What is a ‘friend?’

Damon and Pythias exemplified the Pythagorean ideal of friendship.

Remember Jim Harrison’s trial three years ago, which ended up with the former legislative leader being convicted on public corruption-related charges and sentenced to prison?

I was a prosecution witness in that case. I’d have written about it at the time — after it was over, anyway — but it happened right smack in the middle of the campaign when I was James Smith’s communications director. I didn’t have time for blogging or anything else. It was very hard to take the day off to go to the courthouse and testify.

It was the only time I have ever made an appearance in court. I used to cover trials, but I didn’t participate in them. It was a very weird and uncomfortable experience. I was called by David Pascoe, who wanted me to testify about this blog post from 2006. It was about an endorsement interview from when Harrison was running for re-election, and Pascoe was interested in a quote from Harrison near the end of it.

I was not the world’s smoothest witness. At one point, I think when defense attorney Hunter Limbaugh was cross-examining me, he was asking me a series of yes-or-no questions and I thought I was responding, when the judge interrupted to say something like, “Let the record show that the witness is shaking his head to indicate ‘no’…”

Very embarrassed, I muttered something like, “I’m sorry, your honor,” and resolved to use my words thenceforth.

My testimony was brief, but featured another awkward moment. I think it was Pascoe who asked whether I considered Harrison to be a “friend.” I was at a loss. I was thinking — and worse, saying — things like, Well, I dunno, I guess he’s alright; we have dealings from time to time and I suppose I get along with him OK in those interactions.

The attorney cut me off to clarify: “Have you ever had each other over to your homes for dinner?”

And I said something like (check the court record if you want the exact words), “Well, no.” Meanwhile, I was thinking, Is THAT what it means to be a friend? I guess I don’t have any, because I almost never have anybody over…

Another, shorter, anecdote: Recently, someone I’d known for several years stopped communicating with me, and I became concerned because the last couple of times I had talked with him, he hadn’t seemed himself. I reached out by email to ask if he was doing OK, and at some point wrote that I was just asking “as a friend.” He responded that he was fine, but that we were not friends. Which surprised me. I mean, applying the Pascoe principle, he had actually been to my house once.

So I was confused. About that, and a lot of things having to do with this “friend” concept. I mean, maybe he was right.

Lately — well, for the last 19 months, I guess — I have repeatedly read stories by and about people who are just desperate to get back out there and hang with their friends. Sure, a lot of these are unmarried people who don’t have kids, and they’re still dwelling in a sort of high-school social dynamic — like the main characters of “Seinfeld” — but not all of them are. And it’s also probably an introvert/extravert thing. But still, I wonder. I think I have friends. I’m not sure, but I think I do. But while I haven’t seen them since before the pandemic, I’m happy if I don’t see them for another year or two. It’ll be nice when I do see them, but I can wait. No problem.

Which brings me to the question I’m asking this evening: What makes someone a “friend?”

There have been all sorts of models for explaining that over the millennia. For instance, we can go by the Pythagorean model, but really, I don’t find it completely satisfactory. I mean, wouldn’t Damon have been even nobler if Pythias had not been his best bud? I dunno. I had never heard of Pythagorean friendship until just the other day, so let’s move on to something I know about. Which I’m increasingly convinced is a fairly small universe of things.

Do I even have friends? I have people I see regularly (or did, before March 2020) and whose company I enjoy. But aren’t they really mainly, I don’t know, work colleagues?

I had some people over to the house in 2016 when Burl, my high school friend, came to visit. I haven’t even for a moment thought of having people over since then. It’s just not something I do. (So if you, dear reader, think that we are friends — and perhaps we are — but wonder why you haven’t been invited, that’s why.) I am blessed with a big family, and just having parties at our house on people’s birthdays pretty much fills the social calendar. And while that’s certainly not enough for me with grandchildren — I don’t ever feel like I see them enough — it doesn’t leave me looking for unrelated people to interact with. I’m not going to make like Gatsby.

I’m pretty sure I had friends, as most would define the word, when I was a kid. I was really tight with Tony Wessler when we were in the 5th and 6th grades down in Ecuador. Tony and I connected several years back on Facebook, so we are still “friends” by that medium’s definition. In fact, Tony wrote to me on my birthday Sunday to say, “HB, Brad.” I wrote back to him to say, “Thanks, Tony!” So we’re all caught up now, I guess.

