A reader writes:
Ever since I read context of heterosexuality, the relationship between romantic love and the peopling of the earth allows us to see how friendship is less useful or necessary, in the narrow sense of those terms.
I get that comparison, and understand how the superfluousness of friendship, from a kind of biological perspective, could redound to connecting it to "choice" or "freedom." Friendship does not directly participate in perpetuation of the species in the way romantic love does.
But I really can't say I've chosen my friends.
There is a way in which I am mysteriously drawn to my closest friends. I don't think this is sublimated eros, either. It is true that I could list reasons why I am friends with certain people: shared intellectual preoccupations, a love for certain activities, similar religious devotion, or compatible tastes in music, literature, or art. But friends are always more than the sum of their parts, more than a checklist of similarities, interests, and activities. And isn't that "more" what ultimately draws us to them? Something about their being is intriguing or comforting or seems to elicit some kind of response from us. I could imagine stumbling upon someone who liked the same food, books, and films as I do, while also leaving me cold. I could even imagine wanting to be friends with someone, but having it never really materialize.
Why does being friends with a particular person make the world seem less lonely? I'm not sure, at the level of conscious choice, the answer to that is entirely different from the question, Why am I so attracted to this person, why do they make my heart leap, why can't I get them off of my mind? Both involve, I think, something instinctive or pre-reflective. Both can't be entirely described with words. I'm not saying they partake of the same phenomenon, as if they are just different points on one spectrum. But their form, if not their content, seem to be recognizably similar. In other words, both modes of love seem to originate in something deeper than choice, or will, or freedom.
I grasp, too, that there is something moderate, solid, less capricious, and more steady about friendship than romance, which perhaps gives it the illusion of being something we control. And maybe in some ways, comparatively, we are more in control of our friendships. Certainly, again, when compared to eros they are less connected to desire and passion. But for me, when I really think about it, my love for my friends escapes calculation and rationalization. I find myself drawn to them — there is something passive about it.
Your examples make me wonder about this even more. Think of Montaigne — "because it was he; because it was I." If, for Montaigne, and Oakeshott, friendship is connected to delight and enjoyment, who can say why someone delights us?
Yes, there is a mystery to friendship. It is indeed more than the sum of its parts. But it remains a choice, it seems to me, to build on this mysterious form of connection, to nurture it, and to obey its unspoken rules. Romantic love is much less rational; it blinds when friendship always has open eyes. It takes no work to fall in love. It takes real work to rise to a real and lasting friendship.
A durable marriage, it seems to me, begins in romance and evolves, if you are lucky, into real friendship. It is a process of self-liberation into another.
(Painting: "Jesus Christ and St. John the Apostle". A detail of the Last Supper fresco from Ubisi, Georgia.)