From three to eight years of age, I can remember having one primary friend: Curtis. There were several other “minor” friends, however. I considered the others friends, but not in the same way I thought of Curtis as one. He was my sleepover buddy, my make-believe game partner, my movie pal, and my loyal companion. We would practically do everything together, and our families were close as well. I thought we were going to be friends forever. There never was a thought of not being friends with him. The future did not exist to me at that age.
But around the time I was eight years old, Curtis’ family decided to move away about 15 minutes away (by car). This was devastating to me, though as an adult, it seems so close. But as an eight-year-old without a car, that seemed like an infinite distance.
I lost contact with Curtis, and ever since that time, I have never fully recovered. My faith in eternal, boundless friendship waned to depressing lows. Now, it is difficult for me to think of one friend that is genuinely there for me, and for which I am passionate to hang out with. Friendship, at least when I was a child, seemed almost like an addiction. Being in each other’s presence was a type of hallucination that made the world seem magical.
But now, set in the mundane existence of an adult, that magic has been all but lost. At times, I get glimpses of true friendship again, but not at the same intensity. But where is all this discussion leading? I have a theory that we cannot be close to people, truly, if we are not close to ourselves.
As children, we either have no idea of our self, or are exuberant in the discovery of our self. Either way, as a children, we have a joy for life that is hard to quantify. In this joy, we have friendships that are as open and limitless as our self. When we get older, that exuberance dies down, and as a result, our friendships suffer.
In reflecting about friendship, I have also come to the conclusion that you cannot have more than one to three close friends at a time. In this era of Facebook friendships, this may seem old-fashioned or philosophical. Yet, can you remember wanting to get together with more than three different people enthusiastically during a week? I cannot. I usually have only one to two friends that I feel passionate about hanging out with. Also, in this busy age, it is a tough task to find time to meet someone you care about in the first place. We barely have time for our family.
Because of this degraded idea of friendship, I believe we are slowly forgetting the magic of this bond. We—with myself included—are neglecting the fact that a friend is someone who connects with you on such a level that it is hard to not be around this person. I am not advocating attachment, but rather introspecting about that deep bond we have with childhood friends that we may have pushed back into our subconscious. In searching my feelings and thoughts, I do not believe that as adults we must believe friendship to be less extraordinary than it was in our childhood. It seems if we keep our hearts and minds open, as if we were children, we can once again experience the joy of true friendship.
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Writing a Reflective Essay
At a moment when technology has made cultivating relationships easier, but also shallower, one writer considers the importance of undocumented friendships.
Is childhood the golden era of friendship? And can you get those relationships back? The other day, I took down from the shelf a beautiful novel by William Maxwell — “So Long, See You Tomorrow” — and I realized the title alone summons the unspoken bond, the constant availability, the relentless promise that friendship is when you are 12. My great friend at that age was Mark MacDonald. In those early, rain-soaked days on Scotland’s west coast, Mark was my constant companion and my secret weapon: Whatever happened at home, there would always be Mark to brighten the day and spit with style like River Phoenix did in “Stand by Me,” via a rolled-up tongue. We would be up at the crack of dawn to wander over the fields, scan the beaches for coins, climb the hills together and sit in the graveyard comparing our plans for world domination. Mark had Crohn’s disease; he was often in hospital, and we’d write to each other planning our adventures for the summer. He told me I was a good writer and I told him he was a great painter, before we disappeared from each other’s lives. I haven’t seen him in 30 years.
When I recently tried to find Mark again, he didn’t appear to exist. Like the boys in Maxwell’s novel, he seemed like a figment, or a fragile piece of memory that crumbles when you turn it in your hands. He wasn’t to be found at the old address I had for him in the seaside town of Saltcoats. His name is a popular one on Facebook, but none of the Marks I found was the one I knew, and he wasn’t on Twitter or Instagram either. None of the search engines reveal anything about Mark. I tried death certificates, fearing, as I have for a long time, that my old friend might have died. I asked my mother if any of her friends had kept in touch with the family but none had. I could remember two of his sisters’ names but they didn’t show up on the internet either. When I went back to Scotland recently, I drove to the square where we once lived, and I looked up at the window of my old house, remembering how I used to shine a torch from there to Mark’s bedroom. Two flashes meant good night. Three flashes meant see you tomorrow.
I wonder if technology has changed the meaning of friendship. My daughter is 12 and most things that happen to her are photographed. She and her friends get together and spend hours trying out poses, making videos, retouching them, setting them to music and posting them on this or that social media network. I’m sure the girls are bonded in many of the traditional ways, but I also wonder if they’ll ever lose sight of each other, which was always one of the possibilities of friendship, an aspect of its mystery. I think we always knew we would move on in life and that our great friendships would be a matter of memory. I don’t have a single photograph of Mark MacDonald. I don’t think we were ever photographed together, and that adds to the notion that our friendship was a fiction. Social media is a vehicle of self-promotion, a means of fixing an idea of yourself in the social sphere, without people actually knowing you at all. And that’s a change: The thing about friendship used to be that the ideal was shared entirely by the pair of you, or sometimes by a group, yet it remained local, and that was part of its power.
It’s the mindfulness I miss. A pair of excellent youngsters in my wider family have over 1,000 Facebook “friends” between them. They say they don’t know half of them, and that some of them are “frenemies.” The social network gives them the option of corralling people into “close friends” or “acquaintances,” and, naturally, they always have the option of clicking “unfriend.” But are the majority of these people friends or are they just names? You can know everything that’s going on in people’s lives without knowing a single thing going on in their hearts. But is that friendship? I’m told that empathy still flowers in the usual way, but I have my doubts. People now in their 20s have a lot of self-advertising talent, but are they, I wonder, close to the point where a bad breakup, say, or a death in the family, isn’t a moment of opportunity for the protective and dignifying balms of old friendship, but simply a quiet day on social media?
The times we live in are big on loyalty. Technology has driven us wild with questions of loyalty to flags, to nations, to a “way of life” or to brands who give out “loyalty points” to those who stay tight. But the only kind of loyalty that matters is to know your friends and stick with them. The relationship has nothing really to do with outside people, or with your self-image or with status updates, and perhaps our vision of friendship has been degraded by the instantaneous, relentless nature of our communications technology. Replace “watch and click” with “listen and feel,” close the curtains and mix two drinks, download nothing, “share” nothing, but lose yourself in the sort of communication that has nothing to sell.
Love gets all the big headlines, but friendship is where the action is, especially if you consider that it is really a lack of friendship that makes an unhappy marriage. Fundamentally, it’s the art of friendship that warms you in the various winters of your discontent, and when you’re in trouble you don’t want 1,000 people, but just one. “Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain,” the late Muhammad Ali is thought to have said. “It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.” And that is why I miss my old friend Mark. There was something there that stood outside of achievement or romance, money or technology, religion or reputation. As I say, I was never photographed with Mark MacDonald and I never hugged him or bought him lunch either. But sometimes in a dark hour I’ll look up and imagine I see him, not far distant, a living guarantee that there will always be someone in life who really knows who you are. When all the machines are off and when all the chips are down, I see his light. Three flashes.Continue reading the main story