When I lived in New Orleans in 7th and 9th grades, my best bud was Tim Moorman, who lived across the street. We were both Karr Cougars. We had a lot of fun there. On weekends, several of us regularly spent the night at his house. In the summers his dad, a Navy chaplain, used to drive us up to Pontchartrain to the amusement park fairly frequently. A few years later, when I was in college I think, I spoke on the phone once with Chaplain Moorman, and he told me Tim was in the Navy, or at the Naval Academy, or something like that. Haven’t heard a word since.

My wife went to a private Catholic girl’s school, and graduated with a class of 37. I know about half of them, and several years back, my wife went down to the beach for a few days with a bunch of the ones to whom she’s closest. Meanwhile, in the 47 years since we’ve been married, my wife has met two people I graduated with, out of a class of 600. One of them was Burl, and I shared with you the awful news that he died a couple of years back. The other one disappeared after the last time we saw him, back in the mid-’70s. So basically, attending my 50th class reunion this year — if there was one — never entered my mind.

Maybe it’s a guy thing. Most of the people who I hear going on and on about friends, and making friends and maintaining friendships, and talking for hours with a bestie without even any beer being involved, are women. But then, there are all those “buddy movies” featuring guys. Weren’t Pancho and the Cisco Kid friends? Butch and Sundance? Maybe it’s that we have friends, but we absolutely don’t talk about it. And if I’ve broken the Guy Code by wondering aloud about it, blame on my having gotten desocialized by COVID.

But it’s probably just me. Maybe it’s being an extreme introvert. Maybe it’s that God has blessed me with a wonderful, big family, and they fill my life. Even though I only know a tiny percentage of the 8,916 on my Ancestry tree (the ones from, say, the 13th century are strangers to me, I must confess), the ones I do know and love pretty much fill up that part of me that needs to interact with people.

Also, it could have something to do with being a Navy brat. The longest I ever lived in one place growing up was two years, four and a half months. That was in Ecuador, where I knew Tony. Friends sort of came and went, like guest stars on a sitcom. Except that unlike Ernest T. Bass, they didn’t make return appearances.

But excuses aside, sometimes I wonder, Does this make me a bad person? I don’t know. Do you ever wonder the same thing?

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about it the last couple of days because on my walks — I’m trying to get my walking going again — I’ve been listening to podcasts (as I’ve mentioned, I’m kind of sick of listening to newscasts), and I’ve gotten into an “Invisibilia” series on friendship.

One of them was about a friendship an American woman formed with a Romanian woman in the early ’80s when she was there doing some kind of anthropological work or something. After they got to be besties, the woman confessed to the American that she had been informing on her to the secret police. After the Wall fell, the American requested and received that agency’s files on her — there were boxes and boxes of them — and discovered her friend’s informing went far beyond what she’d thought. There were recriminations back and forth between them, but they remained friends.

The second one told the story of a couple of women (yeah, again, it’s usually women who get deeply into this friendship thing, or at least are willing to talk about it) who became nuns in the early ’60s. Both of them were sociable types who had a terrible time dealing with the convents’ rules that forbade them to form particular friendships with individuals, because they were supposed to love all people equally. (More of a Christian thing than a Pythagorean thing. Like what I said about Damon — wouldn’t it have been nobler if he had offered to take the place of just anyone, not just his best friend? I refer you to the story of the Good Samaritan, as a contrast.)

Very interesting stuff, but all kind of outside my experience, I’m afraid.

Anyway, it’s kind of an important term, and it feels strange to have so much trouble grasping it at my age. I thought I had a grip on it in kindergarten, but it’s just gotten more and more slippery as time has gone by.

I’d be interested to learn how y’all define the term…

39 thoughts on “What is a ‘friend?’

  1. Brad Warthen

    Don’t get the wrong idea from this post. I have friends. Look at all the nice people who, along with Tony, reached out to wish me joy on my birthday. And I appreciate it.

    I don’t want ANY of my friends to feel dissed: “This jerk thinks he doesn’t have friends? What am I, chopped liver?”

    As I say, I have friends, and I value them.

    But I keep reading and hearing other people use the word, and they seem to mean something different by the term.

    And I wonder about that. So I wrote this…

    1. Barry

      To reply to your post above

      I don’t consider someone that has been in your house for dinner a friend. They might be, or might not be. My wife has someone I consider to be a friend of hers come over in the summer quite often to swim. Sometimes her husband comes. He’s a nice guy and we chit chat. I think he considers me a friend. I don’t consider him a friend. We just don’t share anything with each other other than small talk. The conversation is never deeper than I’d share with a stranger I bumped into on the street.

