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  • Ninay Desai

On Friendship

Friends spelt in scrabble tiles

Who is a friend? Most of us refer to all manner of people as our ‘friends’. Everyone, from a long-lost schoolmate to a colleague you get coffee with and the guy at the local squash court, is a ‘friend’. And of course, there is that ubiquitous and odd breed called the Facebook friend. Perhaps the gradual dissolution of social formalities, which had previously required people to think in more defined relational constructs, has resulted in this ‘friend’ boom. Or maybe, this abundance of friends is a result of dropping all manner of amorphous equations into one handy little basket. Distinguishing between relationships takes time and effort, and could result in a most unsettling finding - that one does not have many friends and worse still, that one is not a true friend, even to a few.

Girl journalling

If you were a fly on my bedroom wall that one night about a decade ago, you would’ve seen me journalling (it was a sporadic exercise). This was my insomniac era when I considered 4 am a reasonable time to sleep. It was late enough for even late-night traffic to have been lulled into silence. Except for the wind. It was a cold night and gusts of wind made it colder still. Through that night’s journalling, I came to the realisation that while I had friends, I didn’t feel close to any of them. These friends, on the other hand, considered me a close friend. But I never confided in them. And when I thought about it some more, I realised that they made a greater effort to do stuff together than I did. My approach to friendship was more laissez-faire – easy come, easy go. That got me thinking.


What creates that warm, fuzzy feeling of having a friend? Is it just an amalgamation of time spent hanging out, catching movies and the usual shenanigans? Over the next few months, the question hung around the backrooms of my mind. Here’s what I figured out. Acts of service (small stuff like calling to check up on them or more substantially, picking them up from the airport), authenticity (following through on the things you said you would do and not faking coolness) and vulnerability (this is a tough one if you like to shelter behind a hardened outer shell) are essential to a genuine friendship. The kind which makes you feel seen and understood.

I'm sure there are others who have expressed the idea of how the effort you make for your friend is what makes them special. However, I don't recall any who've done it better than Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in The Little Prince. In that section of the story, the Little Prince encounters dozens of roses that are as beautiful as the snooty little rose that he adores on his home planet. All this while, he’d thought of her as one of a kind. Saint-Exupéry writes as the much-travelling Little Prince who has just realised that roses are very common flowers,

“You’re beautiful, but you’re empty… One couldn’t die for you. Of course, an ordinary passerby would think my rose looked just like you. But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she’s the one I’ve watered. Since she’s the one I put under glass, since she’s the one I sheltered behind the screen. Since she’s the one for whom I killed the caterpillars (except the two or three butterflies). Since she’s the one I listened to when she complained, or when she boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing at all. Since she’s my rose.”

My epiphany aided by The Little Prince was all very well. But life isn’t a one act play. There is always an antagonistic force. In this case, it is that sometimes you start watering the wrong rose and then feel wounded when it turns out to have thorns. Come to think of it, that’s just the nature of things. At least, roses. All of this caused me to ponder about friendship some more.

My two cents on the subject is that there are many kinds of friendship and they are all valuable. Human interaction is crucial to mental and emotional well-being. Its degree and quantity depend on your personal inclination.

Girl deep in thought

Why then have many of us, at some or the other point in our lives, either felt disappointed by someone we thought of as a friend or been at the receiving end of a cold shoulder and suffered a somewhat confusing end to what we thought of as a good connection? Unmatched expectations would be the short answer. Since I (and perhaps you too) do not practise Buddha-like detachment, when I invest in a relationship, I tend to, unknowingly, build in a degree of expectation of similar affection or concern. And when it doesn’t materialise, it’s disappointing. That’s why it helps to know where you stand with the people in your life and where they stand in yours.


Analysing our connections can help achieve clarity in terms of the depth of emotion involved and the expectations built into each relationship. And no, I don’t serve this up with a side order of judgement or condescension, as some may assume! A few of my friends (I use the term as a catch-all here) balk at my penchant for what they consider "grading" interpersonal equations and by extension, "grading" people. They view it as me creating a static pecking order with me looking down at everyone in it. This runs completely contrary to my intention.

Human relationships are dynamic and require two or more people. So, while I’m free to recognise a certain equation as a workplace friendship, my work friend is equally capable of doing the same. And probably does, even if they do so unconsciously. So, there’s no question of anyone looking down on anyone else. We’re all in the same boat. Also, equations can and often do change. After all, even our closest buddies were once strangers, and that changed.

Purely from a practical standpoint, investing in relationships requires us to take out time for that person. And there’s a lot of stuff that wants or needs our time. How do we prioritise? That’s where my idea comes in. Its real objective is to navigate the complexities of human interaction with minimal hurt feelings on either side. To see each association for what it is- in terms of its roots, sustaining factors, purpose and emotional investment. Being aware of these aspects often gives me an insight into the type of relationship it is, and allows me to enjoy it while it flows, and let go when it naturally ebbs.


Painted in broad strokes, there are three types of friendship. First on the list is friendship of circumstance or transient friendship. It has many aliases - work friend, activity friend, hangout friend, etc. Take, for example, a friendship that grows out of someone being a colleague with a schedule similar to mine, with more or less similar views on the things that absorb us at work. This common ground is the root of the friendship. This relationship is likely to usually last until either office dynamics cause a rift or one of us quits the workplace.

