Understanding has another name – friendship. The meaning of ‘Friend in need is a friend indeed’ is undergoing changes. The new interpretation of the phrase is ‘A friend is a friend until the time he is needed’, especially in the virtual world, where it is easy to make friends, and even easier to ‘unfriend’ them. In the real world, the dynamics may change, but the essence of friendship remains. Friendship is a matter of choice. It operates within the constraints of class, gender, age, ethnicity and geography. It changes with time, and our experience of friendship alters with age. Our earliest friendships are co-ed. It is imprecisely homoerotic, it then becomes homophobic for the sake of family life, and at last, it becomes co-ed again, thinks Edward Hoagland.
Aristotle put friendship under three categories. In the friendship of utility, ‘friends’ are friends because they benefit each other. Friendships of pleasure are those where individuals seek out each other’s company, because of the joy it brings. The third category, friendship of the good, is based upon mutual respect, admiration for each other’s virtues, and a strong desire to aid and assist the other person, because one recognises their essential goodness. Friendships of utility and pleasure are much less intense and less permanent. One of the aspects of friendship is sharing emotions, and sharing emotions doesn’t come naturally. It requires enormous amounts of energy. Losing a good friend can be a real tragedy.
Can a man and a woman be just friends? They can be but some believe that the opportunity (or perceived opportunity) for “romance” often complicates the relationship. Studies indicate that the meaning of friendship is different for a man and a woman. Men suffer more from the “misguided belief” that their female friends are attracted to them. As a result, men consistently overestimate the level of attraction felt by their female friends and women consistently underestimate the level of attraction felt by their male friends. Generally, women are bad at reading the minds of their male friends. In ‘platonic’ relationships, men look for opportunities of romance. Platonic relationship for a woman means that she can talk and share her feelings with someone close. Women often mistake this emotional exchange as an act of friendship, because that is what comes naturally for them. One view is that when a woman sees someone as a friend, she finds it difficult to accept him in any other role.
Friendship is informal but love is not. Once friendship transforms into love, it loses informality. It is said that greater the fundamental difference between two persons, the more difficult it is to establish a fully personal relation between them, but also the more worthwhile the relation will be, if it can be established and maintained. If one draws an analogy from this observation, it would seem that the nature of man-woman relationship depends upon how one establishes and maintains a relationship with the opposite sex, in spite of the fundamental differences between them.