Discovering friendships

It’s interesting to experience the way friendships form, develop, strengthen, and dissolve, and occasionally recover, over time.

We might form a friendship quickly, at the intersection of compatible personalities, shared views, and time spent in proximity.

Many such friendships will turn out not to be deep enough to survive the passage of years, as people move from one city to another for family or education or career.

Even those deeper friendships that do survive the rolling on of time, though, will likely be exposed to serious stresses as situations change. It seems to me that new sides of a friend will often be revealed in the course of minor intellectual disagreements, most often, in my experience, of an ideological sort.

Those are the moments that can begin to reveal a person’s depths, and show who they really are. Seeing how people respond in such moments will offer a far more fulsome sense of their character.

I’ve been shocked in the past by how many people (ideologically to the left of me and to the right of me alike), whom I’ve considered dear friends, have rapidly decided in a conversation that if I won’t agree wholeheartedly with some one or another of their views, then they don’t care to preserve the friendship. Such an approach to friendship is not natural to me, I suspect, although perhaps something like it was more characteristic of me in my teenage years and early twenties.

Often those who at first appear the most delightful and virtuous of friends reveal another, more dismaying side in harder seasons of friendship. It’s always a surprise, and frequently painful.

It’s too easy to fixate on that part of the story, though. The disappointments have two upsides. One is that, very rarely, and always very slowly, a new friendship can grow up in place of the old. Cautiously, fearfully, it can sometimes be possible to rediscover what brought about a friendship in the first place, though I don’t know if it will normally be able to return to its original strength when there is a memory of the pain that has been intentionally inflicted in the past.

But the other miracle that happens is the real treasure: One’s truly virtuous friends rise to the surface, as time passes. It might not always be the person we’d expect. A disagreement arises, and the person is willing to respect the other person rather than digging in on ideology, and a new era of friendship and admiration is born. Such friendships, rare beyond all explanation, become as precious and beautiful in the friends’ eyes as silver and diamonds, even if, often, it would be awkward to recognize this gratitude out loud.

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