“Haply I think on thee, and then my state, / Like to the lark at break of day arising / From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate / For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings.”
Shakespeare, Sonnet 29
To a modern reader these lines might at first suggest romantic love, but to insert that kind of love would be forcing our modern notions on the verse.
Scholars agree that the love Shakespeare speaks of in this sonnet is the love for a friend.
This esteem for friendship seems strange to us who live in a culture where friendships are often neglected.
From a certain perspective this neglect of friendship is understandable. Unlike other relationships that are necessary for life, friendships aren’t vital.
Family and romantic relationships carry stronger bonds than friendships.
You’re born into a family that you belong to.
You choose a spouse whom you’ll likely stay with until their or your death.
But with friendships you’re free to pick and choose however you please.
William Rawlins, a professor of interpersonal communication at Ohio State University, spoke to the difficulty of maintaining friendships in The Atlantic.
“Friendships are always susceptible to circumstances,” Rawlins said.
“If you think of all the things we have to do—we have to work, we have to take care of our kids, or our parents—friends choose to do things for each other, so we can put them off. They fall through the cracks.”
From a secular perspective it’s hard to understand why friendships are important as they seem to serve no evolutionary purpose.
Study after study has confirmed, however, the health and social benefits of cultivating deep friendships.
For Christians there is no such mystery. The importance of friendship and relationships in the community is demonstrated by God Himself.
Before creating the universe, God existed in perfect fellowship with Himself in the Holy Trinity.
Community is fundamental to who God is, and thus it is fundamental to who we are as His creation.
Friendships aren’t just important for their health and social benefits. They’re important for becoming like our Creator.
Lucky for you, you’re likely a college student reading this, which means, statistically, you currently have the most time you’ll ever have to spend building friendships.
College is an anomaly of life where you’re surrounded by people of your own age and likeness.
Friends are rarely more than a few minutes away, and similar schedules makes getting together convenient.
But this friend-utopia won’t last for long. At the end of college, friends graduate and go on to “real life.”
Not only will you likely be geographically far from your friends, but the time you once had for socializing will be a thing of the past.
Jobs, families and new obligations will take over your schedule.
Only the strongest of friendships will survive the tectonic shifts brought on by adulthood.
As a senior, I’m very aware of the coming change. In less than a year, I’ll be thrust into a yet to be known environment.
But having a change looming in the near future has also caused me to look back on friendships here at the University and to think about what I would recommend to underclassmen.
The idea I consider perhaps the most important is the idea of narrow and deep rather than broad and shallow.
For most, college will last four years, and in a college of a few thousand students, that is not nearly enough time to create a deep relationship with a lot of people.
So rather than spreading yourself thin, focus on creating a handful of deep relationships.
Unfortunately, while college is the prime time to make lasting friendships, recent trends in technology have introduced challenges to creating deep relationships in all of life.
Technology is fantastic in allowing us to form a wide range of shallow relationships, but it makes creating relationships with the sort of depth I spoke of earlier challenging.
In her book, Alone Together, Sherry Turkle describes this issue.
“We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We’d rather text than talk.”
Of course, technology has it benefits such as longevity.
It’s incredible to think that unless you defriend someone or unless Facebook ceases to exist, 25 years from now you could still be seeing tiny glimpses into the lives of everyone you friended all those years ago in college.
But while social media can keep you acquainted forever with someone, it can’t keep you connected with them.
The wall technology puts between us and the people we’re connecting around us with is very tempting.
It allows for the simulation of connection without the vulnerability of face-to-face encounters.
But college is too crucial a time for making lifelong friends to be wasted hiding behind a phone or computer screen and making relationships that have the depth of a kiddie pool.
What a shame it would be to look back one day and realize you have almost no true friends to turn to.