A work friend leaving the shared workplace creates distance wherein earlier, there was easy accessibility. Understandably, this often proves to be a hindrance to the continuance of the friendship because now, it takes effort to meet and sustain the relationship. This is where two other elements come into play - the purpose of the friendship and emotional investment. They will now dictate the direction in which this connection moves. The purpose of most office friendships, in my experience, is to blow off steam and have someone to hang out with, have a few laughs, making the prospect of a routine work day a little more enjoyable. In terms of emotional investment, these equations don't call for much.

Predictably, my friendship with my former work buddy subsides into infrequent phone calls which end with indefinite plans to meet or the exchange of the odd forward or joke on WhatsApp. You could ask why my office pal and I don't make more of an effort to stay connected? Well, the blunt answer is that there is neither a good enough purpose to do so any longer nor the sort of emotional bond that warrants the extra effort.


Another variant of transient friendships are hangout friends who are part of one’s wider circle. The only qualification required is the mutual enjoyment of each other's company, even if only in small doses.

Catching up with friends

These relationships are generally more social than emotional. Plans made with hangout friends are, for the most part, quite fluid and materialise only when mutually convenient. However, there are no hurt feelings as a result of this because the relaxed level of engagement doesn't engender high expectations on either side. So, it all works out just fine!


That brings us to the second category of friendship - seasonal friendship. The term is not literal, obviously, since most of these equations do manage to outlast the change in weather! I use the term "seasonal" as a metaphor for the nature of this kind of bond - it engages you in the current moment and you can't imagine it changing. Just like it seems unimaginable, during the summer, that you would ever want to be packed into a thick, fleece-lined jacket coupled with a pair of woollen trousers and three pairs of socks. And yet, there comes a day when you're doing just that! In fact, even throwing a muffler into the mix. Anyway, I digress.

In a nod to chronology, perhaps I should speak first of the Spring of seasonal friendships rather than their Winter. They usually begin as transient friendships which grow deeper, organically, due to a combination of favourable circumstances and overlapping spheres of interest. This rapport is further strengthened by the passage of time, joint experiences and shared confidences.

Seasonal friends are an integral part of our lives and often, one cannot foresee these bonds fizzling out. And yet, they often do. Even the most durable seasonal friendships tend to run

Friends watching TV

out of steam between year one and year seven. For some reason, that someone a lot smarter than yours truly would have to decipher, seven years is something of a watershed moment in most close friendships. If the relationship manages to make it past the seven-year mark without dissolving into a casual connection, you’ve most likely found yourself a lifelong buddy.

Take a moment and think back to some of your pals from years ago - the ones who seemed like they would stick around. My guess is that a majority of those friendships dissipated before they crossed the seven-year milestone. However, the ones that did make it past the mark, are probably still around. This brings me to the last form of friendship - lifelong friends.


Lifelong friends are the folks you've known for so long that it seems pointless to keep track of the years. More often than not, you meet them early in life. This seems to me like the Universe's devious plan to make sure you can never forget about all the idiotic stuff you got up to! Or maybe, the people you meet in school, college or in the trenches at your first job get to know you while you're still figuring out who you are, and before you start taking yourself too seriously.

Growing up in a shared environment certainly is a good glue but even that is likely to come unstuck unless the friendship is backed by a strong emotional bond, common core values and a sense of being invested in each other's lives. It is these factors that induce you to stay up way past your bedtime to call a friend in a different time zone or move past an argument that would've ended a lesser friendship. It’s the effort that you put in that makes the friendship special.

Of these three factors that help sustain a lifelong friendship, an emotional bond is fairly self-explanatory. As for investment in each other's lives, let me attempt an explanation. It’s when your friend’s success or failure feels like you have a share in it because you’ve seen their struggle even though they may shrug it off as inconsequential in front of others.

That leaves us with common core values, by which I mean a shared or complementary view of ideas such as integrity, trust, family, life goals, et al. Having a similar outlook on these subjects leads to an understanding that deepens, and perhaps goes beyond, shared experiences and an emotional connection. It is this common value system that makes one's old friends such good advisors when we’re faced with life’s important decisions. They know how you think and what's important to you, especially in times when you may need reminding. They care enough to point out your mistakes in the gentlest way possible so that you can grow. The best part though is that you can count on your friends to pull your leg and make you laugh. Sometimes, that’s all you need – someone to be silly with.

Above all, it is the unwavering belief that despite busy schedules, the natural crests and troughs of life and the arrival of new friends, a lifelong friend will always show up, in your corner, when you need them. A friend inspires you to be a better version of yourself even though they know where the bodies are buried (hopefully, only metaphorically. If not, you better hope they’re a great friend!), someone who builds you up while keeping you grounded and is the person you never want to let down. To know there exists such a person, whether next door or two continents away- who knows all your stories; listens to the bizarre nonsense you come up with, calls it nonsense but listens anyway; is your moral compass in a topsy-turvy world -- is that rare luxury called friendship.


Ultimately, to have good friends, you also need to be one. How does one judge that? Effort. That’s the truest measure. If you talk a good game but repeatedly fail to show up when it counts, then you need to work on that. It’s not enough to say that you had the right intention. It’s like Stephen Covey, the author of The Speed of Trust says,

“We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions.”

As time passes, good intentions fail to pass muster. The ones who matter make the effort and those who don’t, don’t matter as much. Though I’d still catch a movie with them.

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2 commentaires

03 sept. 2023

Your insightful reflection on the term 'friend' is spot on. In an age of social media, the distinction between acquaintances and true friends can blur. It's a reminder to cherish and nurture genuine connections, even if they are few in number. Quality over quantity indeed! 🙌🤝

Ninay Desai
Ninay Desai
04 sept. 2023
En réponse à

It's a subject close to my own heart. Thanks for reading the post. :-)

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