Friends, like lovers, stand face to face and gaze into each other’s depths. There doesn’t need to be a third thing – a common interest or hobby, or a quest for a shared truth – that binds friends like an external glue, and the bond is often deeper when this third thing isn’t the main attraction. When we love friends, we value them for who they are as complete persons, for their idiosyncrasies and quirks, their beautiful virtues, their annoying habits, their smiles and laughter, their tears, and their unique style of expressing life. When we love friends as ends in themselves, as repositories of their own uniqueness, they are utterly irreplaceable. There is no seriality in close friendships, each friendship is a universe onto itself. We might be happy if a third and fourth and fifth friend joins the party, especially in contexts with a feeling of gregariousness and fun, but we also value the intimacy of each singular connection, which is often deeper when shared in twos.
The most beautiful thing about friendships is that they are not about anything else. Friends love each other in all their complexities and wish whatever is best for each other, without any practical sense of instrumentality or utility, without seeing the friend as a means to some other attainment, even the pursuit of a greater truth. There might be a more encompassing goal, in the sense that the friendship enables both friends to grow, expand, become wiser, more generous, more loving, more tolerant. Genuine friendships are beyond any narrow sense of instrumentality or counting what the other person does for us. It might be that friends do quite a lot for us – they are there in times of trouble, when we need help and support, and we feel we can count on them – but this comes as a byproduct of the mutual love and intimacy we feel, and not as the end goal of the relationship.
Friends are there for each other, but do not depend on each other in a greedy way; they are generous with their time and affection and do not make calculations or demands for an equal exchange; they enjoy being together while valuing their separateness and the fact that they each have their own lives; they appreciate their similarities and common interests but recognize that differences are sometimes more important catalysts of growth. Friends enjoy each other primarily because of the deep connection of their bond, and although they may value sharing life’s pleasures, they also know how to withstand each other’s pains.