Friendships for children always seem so easy, but as we get older, friendships seem to grow more and more difficult. One reason for why it may be so difficult to keep friends as adults is that we are just so busy and have to manage all our resources. We have to keep track of our time, our money, keep-up the space where we live, fix and repair things that break with our cars, and replace worn-out items and consumer goods. We get used to thinking of things in terms of what we get from them, and it is easy for us to start thinking of our friends in the same way.
In Letters from a Stoic, Seneca writes, “one who is chosen for the sake of utility will be satisfactory only so long as he is useful.”
The problem for us is that friendships are about more than just utility. Having lots of friends just because you receive some benefit from their friendship leaves you with a series of superficial relationships, none of them robust enough or strong enough to actually provide you any real utility during a time of hardship. In this way, a utility approach to friends backfires. If you only remain friends with someone when they have something they can provide for you, then you won’t actually have a real friendship.
The reality is that friendships require work and effort. Seneca also quotes a philosopher named Attalus in writing, “It is more pleasant to make than to keep a friend, as it is more pleasant to the artist to paint than to have finished painting.” New friendships are exciting, spontaneous, and offer promise of new allies for future situations. Maintaining a friendship requires lugging around baggage and figuring out how to adjust as people, times, and places change. Friendship requires real effort to stay invested in the lives of others.
But in the end, keeping a friend helps us better understand ourselves, helps us develop better understandings and connections with other people, and makes us more pleasant and thoughtful human beings. Keeping a friend requires that we think about more than just ourselves and what we get from a friendship. It requires that we think about what we can do for others, knowing that we might not get the same material benefits back from the other. This is why friendships are hard as you get further into your busy and hectic life, but the same challenges reveal why friendships are so valuable.