      Most people don’t have many friends. In fact, most men don’t and many articles have been written about that fact over the last few years. Some research suggests it’s one of the reasons men tend to have shorter lives. Not sure I buy that. But I guess I could see it.

      Michael Smerconish was talking about this issue this week on his Sirius radio show. Michael was talking about how he normally didn’t talk to people out in public- that he preferred to be alone. He didn’t mean to be unfriendly but he knew people took it that way. He said listeners would sometimes recognize him and he would try to be friendly, but if they wanted to talk he preferred they call his radio show. (His Saturday morning CNN shoes doesn’t talk calls).

      A trucker called in and said he was very lonely and talked to a lot of people on the road, but he didn’t consider any of them friends. They were just people he talked to from time to time – or maybe just once. He wanted some friends but felt like it was probably too late.

      I consider a real friend someone you’d want to immediately call to seek advice from or simply inform if you had a serious family emergency or crises with your spouse, or children. (Or someone that you know would call you if they were in that situation). The type of person you know you could tell anything to without fear of ridicule and you know that regardless of what you were sharing with them, they’d try to help or just listen without judgement.

      With that criteria, I have no friends. But I think when you recognize it and accept it, you aren’t as bothered by it. Oh sure, you feel it at times, but overall you get use to it.

      and no – this is no online plea for friends. LOL.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        That’s a high standard, all right.

        And no — I’ll say to you and Doug, because I think you’re both right — I don’t think having someone over to your house makes someone a “friend,” either. I think it’s more a measure of whether you’re the sort who invites people over. I was just kind of laughing at myself a bit there, because when Pascoe said that, I was thinking it was a really high standard for ME. For most people, it would be a low one.

        I had taken his “friend” question in the context of whether we had cordial dealings with each other. Like, did I think Harrison was an asshole or something. I was also sort of tying it in my mind with a previous conversation with Pascoe, when I went in to see him at his request after I got the subpoena.

        We got to talking about his overall investigation, and I happened to mention how shocked I had been by what he had found about John Courson. He assured me that HE had been shocked, too, and hadn’t expected to find anything like that because he had always thought more highly than that of John. I don’t know whether he really meant that or was just trying to put me at ease — I don’t know Pascoe well enough to tell. (But it seemed possible to me that Pascoe had read this.) Between John and Jim Harrison, John would come closer to being someone I consider to be a friend. And when Pascoe asked me the “friend” question in court, I sort of felt like he meant, “like your buddy John Courson.” But maybe not.

        Anyway, if you have to have someone over to your house — and, according to Barry and Doug, more than that — well, I’m pretty bereft of friends.

        That party for Burl, that Doug came to? That was a once-in-a-generation event. I think the last time I invited over a bunch of people who weren’t related to me was in about 1979 or 1980, when I had the newsroom at the Jackson, TN, Sun over for St. Patrick’s Day. In all the years between then and 2016, I never even thought about it — something I think my wife might have appreciated, after that St. Paddy’s party…

        As for what you say about men… yeah, I think women MAY live longer because they pay more attention to this — to social interactions in general. They tend to think about this stuff more, and put more energy into it.

        Which is HARD, I find. I’m not equipped for it. Just writing this blog post kinda made my head hurt…

  2. Doug Ross

    Since I am the person you are speaking of who stopped communicating, I’ll break my silence to explain. As I said in response to your email, we are not friends, we are acquaintances who know each other through your blog. Yes, I’ve been to your house and you were at mine. We had beers a couple times with some people from the blog and met for breakfast a long time ago so I could introduce myself. The last time we met in person was at Steel City brewery a few years ago. I don’t think that qualifies as a friendship.

    Here’s some simple rules to judge a friendship: Do you know the name of the other person’s spouse? Do you know how many kids he has? What are their names? Do you know what the other person does specifically for a living, where he works, etc.? Do you know of any major (or minor) events that have occurred in their lives (not thru social media posts)? If you don’t know anything about someone’s personal life, how can you be real friends?

