Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Three Friends - Then & Now

(Picture by Rajesh Lal Nyachhyon)

I have been thinking a lot about the topic of friendship recently. Last year, I wrote about the three categories of friendship, and now I have come to the conclusion that the three people who I once considered to be my closest friends were today in reality Category 1 (proximity) or Category 2 (circumstance) friends.

My three close friends moved away after graduating from college and I have only seen them a handful of times over the past decade. At first communication by phone or e-mail was a regular occurrence. Over time, however, the phone calls dropped off and communication was relegated to e-mail. The time between e-mails got longer and longer while the text of the e-mails got shorter and shorter. Today, communication between us is virtually non-existent.

To be sustained, friendship needs to be mutually nurturing. If one person makes all the efforts to stay in contact, is it really a true friendship, or even a friendship at all?

I can say that these three people were my friends at one time, however, in all honesty, I am not sure I can say that they are my friends today.

This leads me to my next question.

Who are my friends today?

I can count my friends on one hand; with three fingers. One is a former co-worker with whom I now get together once a week to walk with at lunchtime. The second is person who once worked in my building and now we stay in touch on a daily basis via telephone and e-mail. The third is a person that I have never met. I met him through blogging and now I am in touch with every day via e-mail. I have never heard this person's voice since we have never called one another. Somehow, it is the written word that connects us.

If I attempt to place these three new friends into categories, I would speculate that the first two friends would mostly likely be classified as Category 1 friends. I am uncertain, however, how my third friend would be classified. We do not share proximity or circumstance. We share many common interests and often see the world through the same set of eyes. We enjoy the discussion of ideas, trends, and events and routinely recommend books for each other to read.

This may sound completely ridiculous, and I am not sure what it says about me, but I feel that today he may be my closest friend.


At February 14, 2007 at 11:03:00 AM EST, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

ASJ, I know exactly what you mean!

But, I have wondered: Can friendship without ever having personal contact really be complete? I, too, have a very good friend - one of (if not my) closest friends, who I have never met personally in the flesh. And while I really connect with him, perhaps better than anyone else I know, I wonder if the friendship is somewhat relegated to remain only on a specific level. I wonder if a relationship that never had proximity can ever be complete – because isn’t so much of an interpersonal relationship is too subtle for the written word? Indeed, the Rambam discusses this problem with writing down Torah Sheba’al Peh, because so much gets lost, and cannot be properly communicated, on paper.

Friendship is an interesting phenomenon in general. I have a couple friends that I haven't seen or spoken with in years, but I would still consider them close-friends (along the lines of Rav Soloveitchik's remarks that I mentioned in the past: ), but I still think that they had to have built that relationship with proximity as one of the criteria at some point.

Wikipedia has an interesting entry about friendship:

Interesting note: "The number and quality of friendships for the average American has been declining since at least 1985, according to a 2006 study[1]. The study states that 25% of Americans have no close confidants, and that the total number of confidants per person has dropped to 2."

Additionally interesting there, is the differentiation between "Friendship" and "Comradeship" (towards the bottom). So, it would seem that relationships due to proximity or circumstance can only truly be considered friendships if there is a truly deep and lasting connection, otherwise they are “comradeships” (not that there’s anything wrong with that ;-)

When I was younger I thought I had many friends, but as I grew older I realized that they were, in fact, comrades - i.e. we didn't really connect on a deeper level. Therefore, I would think that it is unlikely for people to have many "friends" - a relationship of real friendship, not that different from a marriage, is virtually impossible to have with many people.

But how do I count my true "friends"?

I would have to say that there are degrees in friendship. R’ Schneur Zalman of Liadi speaks of (I wish I could remember where he discusses this) neshama connections – where we meet someone and click with them instantly, like a long lost best friend that we never had. This would perhaps be the highest level (it’s a very interesting concept, and I’d like to research it further one of these days). This would probably be the complete and true friendship.

