Richard Ford: ‘Who needs friends?’

[Update 4/24/2017]  My afterthoughts are in boldface italics below.

Richard Ford

The American novelist Richard Ford, in a book excerpt published in The Guardian, says he doesn’t have any close friends and is happy to have it that way.

He wrote that he has a general sense of good will toward everybody, but doesn’t count on any individual very much.  That’s okay with him, because he doesn’t want anybody to count on anything from him, beyond basic decent behavior.

He criticized philosophers’ ideas of friendship and went on to write—

If I could have a better, more realistic and functioning model for friendship, what would it be?

I wouldn’t like it if it was that I had to be similar to my friend – in temperament, in wit and wits, in interests, experience, age and gender.

It could not be that I’d be willing freely to unpack in front of my friend all my life’s many shames and miscalculations (matters that can be outsourced with therapy or just stuffed).

It would not be that I’d have to always get along with my friend, or even always wish him well (just not wish him ill).  He need not think my shames weren’t shameful.

It would not be that my friend and I have to agree about what constitutes good and bad in the world. He need not feel required to do for me what I can’t do for myself.

I would not have to be willing to take a bullet for him, to have his back, to be there for him, or even renounce something I deeply desire so that he can have it.

I would not have to be always candid or capable of delivering hard truths. (Although I might do it anyway.)

And it could not be that I never complain to my friend, or about my friend – to his face or behind his back.

Friendship ought to be understood as always supplementary in nature. Thus our friends should be as easy to forgive as our enemies.

And as with all things, friendship need not promise to last forever, but only so long as it allows us the freedoms we would want to have without it.

Maybe it is that friendship should do for us what a great novel can (and a novel might of course do it better): reconcile us to life as it is, and make us more real to ourselves. 

In other words, friendship ought not short-circuit one’s faculties for critical thinking and personal preference.  Though to ask this of friendship might be to ask the impossible.

Source: Richard Ford | The Guardian

I can relate to Ford—sort of.  I am a more solitary person than most.  My idea of a good time is to sit alone by a window with a book in my lap.  When I was young, I was under the illusion that this made me emotionally self-sufficient.

I now understand self-sufficiency is an illusion.   Just because I am something of a loner, what friends I have and what sense of belonging I have are all that more important—just as being on a diet doesn’t mean that food isn’t important.

When I was younger, I took friendship and belonging (two different things) for granted.   I let friends drift away. taking it for granted that I always would make new friends.  I made little or no effort, except in a very few cases, to keep up with people I knew in college, the Army, places I’d worked or places I’d lived. 

I now realize what a big mistake that was.  I now understand that relations with friends, like all human relationships, need to be cultivated, or they wither and die. 

I have always been a “nice guy.”  That is, I try to be agreeable and helpful, because that makes my own life more pleasant.  But being “nice” is compatible with a great deal of selfishness.  In later life, I have come to understand how selfish I am, and have made a (moderate) effort to become less selfish and enjoy the satisfactions of doing good deeds.

There are a few people for whom I have gone to a good bit of inconvenience to help.  These friends are as close or maybe closer to me than my blood relatives.  But would I risk my life or risk my well-being for their sake?  I’m glad I’ve never been put to the test.

Like Richard Ford, I am not a confider.   I don’t (consciously) lie about myself   But although there are things about myself I am willing to share with the world, and other things I share with my circle of acquaintances, there are other things I share only with those who are nearest and dearest to me, things I don’t reveal to anybody—and things I have trouble admitting even to myself.

I am intrigued by Richard Ford’s model of friendship, I am not satisfied with it, but I can’t, off the top of my head, come up with a better one.

But I do know this.  I have been blessed by friendship beyond anything I deserve, and that I do not know how I could get through life without the kindness and companionship of friends of all degrees of friendship.


Who needs friends? by Richard Ford in The Guardian.

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One Response to “Richard Ford: ‘Who needs friends?’”

  1. Edward Says:

    Friendship means different things in different societies. This is a topic anthropologists study.


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