucky—might change according to the phases of life, but draw a nostalgic smile in our mind’s eye when we remember them.

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