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Four Years at the Mount

The Graduate

The Friendship Analysis

Nicole Jones
Class of 2014

"One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship
 is to understand and to be understood."
          -Lucius Annaeus Seneca

(1/2015) Iíve recently had the displeasure of a disappointing friendship and the pleasure of rekindling old friendships, both within the same week. Consequently, Iíve had a lot of timeóin between studying for finals of courseóto reflect on what I value in a friendship. Why is it that one friendship failed but these others have gone on for years? I tried to decipher the distinct differences between these friendships, but I mostly came up with similarities.

They were all long distance friendships. I hadnít seen the three ladies I reunited with for anywhere between 6 months and 2 years. Funnily, I had actually seen the "ex-friend" (I suppose thatís what he would be called?) several weeks ago. I had occasionally written or called all of them. Birthday gifts and Christmas presents were never forgotten, mutual interests were shared, and rarely had there been any past disagreements.

The contrast came in the friendship expectations and communication. I believe in a very Aristotelian view of friendship and believe that it must be a give and take relationship. In order to be a good friend, one must not only give of oneself but must also willingly take of the other person. If you fail to take of the other person, then you are in turn failing to allow that person to be a friend to you. In laymanís terms, youíre hogging the friendship. As we have just passed the Christmas season, perhaps your first thoughts are of gift giving and receiving, but that is not exclusively what Iím talking about here. I mean listening when the other person talks, providing the emotional support they need when they need it, returning calls or texts in a timely fashion, spending time with them if possible, and yes, occasionally including the small gift is a nice gesture.

In Dr. Gary Chapmanís book The Five Love Languages, he outlines a fairly well-known concept of how we, as humans, express love to one another, be it romantic, familial, or friendly. These five languages are Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch, and are named in a self-explanatory manner. Those fluent in the language of Words of Affirmation both give encouraging and complimentary words to others to express their love and require these kind words in order to feel loved. Those like myself who prefer Quality Time enjoy spending time in meaningful conversation with their loved ones. Others prefer giving and Receiving Gifts to express their feelings, providing Acts of Service (like mowing the lawn), or reaching out to others through Physical Touch using hugs or pats on the shoulder.

People can speak in any combination of these languages but usually have one dominant language in which they both communicate their love and receive love from others. Like any seasoned traveler knows, problems arise when a language barrier is reachedófor instance, if one person is speaking with Quality Time and the other is speaking with Acts of Service. They are both expressing that they care about the other person, but because they arenít speaking the same language, neither recognizes nor feels loved by the other person. It would be like saying, "I love you," in English to someone who only speaks German and is saying, "Ich liebe dich," in return. If the barrier isnít breached the relationship will deteriorate, so somebody better pick up some Rosetta Stone software ASAP.

If one is aware of her own love language, however, and can discern that of her friends, then an effort can be made to learn another love language. That person who speaks Quality Time can learn to speak Acts of Service to his friend, perhaps helping to wash that friendís car one weekend. In turn, the person fluent in Acts of Service may begin to recognize his friendís preference for Quality Time and spends a little extra time talking and listening the next time they hang out. Of course, anyone can learn any love language, and it can be a powerful tool to aiding the growth of a friendship.

This is one of several concepts that I subscribe to when analyzing the relationships in my life. Another is proposed by Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics, which concerns the purposes of friendships. According to Aristotle, there are three forms of friendship. The first is a temporary friendship that arises out of usefulness, where each person benefits from the friendship in some way. When I think of this friendship, I think of business networking. An aspiring employee may schmooze a buddy in order to have a good word put in for his job promotion. The one man receives whatever fancy lunches and football tickets are offered, but after his companion receives that promotion, those friends see little of each other.

The second of Aristotleís friendships is based upon the pleasure each person derives from the other. This pleasure may be based on good looks, a sharp wit, or like-mindedness among other qualities. These relationships may be temporary as a personís pleasures change. Aristotle characterizes these friendships as those of the young and passionate. I would also add fickle to that list as these young minds are still developing their own opinions and desires, both of which are liable to change over time with education, travel, and general life experiences. As those opinions and desires change, so do the friendships, sometimes being lost altogether.

Third and strongest of Aristotleís friendships is one based upon the goodness of the involved parties. In this relationship, each person admires the otherís goodness, aspires to the otherís goodness, and promotes the other to even greater goodness. These friendships take the longest to develop and encompass the benefits of the other two forms of friendship. These friendships consist most of giving love rather than receiving it. While there is no expectation of returned love in the mind of either party, it is still necessary for love to be returned to maintain the give-and-take equilibrium (i.e. to avoid any friendship hogging).

Now that you know the foundation for my understanding of what friendships should be, Iíd like to propose my own formula for successful friendships with a single word: communication. In my experience, 90% of all conflicts can be resolved if all parties are open and honest with one another. (This is a random figure. Please donít hold me to it.) Of course, having a bachelorís in communication may make me slightly biased.

Successful communication requires a message, a mode, a sender, a receiver, and feedback. The message is, of course, what one is trying to communicate. The mode is the method by which that message is sentóperhaps a face-to-face conversation, gestures/body language, a phone call, a text, or a letter. The sender is the person communicating the message while the receiver is the person to whom the message is being sent. Feedback is the response to the message sent from the receiver to the sender, thus restarting the cycle. From the human perspective, this process requires honesty in the message, an appropriate mode for the topic (face-to-face is always advisable), careful listening by the receiver, and patience and understanding from both parties.

Honest communication allows each party to understand her part in the relationship and what life experiences may influence the other personís perspective and expectations. It helps to clarify any unintentional miscommunications that may have already occurred. It aids both in preventing and resolving conflicts, in understanding and being understood more deeply by another person, and in giving and receiving a more fulfilling friendship.

When applied to Aristotleís three forms of friendship, communication establishes just which form of friendship is being pursued. For example, if each party is aware that those football tickets are just to help get a promotion, then it spares hard feelings later by preventing any one party from expecting more from the other.

When applied to the Five Love Languages, communication will ease the process of deciphering which love language your friend speaks. They may state it clearly (e.g. "I really wish we could spend more time together.") or subtly (e.g. a hug that lasts a little longer than the American standard of 3 seconds), but as long as the communication is honest and any confusion is cleared up with a simple conversation, then an understanding can usually be reached.

Sometimes I think these concepts are so clear and obvious and other times I think they complicate friendship beyond what is necessary. It is probably easiest to believe they overcomplicate friendships when one has good friendships; however, when one has a failed or failing friendship, these concepts seem to make sense of that loss. Perhaps it is because mankind is apt to logic away emotions, but I think there is value in understanding the reason behind the emotions and the logic behind the events themselves. Once one can pinpoint the flaws in the relationship, one can work to fix them; once one can understand the reason behind anotherís actions, emotions become less confusing and less overwhelming. In this way, these theories are not only philosophical but also psychological. Ultimately, friendship has a learning curve. You are learning to open up to another person, to accept others, to recognize your own faults, learn from them, and correct them, to build up another person to be his best, and to be built up to your best. Sometimes a few friendship casualties happen along the way as we learn to be the best friend possible, but hopefully, with a little time and forgiveness, even those persons arenít any worse for wear in the long term.

Read other articles by Nicole Jones