Then there are, perhaps what we could call, incomplete - but still real – friendships:

I often feel that I can relate to people on certain levels, but seldom can I relate to someone completely – some more, some less. They are people who I would generally consider friends, but our relationships are limited to specific overlapping areas; I wouldn't say that we’re friends in every way. As for people that I completely connect with - my entire self to their entire self – other than my wife, it’s hard to find.... So, while I have differing degrees of meaningful relationships with a few people, I’d say truly deep friendship is very hard to find, and I cannot imagine that it is likely to have such a friendship with more than one or two people.

At February 14, 2007 at 11:13:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Chabakuk Elisha: I could almost erase my entire posting and put your words in its place. I particularly found your comment on the difference between a friend and a commrade to be quite insightful!

Hopefully one of these days you will be able to find that piece by the Baal HaTanya on neshama connections since I know that it would make a phenomenonal topic for a guest posting.

Once again, thank you for your insights on this :)

At February 14, 2007 at 1:23:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

ASJ: By the way, you may be interested in this:

At February 14, 2007 at 1:25:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

Is it Degel's grandson?

At February 14, 2007 at 1:31:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

A Yid: THANKS!!! No, actually I think it is R' Lipa of Chmeilnik. See the new printing of Degel Machaneh Ephraim, page 91 on the bottom left column.

Proskurov later became named Khmelnitsky. It is a town located near Mezhibuz and I was there in 2001 during my visit.

Where is this kever located?

At February 14, 2007 at 1:45:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

It's a photo of the matzeyvo in Proskurov. (Someone from there made it). He also made other photos, from the memorial of the pogroms of 1919:

At February 14, 2007 at 1:46:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

So who is this Reb Moyshe Chaim Efraim miProskurov ztz"l?

At February 14, 2007 at 1:47:00 PM EST, Blogger Ezzie said...

Really interesting post...

I've often wondered the same about my friends - how close am I truly with them?

But I'd question the point you made about some of your old friends - while it's true they were helped a lot by proximity and circumstance, that does not mean they weren't your closest friends [though perhaps that's not what you meant]. It's only that time and space have slowly broken those bonds away... but if you would see them now, would you not immediately be extremely close with them again?

I've been fortunate to go to college and then live right near the same yeshiva most of my good high school friends now attend, keeping those friendships alive. At the same time, there is definitely a difference in the relationship I have with some versus others.

A few of my best friends live scattered throughout the world - I almost never speak to them, let alone see them, but whenever we speak, it is as if we've been roommates the whole time. I think those are the closest friends - the ones who would come rushing to my aid (or I to theirs) if the need arose, even if we haven't spoken in a year.

As an aside, there are also the friends we have for different purposes - some to confide in, some to ask advice from, etc. They often overlap, but they also often do not...

Great post ASJ.

At February 14, 2007 at 1:50:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

A Yid:Thanks again. Interestingly, here is another person from Proskurov.

As for Reb Moyshe Chaim Efraim miProskurov, I have never heard of him before:

Ezzie: I appreciate your thoughts on this. Thanks for commenting.

At February 14, 2007 at 1:57:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Ezzie: I just realized that I had not answered your question.

I suppose there would be a closeness, but I am not sure if it would be the same as when we were in college.

At February 14, 2007 at 4:19:00 PM EST, Blogger DixieYid said...

Actually, I think my two best friends are my wife and my parents. There are other people that I can get together with, share great conversations and times, learn with, but not truly confide almost anything in.

what circumstances do you think lend themselves to the creation of true friendships?

-Dixie Yid

At February 14, 2007 at 4:20:00 PM EST, Blogger A Talmid said...

A Simple Jew said...
As for Reb Moyshe Chaim Efraim miProskurov, I have never heard of him before:

ASJ –I’m not sure exactly which Reb Aryeh Yehuda Leib Leiberson is buried there, but I do have this information which will fascinate you. He is a descendant of the Degel; I’ll explain. Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Proskorov’s father was named Reb Aryeh Yehuda Leib, who was ben acher ben from Reb Liber “Hagadol”of Berdichev (that’s how they got the last name “Leiberson), who in turn was a great-grandson (ben acher ben) of the great mekubal, Reb Shimshom Ostropolier HY’D. Reb Liber was highly praised by the Baal Shem Tov. Now for the part you’re most interested in – Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Proskorov’s father, Reb Aryeh Yehuda Leib, was a son-in law of Reb Yackov Yechiel, who was a son of Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudlikov–the Degel Machne Ephraim. Hope I made your day.

