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Lately I’ve been pondering the complexity of friendships. A friend is defined as a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard. Here is where I get lost in following the words that define friendship. If you don’t know what this means I encourage you to read my post “Lost in Words“.

Affection is defined as a fondness for or devotion to a person or emotion; sentiment; love (the word love adds another level of complexity). Whereas regard is defined as to look upon or think of with a particular feeling; to have or show respect for; to think highly of; esteem; to take into account; consider.

When I was a teenage the word “love” was a complex mix of feelings. You love your Mom and Dad. You love, or at least try to love, your siblings. You love your relatives. You fall in love with another person with the hope that you will be able to spend your life with them in marriage. In each of these relationship, love was involved but the feelings were different. I learned later in life that the Greek language has four words to define love based on our relationship.

Storge is natural affection, or love, that is felt by parents for offspring. Mainly used  to describe relationships within the family. It is also known to express the acceptance or putting up with situations, as in the Southern saying, “God love him”.

Blood is thicker than water – German Proverb (attributed to Heinrich der Glichezaere)

Agape is a sacrificial love. It is the love that holds one in high regard. Of the four Greek words that describe love, it is the one that describes affection or deeper sense of true love. Agape also describes the relationship between God and mankind. This type of love is unconditional.

Eros is the type of love that is usually thought of in our culture which is sexual intimacy. Eros is root for the English word erotic.

Philia is the love that is found in friendships. It means affectionate regard or friendship.

The City of Brotherly Love – Philadelphia

So, as a teenager, I was correct in my feelings that love was very complex. I recall in high school that if a guy hung out with a girl, who was not his girlfriend, the guys, who were hanging out with each other, would ruthlessly tease that person. This always seemed odd to me since the girls always looked better than the guys, at least from my perspective, and were much nicer to be around. What this taught me is that in our culture the guys hang out with the guys and the girls hang out with the girls. This can be seen throughout our society. But there are the rare individuals who are mature enough to cross this cultural and social boundary and have friends of the opposite gender without Eros.

Looking back on my life I have discovered that in my search for a spouse I was looking for Agape first and Eros second. In other words, I was looking for someone who could be my true friend. If the Agape portion of love is first then the Eros part of a marriage relationship becomes natural. I shared this recently during a discussion with someone who works with couples. He stated that my view of marriage was profound, and rare for a man, and he wished I could do a seminar to a group of men to explain the importance of meeting their wife’s emotional needs first in their relationship. Base on a book I recently read, The Five Love Languages, I have come to believe that it is important for both the husband and wife to meet each others emotional needs. When each partner has a” full emotional tank” they will be able to enjoy their relationship to the fullest extent.

The Five Love Languages: Words of Affirmation; Quality Time; Receiving Gifts; Acts of Service; Physical Touch – Dr. Gary D. Chapman

I have also observed that when faced with a difficult situation in one’s life, it has a direct impact on how your friends respond. I have come up with the following classification of people by observing their reaction to what has happened in my life over the past five years.

1) The Gossip – This is the person who is always very interested in all of the minute details so that she can keep everyone else informed as to what is happening in your life.

2) The Avoider – This person, for reasons unknown, does not know how to respond so he avoids visiting or calling to see how you are doing. This person also may think that he doesn’t want to disturb you.

3) The Polite – These people will stop by your office to find out how things are going. They seem interested so you open up and share what is happening in your life. Before you know it they begin to look uncomfortable, check their watches, or say they need to get to a meeting. Usually at the uncomfortable look I would politely end the conversation and allow them to go on their way. The next time they would receive the standard answer that “everything is okay”.

4) The Truly Sympathetic – These are the individuals who have walked a mile in your shoes. They know the pain you are going through. Several years ago I had a very nice lady ask me on Mother’s Day how I was doing. She had lost her 14 year old daughter to cancer a couple of years earlier. I asked if she wanted the standard answer or the truth. She said she could handle the truth. As I shared I could see the pain and sorrow in her eyes.

5) The True Friend – This person will help out with a meal; give a ride to an appointment; stop by unannounced to see how you are doing; take time to listen. True friends are always available to help no matter what needs to be done.

My journey in life so far has found that true friends are hard to come by. Unconditional love is even more rare.

A person who has never owned a dog has missed a wonderful part of life. – Bob Barker

The greatest lesson in my life about unconditional love came from an unexpected source, my first dog Sadie. No matter what happened or how bad I felt she was always there offering comfort with no expectation of anything in return. Shelly (pictured below), Becky and Maggie have continued this learning process with each one teaching me a new aspect of unconditional love.

Shelly and Shadow

A true friend is one soul in two bodies – Aristotle