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What Happened To Friendship?

Updated: Aug 23, 2022

Experts are calling it the “Loneliness Epidemic”

A recent survey found that more than half of all adults who are child-bearing age report feeling lonely and disconnected from other people. This statistic, in combination with reports of a growing maternal mental health crisis is what led me to explore this topic further. If more than half the population of young adults have little to no friends, perhaps it’s time to reexamine friendship.

What happened to friendship?

In childhood, you’re encouraged to make friends at an early age. During the school years, it’s easy to create and maintain friendships because of the convenience of consistently being in close proximity to your classmates. You might live near a friend, take the same bus, be in the same class, and play in the same after school sports. While conflicts may arise, the consistent exposure to that person often makes it difficult to hold a grudge. Therefore, childhood friendships often stand the test of time. That is, until you grow up, graduate or move away and that convenience of proximity disappears. That’s when friendships usually fall apart.

Modern society heavily emphasizes romantic relationships. So much so that even children pick up on it and imitate it. How many times have you heard an eight year old say, “I have a girlfriend/boyfriend”? It’s ingrained from an early age that the goal of relationships is to find a romantic partner. Thousands of magazines, books, podcasts, and social media pages are dedicated to the sole mission of becoming and finding the ideal romantic partner. Spreading the value of friendship is, unfortunately, not a top priority for most people.

Many young adults share the same story. You had an abundance of friends in childhood, gained a few more in college, found a romantic partner and now all your friends can be counted on one hand. This is actually a common problem in long-term relationships and marriages. Either one or both partners seemingly lost all of their close friends during their path to marriage. They wake up one day, realize their partner’s unavailable (for various reasons) and now feel lonely because they have no other people to fill the void their partner's absence creates. Not only are there few friends, the value that is placed on the friendship is poor. With so much time and energy devoted to achieving and maintaining that romantic relationship, there really wasn’t much time left to appreciate and put value in friendship.

Where did "friends" come from?

The meaning of most words in American English can be traced back to root languages such as Greek, Latin and Old English. In Greek, the word for friend is phileo, which translates to “I love”. In Latin, the word is amicus which is derived from the root word, amo. Amo also means “I love”. The Old English word is freond which is a verb that means “to love, honor, or set free (from slavery or confinement)”. When you consider the root meanings of friend, it is clear that great reverence was given to anyone who earned that title by our ancestors.

Perhaps my favorite definition of the word, friend, comes from a word in Aramaic. What I love about the ancient languages like Hebrew and Aramaic is that they actually categorize words based on the context. For example, there are different words for different levels of love such as brotherly love, “chav”, and love of a spouse, “dodi”. In American English, we use the same word for both feelings and have to modify it with other words to discriminate between the feelings, “brotherly love vs romantic love”. In John 15:13-15, Jesus calls the disciples his friends by using the Aramaic word, “racham”.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”

Racham is best exemplified through the kind of love a mother has for a child in her womb. Racham means to love deeply, have mercy, compassion, and tender affection. This type of love is so difficult to grasp that many languages, such as Greek and its derivatives, don’t even have a word for it. It is the kind of love that would drive someone to sacrifice themselves for the one they call “racham”. This fundamental connection between love and friendship is an essential starting point for reclaiming the value of friendship. Many spiritual leaders often emphasize this type of love in reference to how God loves us. In the text, it is clear that this same type of love is what God commands us to extend to others.

“Love one another as I have loved you”

In order to reintegrate quality friendships into society, we have to acknowledge the deep ties between love and friendship. A true friend is someone that knows you and loves you anyway. It is someone who you’re willing to sacrifice for. Most importantly, it is someone who feels the same way about you that you feel about them.

High value friendships require reciprocal understanding of the merit of that friendship. This is where things often fall apart in modern society. As I reference the bible as a guide for friendship, I also acknowledge the religious tendency to elevate marriage above all relationships. Similar to secular society, religious organizations often emphasize the work and dedication that go into marital relationships. This often leads people to believe that the only important relationship is the one with their partner or spouse.

Jesus' whole life is an incarnation on the ideal of friendship. "But I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father." A friend is someone who knows your soul because you've bared every part of who you are with them. That friend may very well eventually turn out to be your wife or husband. Regardless, it’s good to understand how to nourish and maintain intimacy in any important and trusted relationship. A valuable friendship is one where both sides understand the depth of their relationship and are willing to work on it the same way they would in a romantic relationship. It can’t be a one-sided exchange. That means that while you are on your quest for meaningful friendships, you must be willing to demonstrate the significance you place on that friendship as well!

As always, I hope that this was an interesting and helpful read! Be sure to stick around for next week's post!

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