I can´t tell you very much about Arthur. His older sister Amber was my older sister´s best friend, and his older brother Jonathan was my own older brother´s best friend. Our families seemed to possess an inherent symmetry of friendship, thus it was only natural that I felt Arthur was my own best friend. After all these years, what I remember vividly was that when his mother threatened him with a swat on the behind, he had the temerity to dodge her, while I, on the other hand, would stand and accept whatever punishment was coming my way. Decades have passed since we last evaded corporal punishment or constructed a Lincoln Log fort on the living room floor, yet I still recall him fondly.
Today, my relationship to friends is very different. I have many, yet I have few, and I´m not sure to which friendship I might refer to in the superlative as being the “best.” How do we even define what a friend is, anyway? One response to that question I once heard is that if you´re at the airport, and you see someone you know, would you go out of your way to get their attention and to say hello? Still, even that explanation falls short for me – when is my flight, and am I in a social mood? When did I see them last? How much of a surprise is it to see one another?
I imagine that many people have bosom buddies; others with whom they chat on the phone, or meet up with at least every week. In this regard, I´m deficient. I don´t have that friend – or if I do, it isn´t for years upon end. And when I think about those people that DO have such friendships, I conclude that we´re a little different. They are like farmers in neighboring properties, that whenever they can, they come together and break bread and share stories, and endeavor to do so frequently.
Me? I´m a bit more like a goat herder, who is out in the hills for long periods of time, alone with my work. When I do get together with old acquaintances, it´s like yesterday, and we pick up where we left off. Perhaps it´s a part of the difference in being, mildly, an introvert. I need that time to recharge. But I cherish that time I share with the people I love.
For many years, I was in digital marketing, and knee deep in social media marketing in particular. Part of my life, then, was going to various events and conferences around the world, where quite often, I would meet up again with the friends I´d so often come to know at other conferences. We shared stories about our lives and our families, and catch up on the big news of the day with one another, and then go our ways. I don´t think it made us less genuine in our affection for one another in whichever way that can be measured – it´s just that, perhaps, we were all goat herders in our way.
All of these thoughts have come about because someone recently asked me about my friends. I´ve moved to another country, a country, no less, in which social and family ties are paramount. In this age of Facebook, I´m able to keep up with the comings and goings of all those friends back in my previous home, and I´m able to foster new friendships here.
Montaigne wrote of a sort of total friendship that was unique, almost more of a marriage than a marriage itself, saying that “each one gives himself so entirely to his friend, that he has nothing left to distribute to others.” This doesn´t ring true for me; I don´t think a large network of friends is any less than Montaigne´s idea of a one-on-one relationship.
Perhaps this whole idea of a “best friend” is a cultural construct – or perhaps we people are just of different sorts – farmers and goat herders. Or perhaps it´s bound to be different in different times in life. I was married for over 25 years, and in that time, I can easily say that my wife was my best friend. Different types of relationships for different parts of life.
I have friends that are far away, in both distance and time, and friends near at hand; friends with whom I´ve bickered with, or loved; shared experiences and dreams. I think of you, all.