    I have plenty of real friends – we travel together, text each other on a regular basis, share experiences with work, sports, tv shows… I have one friend – a roommate from college – who I haven’t seen in 15 years yet we text back and forth all the time or send each other gifts (steaks, bourbon, books) for no reason… My best friend is the husband of my wife’s best friend. We were neighbors and co-workers when we moved to Columbia 30 years ago. We live a couple hours apart but see each other (even during Covid) every month. We’ve spent a week driving across country in a car and had nothing but fun times the whole way. I spent the 4 years prior to COVID traveling back and forth to Pittsburgh and was able to build several friendships with four 30 somethings who shared my love of playing trivia — we hung out all the time up there and even though I’ve only been back there once in the past year, we communicate multiple times per week — two of them do the NY Times Crossword with me and we share results daily — as well as provide support when any of them have experienced life issues — pets dying, medical issues, etc. Hopefully you can see the difference between what I consider a friend and whatever relationship we had. We weren’t friends by my definition — and the fact that you sent me an email thinking there was something wrong with me based on some blog posts demonstrates why we weren’t. My real friends would have told you I was totally fine…

    So the reason we aren’t communicating any more is based on our relationship which was totally via your blog. Your actions related to the blog and specifically what you did to me is why I quit the blog. First, you claim to not like the tone of discourse in the country yet you contributed to it every day by allowing anonymous commenters to personally attack others – especially people who weren’t afraid to use their real names. You gave a lot more leeway to those who were in the anti-Trump camp. I decided that if you weren’t going to take control of the vitriol. I would ramp up mine against the anonymous trolls. You took that as a sign something was wrong with me. I was just playing the game. It’s pretty obvious over the history of this blog that your policy of allowing anonymous posters has driven off any meaningful commenters…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, Doug, I was doing my best there to give no one any hint who it might be. For instance, I had initially written that it was someone who had stopped commenting on the blog, but decided that was too close to home. I suppose it would have been best to leave that anecdote out completely — I had plenty of other stuff with which to illustrate my question — but I didn’t, partly because I wanted to play off the Pascoe thing.

      And yes, I was a guest at your house once, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I almost mentioned that, but I was trying to keep you anonymous, and I realized there were two or three people who were present on both occasions, and I didn’t want THEM making the connection, so…

      Anyway, since you’re stepping up and joining it, I want to thank you in particular for your second and third grafs, as they address particularly the question I was raising. You’ve given friendship some thought, and that sort of thought is exactly what I was asking people to share.

      Thanks so much.

      Beyond that… well, since I try not to let anything onto the blog these days that I think will add to pointless discord, I edited your comment to stop just before you started complaining about other specific people on the blog.

      I’m sorry if that ticks you off again, but I’m not going to have a situation in which you complain about X, and then X feels justified in attacking you in retaliation, and once again we’re off to the races, with all the back and forth.

      And I’m just not going to referee those kinds of things any more. I’m going to do my best to keep them off the blog.

      You bringing them up reminds me that now that I’ve got the blog on a new platform, I need to try again to set up some sort of registration system for comments. I still haven’t figured out a way to do that that really helps ensure some level of courtesy and civility.

      Maybe we can’t get to where we’re all friends — whatever the word means to each of us — but here on the blog, if nowhere else, we’re going to interact without snarling at each other…

      1. Doug Ross

        Your edits to my post are why I won’t post again. You proved my point. You want to control the narrative to make you look better and to avoid the truth.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Well, that sounds pretty silly when you know that I had just deleted a comment from one of the people you had singled out to castigate, moments before I merely edited yours. I guess I just want to “avoid the truth” from him, too, huh? It couldn’t possibly be that I do what I do for the reasons I state, could it?

          But I’m not going to argue; I know from many years of arguments that you’re just going to think what you think. And since I’ve so often clung to my own sad misconceptions in the face of your attempts to enlighten me, I suppose I’m a pretty hopeless case, too.

          Anyway, thanks for weighing in on the friendship thing. I think it’s a worthwhile conversation for us humans to have.

          And I wish you all the best.

  3. Barry

    Today, a real friend is someone that agrees with you politically, someone that likes the same politicians you do, who agrees with you on the issues of abortion, guns, and immigration.

  4. Norm Ivey

    My current circle of close friends is pretty much limited to family, and most of those are in-laws rather than blood. My brother-in-law (or my sister-in-law’s husband if you want to be specific) is my closest friend. We share interests in music, food and beer, as well as marriage into the same family (which matters more than you would think). Hs brother, also a dear friend, passed recently, and I cried as hard for him as if it had been my own brother.

