I think I have fewer friends now than at any point in my adult life. I think this is common to most people as they go throughout their 20s. When you’re a teenager, it’s all about your social life. It’s about fitting in, having friends, being in with the crowd, being out and about – and doing so as much as possible! I think when you’re growing up you’re trying to find your own identity, and most often your only reference is those around you. So in a way, young people define themselves more in terms of their likes and dislikes and those of the ones they associate with. I think other people are so important during this time because they complete you; they “top up” the missing parts of your own character. These missing parts are totally natural; no one is born a complete person, in fact it would be wrong if we were. The process of establishing your own identity must be a rational conscious process that takes time, experience, and judgement.
As a result, as one forms concrete opinions on the world, one necessarily starts to select those who are harmonious with those opinions. In youth, before one has strong opinions on anything, the range of personalities one can select from is limitless. A best friend might be one who is a fan of the same football club, or has the same taste in music or fashion. But as we start to pursue our educational and career paths, the “acid test” of friendship begins. It is here that we set our priorities and realise that the choices we make now will affect the rest of our lives – and we either commit to these, do what’s necessary to achieve our goals, or we don’t, or we fail. I think this is the stage of life that starts to separate the “egg heads” from the “dead heads”.
After this, as adults, we necessarily have to form opinions on the world around us; what is right or wrong. Now, I’ve put these choices – which I’ll call philosophical ones – after the ones of career and education, because for me that’s how it went. I also think that when growing up we take many positions for granted – like morality – because we are fed canned forms of philosophy from our parents, school, religion, society etc. The “bigger picture” issues require more maturity to examine and digest which is why I think they come in the late teens and 20s, and because they aren’t forced upon us we find ourselves actively looking for answers, almost as if we are discovering the world all over again. (Incidentally, I think this is why many young adults discover a real joy in learning once the monotony and anguish of progressive state-enforced education is over.)
As we look for answers, we find ourselves assembling something, a foundation, from which we assess the world, our relationships, in short – how we view the world and those values we choose to pursue in it.
This something is what we all need but it often remains unspoken. It’s one’s philosophy. The more specific and objective it is, the more exclusive it becomes – and therefore the more exclusive one’s opinions and relationships become. This is why I think as we get older, we naturally reduce our circle of friends; what we find acceptable becomes more and more restrictive – and what we demand from potential partners becomes more specific. We look for a smaller more intimate group of friends that most closely share our values, as opposed to the vast sea of friends of any kind we desire in teenage years. Essentially, you cannot be friends with someone who has fundamental values that conflict with your own.
Speaking for myself, I find my requirements for friendship so high and my standards for association so exact – that I have (only semi-consciously) limited my choice of friendships (and more) to a very small pool. As one example, I prize honesty above all other virtues (on par with rationality); I cannot tolerate dishonesty in another person, whether they are being dishonest to me or being intellectually dishonest with themselves (which is worse). I also find irrationality extremely off-putting and ugly. Contrastingly, I find intelligence and rationality the most attractive qualities for any relationship. When it comes to intimate ones, no beauty in the world is a substitute for rationality. Of course, if you can find a potential partner who is beautiful and rational, you are very lucky indeed.
But the point I’m trying to make is that having high standards is good. It’s the expression of the fact that what you have to offer as a person is so valuable that you’re not going to share it with just anyone; that being friends with you is a mutual privilege that is based on something real and serious; that you don’t just let anyone into your mind and life. It’s also the highest honour you can do to those whom you call friends, or lovers; it’s the highest compliment you can pay someone – that you want to be around that person and you know they want to be around you, because you share fundamental values and ideals; that of all the people you’ve met, you’ve chosen your friends and partner specially because of what is special about them.
The “downside” (it’s not really a downside) of this is that, like I said above, the number of available associates grows increasingly limited as you become more demanding of what you want in other people. But these demands are an expression of self-esteem; that you hold yourself in such high regard that you believe you deserve the best friends and best partner; that you don’t dish out your friendship like candy, or offer your soul and body up to whoever waltzes by. It means that those you do invest your life in are all the more significant and honoured.
Of course, there are no guarantees that you will have lots of friends, or any. Or that you will get with the person of your dreams, or anyone. But it does mean that the relationships you do have will be genuine and honest, and any other kind is not worth having anyway.
That’s why my friends should be very grateful they have me – precisely because I feel the same way about them.