Once, I had a friend I thought I'd keep forever.
We laughed at the same things, played the same sports, listened to the same music. We'd stay up late into the night staring at the glow-in-the-dark stars half-stuck to her bumpy ceiling, talking about things I don't remember anymore but that I'm sure were cute and youthful and important at the time.
Eventually, the fervor of our friendship began to dwindle. Mutual interests were no longer mutual, and we had to try hard to think of things to talk about, even in the brief moments before soccer practice.
Looking back, it was obvious that we were both holding onto the seemingly unbreakable bond we'd once had. It was an admirable effort, and it continued to be for a while. I used to see her occasionally; we'd go to dinner and a movie and give each other surface-level updates about our lives, crack a joke or two, reminisce briefly and go our separate ways. These meetings were the last few breaths of our friendship: forced, terse, always yearning to be a second longer.
Watching this friendship slowly disintegrate as my friend and I both tried to salvage what few scraps of it we could grasp made me realize that friendships require constant, directed effort. They make us pull from the best parts of ourselves, to be selfless and generous and give to a relationship — one that always, invariably, gives back.
Friendship and its benefits, although their roots might be hard to pinpoint, have long been a subject of discussion among authors and philosophers. What does a relationship with another person give us that makes us feel so full? And what do we have to give back in order to preserve that?
Aristotle claimed that "friends hold a mirror up to each other; through that mirror they can see each other in ways that would not otherwise be accessible to them, and it is this mirroring that helps them improve themselves as persons." But despite the deliberation by great minds on the subject, friendships today seem to hold a special kind of importance solely in our childhood, only to become sidelined later in life when romantic relationships and careers take center stage.
If we don't take special care to mindfully preserve and contribute to friendships, we end up keeping up with each other on a surface level. We look in on our friends through the glossy veneer of Facebook; we grow stressed from these unfulfilling interactions and even feel more lonely than connected — even though we have our entire circle of friends seemingly available at the click of a button.
Facebook gives us a false sense of who others are, lets us assume how someone is doing based on a photo or a status or a link they shared, without us ever exchanging a word with that person. We lose what it was that made friendship in our childhood so special — simply playing with someone else.
Maybe that's the trick. As we get older and our priorities shift, maybe we should try to make our friendships mimic what they were before we knew how to lie and how to be jealous, before we had a sense of what was ours and how others saw us. Compassion and empathy are natural human instincts, but we learn to let go of them as we "grow up" and put our own interests before those of others.
We end up cultivating friendships that only work as long as there's no give and take; as long as we feel we are friends with someone who is exactly like we are; as long as talking to each other feels like talking to ourselves.
So, even though we can't expect friendships to unfold as effortlessly as they did when we were kids, maybe we can learn to love as fully as we did back then, to give to someone else with an open heart and to never forget those late-night conversations under the light of glow-in-the-dark plastic.
Marianela D'Aprile is a fourth year student in architecture. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.