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Money can't buy you loyal and honest friends — but a shared life with people you can really level with is a rare luxury.
How do I find friends? Where can I go to live in a decent community? After the pandemic exposed the extent to which our social and cultural institutions have broken down, these questions are universal.
The standard advice is to take up various hobbies in order to meet people and to bloom where we’re planted. That’s fine as far as it goes, but these sorts of friendships are often fairly limited — dependent upon the original shared interest, for one thing.
In youth we meet so many people and have so many friends of happy circumstance that we often do not feel the need for more substantial friendships until long after chance and good fortune cease throwing likely candidates in our path. As we pour ourselves into our family and careers, our once-abundant ability to devote ourselves to various superficial pursuits is limited, and thus the lifeblood of most of our youthful friendships slows to a trickle.
It is worth asking the question: If our friends decided to completely immerse themselves in our least favorite hobby — something that just defines pointless inanity for us — would the friendship survive? Would we still want to spend time with them if they took up the most annoying, time-wasting hobby possible? Would our friendships survive a change in career? A change in fortune?
A better question: Was anyone in our lives during the pandemic to whom we could say true, even unguarded things without fear of reprisal? Though they might disagree with us, did we have people who would simply allow us to bare our reality? To give our true, unvarnished account of events as we saw them during that time? Were they capable of participating in reality alongside us, to have deep conversations that didn’t devolve into shouting matches? Those are true friends.
What is the difference between true and superficial friendship? The paradox of life is that you won’t really know until you try it. Or until your friendship is tried.
If anything, the pandemic showed us the extent to which we had been content to bob along in a sea of superficial relationships and how desperately we longed for just a few true-blue friends once the tide went out.
A common life shared with friends who do not ask us to walk on eggshells to please them is foundational to happiness. In youth, superficial similarities are the currency of friendship. As we get older and more intent on the real work of our lives, our friendships become mature enough to admit of sharp differences in personality, interests, income, and lifestyle. This is because our goal — building a good life for ourselves and our kids in a community of like-minded people — dictates all.
In fact, now that I have teenagers, I find the sharp yet ultimately superficial differences I have with some friends to be not only tolerable but desirable. Chances are, most of your children will closely resemble either you or your spouse. But a few might resemble neither.
For those personalities in particular, it is essential that there be several sensible, decent adults to look up to in their social circle. If children can’t exactly see themselves in their parents, it is wonderful for them to find a kindred spirit in one of their parents’ lifelong, trusted friends. What a gift that can be!
What is the difference between true and superficial friendship? The paradox of life is that you won’t really know until you try it. Or, more accurately, until your friendship is tried. Tried by sorrow, by inconvenience, or simply the passing of time.
True friendship takes hold in the deepest and truest part of yourself, such that often you’re not fully sensible of it until the less essential parts of your personality fall away.
In my experience, the best way to find true friends is to decide to throw yourself into serious work. To stop skimming the surface, testing the waters. Most of us are understandably afraid to embark upon any journey we know we cannot possibly complete alone. But that is precisely what life demands, in one way or another. As we fall in love, as we have children and begin to set up our lives and community to support and sustain our families, our true friends will be the people who are essential to that task — the people without whom we would surely fail to reach our goal.
The nature of life is that we chase a series of goods — wealth, beauty, excitement, entertainment, amusement, love, family. And as we seek to hold onto these goods, we find that some will not allow us to keep them for more than a moment or two, some fail to satisfy, and others are always just beyond our grasp. The good things that allow us to take hold of them, keep them, and sustain ourselves in them often bring the most pain and sacrifice and demand a frightful discipline, if not outright purification, as if by fire.
A great sweetness afforded — indeed a true luxury given to us as we fight to hold onto the best things in life while the lesser goods fall away — is the true friends who accompany us, encourage us, and love us more for what we shall become than what we once were when first we met.
Editor’s note: A version of this article appeared originally at Matriarch Goals.
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Lane Scott is a ranching, custom-home building, homeschooling political philosophy Ph.D. and Catholic mother of five living in California’s Gold Country. She writes at Matriarch Goals on Substack.