    I had a very close friend of 40 years with whom I severed ties after he treated my bride poorly (while having dinner in our home) a few years ago. He rejected my offer to talk it out. We had been as close as any two people could be, but the damage remains irreparable. I don’t expect to ever have another friendship like that one. I miss the relationship, but not the person, if that makes any sense.

    I have groups and circles of friends, in the Facebook sense, whose company I greatly enjoy. Part of that enjoyment comes from not being around them all the time, but instead only when we are enjoying that common interest. For example, sharing a drink with fellow teachers on Friday afternoon, or going to a brew session with other members of the homebrew club.

    I think perhaps we need friends less as we age. We become more comfortable with who we are and the need to belong matters less, especially if you have family you like to fill that space.

    1. Barry

      I agree with you.

      I prefer to be with my wife and children. When I think about doing things- I don’t ever think about doing things with a friend- it’s always my kids and/or my wife.

      There was a time when I was younger that I enjoyed travelling to sporting events with a college friend- even after we were married. I miss those times, but I don’t want to repeat them now.

      For relaxation now I either walk around my area by myself or go fishing by myself. That’s about as nice as it gets for me. I really enjoy it after being “out” of fishing for years. I’m not that good but I much prefer to be sitting on a lake alone than having to be in conversation with someone.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        We have a lot in common.

        Coincidentally, the last couple of days — starting the night I wrote this, or maybe the night before — I’ve started watching “Seinfeld” from the beginning, now that it’s on Netflix. It’s a hilarious series, and I enjoy it, but I’m reminded that the main characters are almost like aliens to me — single people who are always getting together and looking for something to do out in the city. And much of the comedy arises from what happens as a result of all that.

        It’s hard for me to identify with what motivates them in any way, because I’m nothing like that. But it’s still fun to watch…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Amazingly, the very opening words of the pilot episode is all about this phenomenon of people at that stage of development being irresistibly compelled to “go out.” The episode starts with Seinfeld saying these words as part of a standup routine:

          You know, why we’re here? [he means: here in the “Comedy club”] To be out, this is out…and out is one of the single most enjoyable experiences of life. People…did you ever hear people talking about “We should go out”? This is what they’re talking about…this whole thing, we’re all out now, no one is home. Not one person here is home, we’re all out! There are people tryin’ to find us, they don’t know where we are. [imitates one of these people “tryin’ to find us”; pretends his hand is a phone] “Did you ring?, I can’t find him.” [imitates other person on phone] “Where did he go?” [the first person again] “He didn’t tell me where he was going”. He must have gone out. You wanna go out: you get ready, you pick out the clothes, right? You take the shower, you get all ready, get the cash, get your friends, the car, the spot, the reservation…There you’re staring around, whatta you do? You go: “We gotta be getting back”. Once you’re out, you wanna get back! You wanna go to sleep, you wanna get up, you wanna go out again tomorrow, right? Where ever you are in life, it’s my feeling, you’ve gotta go.

          Note that whoever transcribed that monologue makes an assumption: “You know, why we’re here? [he means: here in the “Comedy club”]”…

          But I don’t hear it as him talking about the Comedy Club. I mean, he WAS, but it had a broader meaning. I think being placed at the very start of the series, it’s more of an existential, cosmic question. For Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer and people like them, “going out” is the more or less the purpose of being here on Earth…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            That said…

            Of course, later in that same episode, as we are introduced to Kramer, Jerry observes “You haven’t been out of the building in ten years!” And Kramer seems to agree.

            But as we know, even though he’s more of a stay-at-home guy than the rest, he goes out quite a bit later…

  5. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, if anyone is curious about anything having to do with my testimony in the Jim Harrison trial way back in 2018, ask away.

    I could write a separate post about it, but I think I’ve already told you what little about it I can remember after all this time.

    It was SUCH a distraction at the time, and my mind was filled with so many other things. And I worried a lot that some aspect of it — probably something I couldn’t predict — would have a negative effect on the campaign. I don’t know what, but the whole formula of “senior staffer of Smith campaign testifies against former Republican legislative leader” had potential problems built in.

    Fortunately, my testimony wasn’t that important. Pascoe seemed to think it might be, but I didn’t think it was, at the time, or now. I was very happy that my testimony was reduced to a very short passage at the very end of John Monk’s story that day.

