The 3 Kinds of Friendships

Do your friendships fit into the best category, the worst one, all three? Check out what Aristotle has to say.

(Image credit: The Good Brigade)

Dear lovelies:

In my never-ending quest for wisdom, truth and blog fodder, I've been reading some Aristotle of late. Before you go getting all impressed, let me say it's fairly easy reading--simple sentences, simple ideas--if occasionally a bit dull. In his Nicomachean Ethics, the old Greek dude has plenty of interesting insights, and makes a number of well-reasoned value judgments. And he's fairly unique among philosophers in the sense that he devotes a lot of time and thought to the question of friendship--about one-tenth of his long treatise, in fact.

Aristotle figured there were three kinds of friendships:

1) Friendships of utility: exist between you and someone who is useful to you in some way. For instance, perhaps you're friendly with your cubicle mate mainly because she helps you figure out the printer when it jams and--if you're an IT guy--you pretend to fix her computer in some top-secret-awesome way when it freezes, although all you really do is re-boot it. Or maybe the two of you take turns going out on coffee runs. Possibly you're friendly with your neighbor because she waters your lonely little cactus when you got on vacation and you take care of her Great Dane when she's away.

These are friendships of the "You scratch my back, I'll degrade myself by picking up your pooch's poop with a plastic baggie" kind.

2) Friendships of pleasure: exist between you and those whose company you enjoy. Often, these are "activity buddies": people with whom you do things like playing soccer, going for long bike rides or cow-tipping. You may have this kind of relationship with one of the other locals at your friendly neighbor coffee shop or gym or tattoo parlor--the kind of person with whom you enjoy a little chit-chat or a good joke.

(Would "friendships with benefits" fall into this category--because you're both enjoying the sexual pleasure? Or into the first category, because you're using each other for sex? Good question. But I think casual sex is a bit closer to #2, because The Big A. says friendships of pleasure come about because we do like some--or many--aspects of the friend. We might like his wit, her compassion or his flirty manner, for instance. Friendships of utility, on the other hand, exist mainly because the person can help us out in some way.)

3) Friendships of the good: are based on mutual respect and admiration. These friendships take longer to build than the other two kinds--but they're also more powerful and enduring. They often arises when two people recognize that they have similar values and goals; that they have similar visions for how the world (or at least their lives) should be. Not infrequently, they begin in childhood, adolescence or college--though plenty form after that, too.


The friendships in moi's life

All this is interesting to think about, no? Aristotle thinks "friendships of the good" are invaluable, and necessary to happy lives. No argument there. The closet friendships I have are with the people whom I respect and admire most--like my pals Daisy Milliner, Ruby Fitch and Teddy Wayne.

Ruby, in particular, seems like a good example to discuss. We do very different things with our lives--she's the only person I'm close with who works in politics. (Most politicos bore the thongs off me, to be honest) And most of my other friends are creative types or writers. Nonetheless, Ruby amazes me. I like the way she treats her friends and the way she gets (the right) things done. She cares equally about the earth and the welfare of the humans who happen to live on it. She eats healthfully, loves deeply, is incredibly loyal and knows how to have a nice life even though she doesn't make a lot of money.

I learn a lot from Daisy about literature and culture--and learn a lot from Teddy about how to be funny--but Ruby helps me understand how to live better. I'm lucky to have her around. Come to think of it, I feel completely unworthy of her friendship! She's just tooo good!

I try to only have friendships of the good, because otherwise I feel kind of phony--like I'm using people or something.

On the other hand, I think I could loosen up and make a few more friendships of pleasure--join the local ping-pong society, or some such--because I spend way too much time alone, reading f*cking Aristotle and the like.

Kids, what do you think? What categories do your friendships fall into? Could you use a few more of a certain kind, maybe a few less of another?