Friendship is such an interesting topic. It seems like there should be a checklist someplace you can go through to decide if someone is a friend or not. I mean when you’re asking yourself what qualities you value in your friends, wouldn’t it make sense to have a list of qualities in general? I did an article once, about online dating services, and in several of them, the participants had to answer extensive questionnaires which were then matched up according to a mystic algorithm and involving the sacrifice of a rubber chicken.
Some of the obvious responses would be things like loyalty and shared interests, but that seems rather generic to me. Seriously, who would say “I want a friend who is nothing like me, who I think is a complete dick, and who I wouldn’t cross the street to piss on if he was on fire?” I mean, I’ve even heard of people of different races, who were both incredibly bigoted and wanted nothing more than to purge their personal society from the evils of the other, who would then drink together and lament how much better the world would be if they didn’t have to share the same air. Crazy, but even they had the common interest of a separatist.
So, if we take the givens off the table, what do we have?
I’m not sure. Maybe it helps if we start defining what friendship is? I know there are a number of people who say “I’ve married my best friend,” and while that’s a great sentiment, I’m not sure I get it. I married an amazing woman with whom I want to spend the rest of my life, but is she my “best friend?” Does she fulfill that function in addition to being a spouse? That’s a real headscratcher for me and ultimately, the answer is I don’t think so.
For me, the two perform different roles. The idea of someone who is “all things to all people” kinda makes me a wee bit uncomfortable. My wife and I share a lot, to be sure, but if I start talking about comic book characters, her eyes glaze over and she suddenly has the overwhelming need to clean something, somewhere else in the house. And that’s okay!
Back when I worked at The Groundlings, there was a record shop next door called Vinyl Fetish. I used to hang out there all the time before or between shows and there was a guy who worked there named Matt Green, who was in an industrial band called Spahn Ranch. Vinyl Fetish was very much a “black-hair/pointy shoe” kind of place and often they would get in promos or things for bands they’d never sell and I would get those*. Anyway, one day I walked in and Matt was on the phone. I waved hi and he said “hi” back, to which the person he was talking to must have asked who had just come in. “Oh, that’s just Jaq, he’s my ‘progressive’ friend,” Matt answered, referencing both my musical preferences and a late 70s PSA on prejudice. And that was the extent of our friendship. We’d talk at least once a week, hang out for a bit, but never saw each other beyond that. We were friends and what we shared was an appreciation of music, even if our tastes were very different.
Which isn’t to say just having common interests is what makes a friend, but it’s part of it. Having fun together is also a plus. I suppose there’s also mutual respect and understanding. I have friends who will make plans and then change them if “something better” comes along, but in context, that makes sense. At the same time, those same friends will absolutely bail you out of trouble at the slightest hint.
So, what qualities do I value in a friend? All the ones I’ve listed above plus shared history and experiences or trauma bonding. But the thing is, you may have all of those things and still not be friends. Or you may be friends for a short period and then go your separate ways with nothing but fond memories. Maybe there’s some other intangible, ephemeral quality, which isn’t quantifiable. I suppose it’s kind of like art. You may not be able to define it, but you know it when you see it.
I will say this, though, I love making new friends. Let’s chat and see what we have in common. I bet we’ll be able to find something.
*This is where I ended up with my first Tori Amos CD, was introduced to 29 Palms and the Pleasure Thieves, and got the Paul Simon Box set.