Friend and friendship are among the most commonly used words in our society. Barely a day goes by that we do not use the words. They are probably as frequently spoken as the word relationship. That is certainly true of me and of persons whom I know. At the same time, nearly as often, we say that friendship is betrayed, or let-down, or strained, or not returned. My daughter is betrayed by a guy friend, in a particularly ugly way. (He's a turd, I told my daughter. Record the sound of a toilet flushing. Play the recording into his message machine; then tell him, bye bye turd.) My son is broken by his girl friend. My wife is let down by a friend to whom she has devoted herself. I have failed to maintain contact with a friend, once close, who betrayed his family with drugs. Other friends have not returned my attention. At the same time, I say that my wife is my best friend. I know that my experience is not unusual.
I have been told by others that when they were divorced, they lost half their friends. Women friends whom they met frequently, suddenly dropped them and refused to return phone calls. When my first marriage ended, the frequent entertaining my wife and I did ended; then, my ex-wife got invited to dinner parties, I did not. I was stunned by this ostracism. A man out of work spoke of the social isolation he instantly suffered. A male friend of mine lost his job, at a time when I kept mine at the same employer. We had been very close friends. He was a minister and wed my second wife and me. After he lost his job, he started making cutting, subtly hostile comments to me and drifted away. My wife gave a friend in dire need a significant amount of money, and then loaned her some more; her friend became cool to her after this generosity.
On the other hand, many persons have said that suffering and injury brought friends to them they did not know they had. A woman friend, who suffered with breast cancer, said that she gained many friends, who supported her at considerable inconvenience to themselves and kept up that friendship forever after. I have read and heard many testimonials by cancer sufferers to know that this is a common experience.
Perhaps the word, friend, is misleading. I think the most misleading hidden assumption about friendship is the notion that it is free. That is, friendship is freely given. We also say that being a friend means putting the other person ahead of yourself, at least sometimes. If we examine friendships objectively, we will observe, not freely given attention. Obligation and reciprocity are always present somehow. We recognize this fact when we say that a "friend" who does not feel obligated when their friend is in need is, as the saying goes, not a friend in deed. To find that obligation and reciprocity are characteristic of friendship is significant, I think, because these qualities are also present when we talk about networks of persons with whom we share economic and social resources. Here we are dropping into the sterile language of social science, but maybe that is appropriate. Maybe "friendship" is just a position in the network of resources by which we survive.