I was very recently chatting (electronically, mind you) with a friend on Facebook, when I insinuated that she took a "transactional" approach to our friendship. She expressed dismay (to the extent that dismay can be expressed in Instant Messaging) and demanded that I explain. My explanation was pretty clear--our online conversation began as the result of an inquiry from her about the defense industry. She had already sent an email request with the same general inquiry, and now she had popped into my IM queue. My thoughts as I received these requests were--"Hmmmm......I seem to have contact with this person under two circumstances; when I seek her company, and when she wants information from me."
Now mind you, this person is an absolute delight. Fiercely intelligent, politically savvy, and wickedly funny, an hour's lunch conversation with her is not to be missed. But for some reason, I was struck in that moment with a sense that her reaching out to me in the time of our brief friendship had generally been linked with an attempt to gain some kind of information with me--while my reaching out to her had been abidingly social and conversational. Furthermore, I contented myself smugly with the notion that somehow, my approach to the friendship was more "authentic" because I sought nothing from it.
And then I began to examine my own presumptions.
Let's say for the sake of argument that I am right about this woman's approach to our friendship, and that my "use" to her as a friend is largely determined by my ability to provide her with relevant information. What "use" is she to me? Put another way, is there any such thing as "self-less" friendship, or do we choose and keep friends largely as a result of the extent to which they make us feel good, or laugh, or think more deeply, or what have you? Why is my desire for her conversation and company any less transactional than her desire for information? She sees me as a source of information and perhaps reasonable company and conversation. I see her as a source of lively entertainment and conversation, which makes me happy. I get something from her friendship, she gets something from mine. Both parties to a transaction, perhaps with different aims in mind. But nonetheless, the friendship is transactional from both ends.
Can friendship--even close, enduring, longstanding "Best Friend Forever" friendship--escape its elementally transactional nature? Is there any such thing as "selfless" friendship?
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