What is a friend or true friendship?

Have you ever contemplated what friendship is? Is a friend just someone you spend time with within close proximity, or is it someone who needs to understand you deeply?

I have a friend who calls everyone her best friend, even after just having met the person two times and not having spoken about anything intimate at all. She has no problem picking up the phone two days after meeting someone for the first time, setting up a date, and talking to them about personal issues.

In contrast, sometimes I’m not even sure if I can call a person who I’ve known for five years, and met hundreds of times, a friend. That is if I don’t feel like we understand each other as we are today (we may have understood each other in the past). 

Or sometimes, I hang out with a person every weekend and yet never get the feeling of connection, intimacy, or true understanding. We may go to parties together, visit the bathrooms together when intoxicated, give each other compliments. But we don’t open up about our worries, our thoughts about life, or share what we look forward to the most in the coming weeks or months.

Is a friend just someone you freely spend time with within close proximity? What about those friends who live in other cities or countries, or internet friends who you’ve never met. Are they not friends as well? 

It’s funny because some of the people I consider my closest friends are people I very seldom or never meet up with in real life. But we write, talk, chat, and stay up half the night, having the most intimate conversations. We understand each other, our fears and hopes about the future, our dreams, anxieties, regrets, and most secret feelings. Sometimes I even find myself being a thousand times more honest with a “digital friend” than someone I hang out with every weekend. But we may never meet up. Or we meet once every six months and everything feels as it did the last time we met. 

When I was younger, I called a person a friend as long as they’d want to hang out with me, and who I wanted to hang out with as well. A friend was just simply someone that I could have fun with. Of course, in a way, that is a friend. When spending so much time with someone, we are bound to get to know them and care for each other. We may often count on a helping hand, kind words, and social company. 

But no wonder I felt lonely even in the company of a group of friends or felt empty in the middle of a conversation. I thought to myself that it was illogical to feel lonely. Isn’t loneliness what someone feels when they are isolated from other people? How could someone feel loneliness in the midst of the company of friends? But today I understand. Of course one feels lonely even in the company of others if there isn’t any meaningful connection or intimacy.

Today, a real friend for me is someone with who I feel connected in an emotional or spiritual way. Someone who can understand, or at least makes an effort to understand the way I see my reality, and vice versa. Hopefully, someone who has the same understands reality as I do. And of course, a person’s view of reality can change over time. But it’s during those times that I find myself in the most interesting conversations about life. The true and authentic friendships I feel today are all about intimacy, of discussions about life, philosophies, hopes for our futures before we die, and the things we are most excited about. It’s about understanding and seeing each other’s inner worlds rather than about physical presence or social media comments. 

In a way, I’ve almost stopped using the word “friend” as much, because I get confused about how to categorize people as friends vs non-friends. In a way, every kind-hearted person on earth is my friend. But, I may not have a deep friendship with them. I don’t know what to call my deepest most authentic friendships. Perhaps soulmates? That’s been the word that’s always circled back in my head when I meet those people who feel like their souls understand mine. But. then again, I’m not even sure if I believe in souls.

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Wendy Zhou

UX/UI designer from Sweden. I write about design, tech, side projects, personal finance and cyberpunk. Contact: wendyzhou.design@gmail.com

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