Dive 62: Lonely Friendships
Hey, it’s Alvin!
I found this piece of advice online I wanted to share with you.
It makes sense, doesn’t it?
Friendship is a value exchange. So, if you’re not getting value, consider letting it go.
But there’s something strange about this framing.
I have never said to anyone (or thought), “you’re of no value to me anymore. You’re out of my circle.”
I have never seen anyone say that either.
I have made friends from childhood to adulthood, and that thought never once crossed my mind.
And yet I’m satisfied with my friendships. I don’t feel the need to out anybody.
The more I think about this idea, the more I realized that this is quite a harmful way to think about friendships. In fact, I’ll take it one step further. Thinking of a friendship as a “value exchange” is the reason there’s a growing epidemic of loneliness. And that’s far from what we want.
Real Friendships aren’t transactional
Let me put it this way:
You would never say out loud, “you’re out of my friendship circle. You have no value to me.”
No reasonable person would say that because (a) it’s awkward, and (b) it would show that you were only in it to get something out of the friendship. It would show that the “friendship” was only transactional to you.
But if friendship were just a value exchange, then why not just pay someone to be your friend? If that sounds ridiculous, I have a surprise for you. That’s already a reality today. You can go to Japan right now and find companies that rent out a staff member to be your “friend”.
Well, they might call you a “friend,” but you’ll know deep down inside they’re not. Sure, they’ll hang out with you and do whatever you want (within reason) for the time you paid for. But once the time is up, they don’t give a shit about you. Because, at the end of the (business) day, you were just a client. And they were just your imaginary friend.
It would be like meeting someone at school who would only be your friend during the school day. Imagine if, at the end of the school day, your “friend” said, “well, school’s over. Let’s resume our friendship on Monday morning at 9. See ya!”
Real Friendships are about Friendship, itself
Clearly, REAL friendship is much more than a set of transactions.
Yes, on the surface, “friendship is a value exchange.” That’s true in the sense that friends generally exchange value. But it’s as shallow as saying that “a car is a box on wheels.” It’s so much more.
The true value of a car is being able to go places you can’t otherwise go. It represents exploration, adventure, and getting stranded in the middle of a desert on the way to Walley World.
The most important part of a friendship is the friendship itself. It’s about building a bond with a fellow human being—a unique set of experiences and memories that only you two share.
When you have a REAL friend, you just know they’re always there for you. As you are for them. I know this might sound cheesy. And it’s not necessarily logical. But that’s not the point. It’s emotional. It’s spiritual. It appeals to the human experience that’s intangible and unquantifiable. Even when they’re not with you in person, they’re with you in spirit, cheering you on. That’s why people with REAL friends never feel lonely.
Those who see friendship in a non-transactional way are not focused on what they’re getting out of it. Because extracting value is not the goal. They’re focused on building the relationship. Because the friendship IS the goal.
It’s a constructive mentality. So, you’re never thinking about kicking anybody out of your “circle.”
It’s not about what you can take from the friendship. The focus is on what can you GIVE to build on it. This means thinking more about what your friend needs more than what you need. It comes from a genuine desire to help a friend in need because you care about them. Because you want them to be well.
To love means to commit oneself without guarantee, to give oneself completely in the hope that our love will produce love in the loved person. Love is an act of faith, and whoever is of little faith is also of little love.
- Erich Fromm on The Art of Loving
When I was a teen, a friend of mine did something stupid that involved me (somewhat) and he got in trouble for it. I don’t remember exactly what it was anymore. But I remember we met in a school hallway after, where he said…
My friend: Yeah, I’m in big trouble. My parents are going to ground me for this. And I can’t afford to be grounded either. Can you cover for me?
My friend: Really?
Me: Yeah, we’re friends. I can cover for you.
My friend: I never said we were friends.
Me: Well, I consider you my friend.
I know there are people who would call me foolish. But I took the blame for something he did because I felt I could take the flak. And obviously I would’ve reconsidered if it was a recurring thing. But he never asked me for help before.
After that, we became the best of friends. We’d hang out more, party, and confide in each other.
The irony is that those who see a friendship as a value exchange get the least from it. Because they’re focused on looking for value rather than BUILDING value.
Unless the other person is actively and intentionally harming you, there’s never a need to kick them out of your circle. Because by doing that, you’re throwing away an opportunity to build something special.
Real Friendships are so much more than value exchanges
If all your friendships are only for value exchanges, then you have no friends.
You have business transactions.
If you have to pay someone to be like a “friend” to you, then you know deep down inside they’re not a friend. They’re a service provider. They don’t care about you. So, when you go to bed at night, you’ll be lonely again.
To suggest that a friendship is a value exchange is superficial. It misses the point.
The REAL value of a friendship comes from a much deeper appreciation for one another. Deeper connections mean stronger bonds. It’s how we feel connected with each other, even when the other person isn’t around. It’s how we feel less lonely.
Let’s end the loneliness epidemic once and for all.
Find someone who shares a common interest or value and start a conversation about it.
Then GIVE lots to BUILD the relationship.
Or in the words of Aristotle:
It is those who wish the good of their friends for their friends’ sake who are friends in the fullest sense, since they love each other for themselves and not accidentally.
Reply to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or comments. I’d love the hear from you.
Thank you for reading. Build your friendships. And I’ll see you in the next one.