    I remember our campaign manager Scott Hogan, who was from out of state and had no background in what any of this was all about, was kind of nervous about it. Whenever it came up — such as when I told him I’d be tied up at the courthouse that day — he urged me not to talk about it around the office. I got the feeling that he thought he was protecting ME as much as James and Mandy, as though my being called reflected badly on me somehow. Anyway, that was fine, because I didn’t have time to talk with anyone about anything that didn’t bear directly on the campaign…

  6. Bryan Caskey

    Friendship is an interesting topic, especially for men. People in general are good at becoming friends at a young age. This interaction with other people – our first set of peers – is important to our development. Before you have friends, you only really have your immediate family, and mom and dad definitely aren’t peers.

    Youthful friendships help us learn to test our boundaries on human interaction. It helps us measure ourselves against equals. Our young friends are so important in how we form ourselves because we’re so malleable as people at that young age.

    It’s probably why we have such strong memories of your friends at a young age.

    Later in life, we have formed a more complete sense of self, so there’s less need for friends to assist in that formation. However, whether or not we are talking about introverts or extroverts, as a general rule, people are social animals. We don’t live alone. We aren’t made to live our lives alone. Depending on your religious beliefs, that may even be something that is innate in our soul. (Genesis 2: 18-24).

    In a general sense, friendship is a relationship that has utility. Put another way, one person is of no use to the other unless he completes or fulfills the other in regard to personality, virtues or some other respect. A form of that could be the friendship that people form when they go through a common experience together. Typically, the more of a hardship the experience is, the more enduring the friendship is. That seems to fit with the idea of friendship being something of mutual utility, even it if it’s emotional support or understanding the burden of a hardship.

    That could explain why we form friends less often as we mature, as perhaps other people offer us less utility.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Bible School? Benthamite?

      I thought it was kind of a psychologist answer. Although Bryan DID use the word, “utility…”

      The thing about kids is interesting.

      A couple of days ago I was walking around the neighborhood with my wife, and a kid rode by on his bike and said hi and gave us a little wave. Something adults do all the time, but kids almost never do.

      I said, “He’s less shy than most kids.” Then I thought for a second, and added, “Or less completely uninterested in adults.”

      Which seemed more on point. We’re just not a part of their universe of people they care to interact with, unless they absolutely have to…

      1. Bryan Caskey

        I wave at all my neighbors when I’m walking (or driving) in the neighborhood. It’s good to acknowledge people. At Washington and Lee, we have a “speaking tradition” of saying “hi” or otherwise acknowledging people you pass on campus.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I do, too. Since I usually wear my wide-brimmed hat when out in the blinding sun, sometimes I tip my hat. I like doing that because it’s so anachronistic.

          But I remember a time, long ago when I was young and foolish, when I did not approve of the practice. I remember thinking it was phony. It seemed that when strangers thus greeted me, they were… presuming. Or worse, pretending. They were acting as though they knew me — or worse, were my friends — when they didn’t, and were not. Or at least, I didn’t think so. Eventually, I had to acknowledge that I have a terrible memory for people, and my picture was in the paper all the time, and maybe they had every right to presume to know me, and I was the dummy for not knowing them.

          Then I reached a larger conclusion: I realized that any friendliness one human being showed to another was a good thing, and that I should treat it as a blessing. I came to place it within the sad, messy history of the human race — one in which men started shaking hands to demonstrate that they were not holding weapons — and see friendliness as an improvement.

          So I did a 180 on the issue….

    2. Barry

      “Later in life, we have formed a more complete sense of self”

      I find as I get older (into my 50s now), I have a less a sense of “self” than I did 15 years ago. What I do have is a “I don’t care what others really think about me and I’m going to say it because they don’t like me anyway” sense- much more so earlier in my life.

      If some of the research is to be believed on this subject, many men are desperate for meaningful friendships as they get older. Most don’t have a close friendship.

      I’m seeing this in younger and younger people. My 18 year old doesn’t have a really close friend. He has friends, but none are really close. He doesn’t text them, they don’t text him. Instead, he “knows people” online- some are people at his school- some he’s never met and live in other parts of the country or world. They share an interest in various games. He would rather sit and play a game with a friend online than be with a friend in person. From everything I can tell, all his friends feel the same way.

      my 21 year old is in the same. My younger daughter will be the same. I can see the pattern repeating itself now.

      When I say meaningful, I am not talking about buddies to talk about the football game with or guys we know at work where we can talk work topics of current events with or maybe even talk about what our kids are doing. I’m talking about friends where you can share details about your thoughts, ideas, fears, etc. That type of friend is very, very rare.

