Stoic Letter 17
Over the last few months, I’ve been hearing a lot about this new social media app, Clubhouse. I tried it last month. And I really don’t get why people prefer talking to strangers, while they could use that time to call their friend, sibling, mother, father, or anyone else who’s close to them.
Those meaningless conversations on social media will not be there for you when you struggle or feel lonely. Those people are probably also not your real friends. It reminds me of all the empty friendships I’ve had in the past.
In college, my friends were the guys I went to bars with. After that, my friends were the people I spent my weekends with. And when I worked at a corporation, it was the folks I went to TGIF drinks with. But those people were not my real friends.
Here’s how Seneca described those kinds of relationships: “These are what people call friendships of convenience; a man adopted from self-interest will please only as long as he is useful. This is why a crowd of friends surrounds men in time of success but there is a desert around their ruin, and friends flee when they are put to the test.”
The first time I realized some friends are not actually your friend was when I went to grad school. At some point, I got tired of the weekly partying and got serious about my education and personal development. I preferred to study or have conversations about life with my friends. But some of my friends back then were not interested in that. So gradually, we grew apart when our common interest — partying — disappeared.
I initially thought that was sad. “We spent so much time together and had so many good times, and now we never see each other.” That’s the nature of life. Through reading the Stoics, I learned that we must accept the change that comes with life. Seasons change, people change, and you change. There is nothing wrong with that. We need to be okay with that.
But sometimes, you grow together. Ten years ago, I became friends with Quincy. At the time, we were both in our early twenties and liked to go out. We were part of a group of six guys who hung out together a lot: We talked every day and saw each other every Saturday night. We often met up at my apartment and would spend the whole evening and night just having fun. Sometimes we went out, sometimes we stayed at the apartment.
Eventually, the other guys went their own way, but Quincy and I remained friends. We always had the most in common. We’ve gone different directions in our lives as well, but we always supported each other. And wanted to see the other succeed and be happy. To me, that’s what real friendship is about.
Seek out people who have the same values as you. Friendship is not about quantity. Three friends are enough to spend your time with. As Seneca said, most people will not be your friend when they are put to the test.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with a co-worker or fellow student. Looking back, I still have a lot of good memories. It’s just that most friends come and go, which is not a reason to get sad.
I prefer to go deep with the people, and really care about the few friends I have. That’s the true value of friendship. Not someone you can call to ask for help with moving, or someone to go partying with. No, a friend is someone who thinks and cares about you, even when you don’t see or need each other. And whenever you do need each other, you’re always there. All the best.