At February 14, 2007 at 5:20:00 PM EST, Blogger A Talmid said...

Also, Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Proskorov was also great-grandson of Reb Yosef of Yampola, son of the Zlotchover Magid- Reb Yechiel Mechel.

At February 14, 2007 at 6:41:00 PM EST, Blogger Rafi G said...

I understand you but I think it is unfair to classify friends like that, as friends because of proximity or circumstance.

It is very likely that they were really your friends at the time, not just out of circumstance.

We are all busy, workign, being involved in our daily lives, families, etc. We do not always have time to manage and maintain friendships. Some of those old friendships inevitably fall away over time.
You and they meet new friends and acquaintences and your goals and interests change and maybe after a while you do not have so much in common anymore.

I have friends like that. I have friends with whome I have not spoken more than a couple of times in the past decade and when I will see them next I do not doubt that some of them will not have more than a few words o say to me nor me to them. But they were still real friends back then...

And then there are the friends who stay friends. You maintain that special relationship with them. Even if your contact with them is sparse.
I have a friend who I have only seen about 3 times in the past 12 years. We only email each other occassionally. But we are still good friends (hey, maybe I will email him when I finish this comment..). And I know that when I see him that mutual friendship will still be there and we will be able to sit and talk for hours catching up.
I have a number of friends like that and you probably do as well. Distance and lack of daily contact does not mean a friend is lost, but it does sometimes.

At February 14, 2007 at 6:56:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Dixie Yid: I am not sure I know the answer to your question.

I do have to agree with what both you and Chabakuk Elisha wife is also my very best friend

Rafi G: Thank you for your perspective. I guess only time will with me and my friends.

At February 14, 2007 at 6:56:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Dixie Yid: I am not sure I know the answer to your question.

I do have to agree with what both you and Chabakuk Elisha wife is also my very best friend

Rafi G: Thank you for your perspective. I guess only time will with me and my friends.

At February 14, 2007 at 7:01:00 PM EST, Blogger SaraK said...

Until I read Rafi's comment, that is exactly what I was going to say. Sometimes you are friends with someone because of convenience; proximity, same life situation at the time, whatever. Just because that is not a friendship that survives distance or loss of common interest doesn't mean it wasn't a real friendship at the time.

I have one friend who is truly a "soulmate" type of friend. We speak almost every day (even though she lives across the ocean) but even if we didn't, she is still one of the only people in the world who "gets me". I do have other very close friends, but since she & I have been friends for so many years, there is all that history we share. She's married (and I am not) and thankfully her husband understands the kind of frienship we have. (It helps that they live so far away, in terms of me not encroaching too much on their marriage) It took a lot for me not to be jealous of him when they first met, but thankfully I understand that marriage has to come first, and she understands that I need her attention too. It isn't always easy, but when you have a friendship like that, it's worth sustaining. On the other hand, when a friendship fizzles and you (or the other person) don't want to put the effort into sustaining it, it might need to just fade away. Perhaps it was a friendship of convenience.

ASJ, great post.

At February 14, 2007 at 7:11:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Thanks, Sara K. I also think my friendships have changed since I got married and had children. As Rafi G. mentioned it is very difficult to manage and maintain friendships while simultaneously having these responsibilities and time constraints.

At February 20, 2007 at 10:55:00 PM EST, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Althought this comment is late in the game (side-effect of not keeping up with my blog reading), your third friend bring up an interesting trend...
Most social commentators thought that email would de-personalize relationships and communication. Having a friend via e-mail proves this wrong. Our great-grandparents would have thought us crazy it if we told them we would have tying discussions with people we might never meet.
Blogging in general, IMHO, helps to foster an achdus that will hopefully translate into our non-blogging lifes.

I look at those who attended my wedding 10 years ago and see how the list of true friends has shrunk, due to other responsibilites and geography. There are still those that I call every few months and it seems like we never stopped talking.

On the other hand, there are a few bloggers I've never met, yet feel temped to call out of the blue and wish a "Gut Shabbos" to.


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