      Now, my wife has several friends like that. She has a small group of 3-4 that take the time to spend meaningful time together. Her conversations with those friends are completely different than any conversation I have with anyone. They share health problems, they share personal struggles, they share details about their lives, the health challenges of their children, mental health struggles, etc. As a result, she is close to them. I have found that they overlook each other’s failings much more so than men would do in a friendship. Their failures or struggles draw them closer. They don’t talk politics- mainly because they really don’t seem that interested in it for the most part.

      Men usually focus on the shortcomings of their friends. With men, if the other guy has a failing, that means we are “better” than our friend- or so we think. I see this thinking a lot when I am around groups of guys that call themselves friends. It’s almost always some sort of competition- even if it’s not overt. I know women can compete too. But I know with my wife and her small group of close friends, I don’t sense that competition. In fact, their usual conversations are about the problems their families are experiencing- not how great their family is at everything.

      When Trump was elected, the result was an end to relationships with a few people that I had spent a considerable amount of time with over the last 15 years. I assume they considered me a friend, but I won’t speak for them. We at lunch together at least once a week for almost 20 years. We visited each other’s homes multiple times. We went on multiple outings together outside of work. But with Trump winning, we discovered we didn’t have as much in common as we thought we did. It’s been 5 years since I saw them. But I really do believe Trump exposed what was there, we just didn’t know it yet.

      It’s sad to see politics and such hurt so many people, but I think this problem is getting much worse.

      1. Bill

        Women are usually more emotionally intelligent than men and are able to form real friendships unlike their male counterparts..
        With straight men,its mostly machismo..
        My friends became my family when the usual dynamics didn’t apply..

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Women are different. They are, as I have said, grownups. They concentrate more on the things that matter, such as relationships with other human beings.

          I can’t help noticing this, and other differences. Which is why I can’t believe a lot of the things that feminists want me to believe, because too often (but of course not always) the thing I’m being asked to believe is that there is no difference.

          As I’ve also mentioned before, one feminist friend told me I was a “difference feminist.” She was trying to be nice telling me this, but I don’t think she was right. I’ve read up on that, a little.

          Bottom line, I don’t go for ideologies in general. And I’m especially not attracted by those that are based on people’s race or gender or what have you. To me, most ideologies are nonsense, and those especially…

          1. Bob Amundson

            Women are different, YES! Without some form of Modern Science, humans do not exist without women.

            I am at ground zero for Hillbilly Elegy; loved the book but Vance is STILL a hillbilly. Kids in high school and colleges are angry, and IMHO, they should be. So many adults are failing our children.

            I will scream if I hear one more time “Today’s kids are always on those phones!” I will scream, “You are most likely frustrated about your children!”

            I am a Civil Rights Leader. In my hometown area I have been arrested, jailed, hospitalized, targeted. A rich white kid coming home that sees so much pain.

            I hope I have more time to share my story.

            #classof2022 #listentothechildren #listeningtothechildren #wewantbarneysbullet #unicornstrong

  7. Barry

    Here is an awful story from ProPublica- the best in the business in my opinion.

    story – https://www.propublica.org/article/black-children-were-jailed-for-a-crime-that-doesnt-exist

    Three police officers went to an *elementary* school in Tennessee & arrested four Black girls.
    One girl fell to her knees. Another threw up. Police handcuffed the youngest, an 8 yo with pigtails.
    Their supposed crime? Watching some boys fight — and not stopping them. Thread….

    Where are the judges and lawyers? Well……

    Donna Scott Davenport is the only elected juvenile court judge the county has ever had.
    She oversees the courts.
    She oversees the juvenile jail.
    She directed police on what she called “our process” for arresting children.

    In a deposition, a lawyer asks Davenport about taking the bar exam.
    It took her nine years and five attempts to pass.
    Three years after she got her law license, she was on the bench.

    Under Davenport, Rutherford County locked up a staggering 48% of children whose cases were referred to juvenile court. The statewide average was 5%.

      1. Barry

        I’ve tagged you before I think. I don’t recall retweeting this particular post.

        The post above was pretty widely distributed on twitter.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I was reacting to the fact that the tweet in question started with the words, “ProPublica is the best in the business…”

          So that made me think it was you, since you used the same words above…

          1. Barry

            Oh- maybe so then. I can’t remember and don’t want to go try to hunt it down on Twitter.

            I retweet hundreds of items.

            BTW- that story was incredible. People are still talking about it.


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