I’m not sure if I’m going to post this. If I do, be gentle. The friend I’m writing about reads here.
A friend and I had a discussion, of sorts, about friendship. About how it works best. My friend was of the opinion that friendship works best when it’s equal: you do this, your friend does that, and it works out in balance. That it’s unfair for one person to give overmuch to the other, and that because true friends are true equals, they respect one another as equals, and therefore it makes sense that they contribute the same.
I agreed to a point. But I found it a little off-putting to think that if I were to, for example, pick up something cool for my friend when I happened to be at the grocery store, that my friend would make a mental tally mark and make sure to pick up something cool for me.
I said that kills spontaneity. That yeah, over time you kind of want it equal, but it comes out in the wash. He said you can just kind of force that “coming out in the wash” to happen on a regular basis. And two people who are truly friends won’t want to take advantage of one another anyhow, so that kind of accounting takes place on a regular basis.
I didn’t like this. It bugged me a lot, until finally I had to ditch that whole model. Because I wanted to say something was wrong with it, but I didn’t want to say, “No, it’s fine for friendship to be unbalanced.”
It is, of course. If I’m sick, it’s okay if my friend picks up the slack for a while — even a long while — until I’m on my feet again. At some point, tables will turn, my friend will be in need, and I’ll be the provider and not expect total equality. But that didn’t feel like a good enough response.
And in some friendships, I think, there’s a certain imbalance that’s healthy; a mentor-student relationship, for example.
My new model was soup. That friends pitch in to make something separate from themselves, the friendship being something extra. And they both contribute to it: you bring the chicken. I bring the hot water. You bring the garlic. I bring the carrots.
You don’t want the same amount of garlic in soup as you have chicken. You can’t have the same amount of carrots and water. But over time, the two of you make something you couldn’t have had on your own. It’s more communal. It’s creative. Plus, I added, this model works for large groups as well, for teams and communities.
The obvious question is, how do you know it’s fair and you’re not being used? And there I say what every chef does: you taste it. If your friend isn’t contributing enough, the soup will be off a little, and then you have to make a decision: do I add more to make up for my friend’s lack, or do I push my friend to add more, or do I cut my losses?
Figurative food for thought. Two different ways of managing a universal.