The Friendship Law

In his 1828 dictionary, Noah Webster wrote what is still the only definition of “friend” that I believe is correct:

One who is attached to another by affection; one who entertains for another sentiments of esteem, respect and affection, which lead him to desire his company, and to seek to promote his happiness and prosperity; opposed to foe or enemy.

While I believe this encompasses everything about friendship, including the friendship that is part of a romantic relationship, it can, sadly, lead to a conflict. The conflict between “desiring his/her company”, and “seeking to promote his/her happiness”.

Sometimes, without anybody doing anything “wrong”, the relationship itself can become harmful to one or both parties. We’ve all seen it in various ways. But when both parties are also artistic, it seems to me that there are two ways, and two ways only, that the romantic friendship and relationship can interact with that creativity:

  1. Each person can inspire the other.
  2. One or both person can sublimate their artistic energies in favor of the relationship.

(1) is, frankly, heaven. One can barely keep up with the “muse effect”, and perhaps some of one’s best work will be done.

(2) happens when something (and I don’t know what) changes for one or both persons. The first symptom is difficulty getting to creative works. “Good reasons” appear that keep one from them. A “lack of inspiration” eventually is claimed as the reason. But it is not the reason. If one is fairly objective and observant, one sees that something about the relationship has become parasitic, for that person, on their creative energies. It is a terrible corruption.

But for one with that need to create, to channel the energy that appears when one is “in the zone”, seeing this destruction in one you love is painful. And it is painful precisely because of the friendship that underlies the connection. One truly desires the other’s company and their well-being, but sees that doing so is now harming, not “promoting” the other’s happiness.

And, unless one is very, very weak, there is a single course of action that truly embodies the friendship, and at the same time, perforce reduces it. It is an awful conflict, but failing to resolve it will eventually lead to resentment and possibly even hatred. Ignoring the conflict for selfish reasons will only increase the conflict and wreak further destruction on both people.

But doing the right thing (or perhaps the only thing one could actually and certainly do) in such cases is painful, and remains so.

Perhaps Webster’s definition of “friend” is more than a mere definition. Perhaps it is almost a natural law of living, sentient things. A law of friendship so intertwined with survival, that one incurs this punishment of pain for violating it. Friendship should be about affinity, closeness in thought and person, and true desire for the well-being of one’s friend, and the willingness to act on these matters. And so it is. When conflicts twist and bend this simple truth, it hurts.

Perhaps there are better solutions than reducing the relationship. The ideal one – that escapes me utterly – is for the conflict itself to vanish. If the relationship, simply by being, is harming one’s creativity, how is that being made to happen? I don’t have an answer, but therein lies the best solution, somewhere. It is something internal and intimate within the person.

Friendship is valuable. It is not easy to willingly have less of it.

These are lessons learned this year.


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