We are a lonely generation, and I don’t need to read a study to become aware of that. I have experienced it at times in my own life and witnessed it in the lives of those I know. I am fortunate to not currently consider myself one of the 30 percent of millennials who feel terribly lonely. I contribute this to my extroverted nature, providence, and a little luck. I also learned that friendship wouldn’t just spring up around me — I had to go out of my way to pursue the good friends who are now in my life.
C.S. Lewis’s book The Four Loves discusses what he believes to be the four kinds of love humans can experience: eros (romantic), friendship, affection (mostly familial), and charity (love of God). The book is most well-known for how it tackles the topic of friendship, which Lewis believes is the most unique of the four loves he explores. He describes it as the “luminous, tranquil, rational, world of relationships freely chosen.”
He explains that the free will humans experience in their individual lives extends neatly and uniquely in friendship in a way that isn’t experienced in other types of love. We may choose our spouses, but there is a biological impulse to procreate. We may love our families, but sometimes it is just because we sense we have to. Friendship, as Lewis suggests, is the most human form of love because it is the most directly tied to our free will.
When my husband and I moved back to our rural hometown in southwest Virginia after college, I found that most of my childhood friends hadn’t returned. I had left my college friends behind in North Carolina, and although I had dozens of family members a few minutes’ drive away now, I was terribly lonely.
After a year or so, I decided I would do something about my friendship situation. I had always been handed my friends because of proximity in school and it was time to be an adult and find my own friends out in the world.
I texted, messaged, and called everyone I knew within 15 years of my own age to meet at a coffee shop for a book study. The first night at least 20 people showed up, all desiring community and feeling its absence. Soon, the book study was pushed aside as the excuse it was, and the group began to meet monthly for tacos and margaritas.
People floated in and out of the group over the course of the next three years, but a core group was established. These people are the people who threw a birthday party for our son and gave us a card with money in it to pay his medical bills that we had piling up. These are the people we go on vacation with, who will be future children’s godparents. These are the people we mourned for when one of the couples moved away.
C.S. Lewis says friendship is “made light of in modern times.” We think family is primary and friendship is secondary, but in my experience, friends are more like family than some family. These are the people we choose to do life with, the people who love us and whom we love even though we don’t have to.
Maybe if we all adjusted our view of friendship just a degree toward the importance we place on family, it would change the way we approach it. We would pursue it with the vigor of dating and cherish it with the sentimentality of family. We wouldn’t just hope we stumble into friendships like we are birthed into a family. We would see the gift of friendships as gratuitous, but therefore even more valuable. We would see that good friendships are worth stepping out of our comfort zones to pursue and worth the trouble to preserve.
Friendship can happen by chance, but I won’t leave my happiness to chance. I hope you won’t either.