Being a woman can be a lonely business. Young women have to strike out on their own and make lives for themselves—often far from home. Most moms must make the painful choice between missing their children from work or missing adult companionship while home with their kids. Older women cope with many different kinds of loss when their children move away from home or a spouse or beloved friend dies.
Friendship is what carries most women through these difficult transitions in their lives. In fact, the great philosopher Aristotle describes friendship as “most necessary with a view to living.”
Friendship Is Important…
Why exactly is friendship a “most necessary” part of life?
Friendship makes life worth living.
Friendships add meaning to our lives. A good friend is there for us when everything seems to be going wrong to remind us of all the reasons we have for living.
Friendship makes us better.
A good friend sets a good example of good choices and challenges us to make ourselves better.
Friendship is necessary to a stable society.
Civil society depends on the interrelationships between people. It’s easier to interact with someone—even someone who disagrees with you—if you are friends.
…But Not All Friendships Are the Same
We tend to use the word “friend” in many different senses. You can be “friends” with your mailman, your coworkers, your “kindred spirit,” or your spouse. But when you get right down to it, the relationships you share with all of these different people don’t really share that much in common.
According to Aristotle, all of the different relationships we class as friendship fall into three basic categories:
Friendship based on usefulness.
A utility friendship is a friendship from which both you and your friend hope to gain. Most likely, your relationship with your favorite barista is a utility friendship: you’re hoping to get good service and he or she hopes to earn a tip. We all need utility friendships, but personal gain isn’t the foundation of a life-changing relationship. When you and your utility friend no longer have anything to offer each other, the friendship will dissolve.
Friendship based on pleasure.
A pleasure friendship is a friendship based mostly on mutual enjoyment of each other’s company. Most of those friends from high school and college that make you laugh for hours are probably pleasure friends. Again, there’s nothing wrong with pleasure friendship. In fact, pleasure friends make life a lot more fun. But your pleasure friendships are likely to last only as long as you can keep each other amused.
Friendship based on virtue.
A virtue friendship is the kind of friendship that will change your life. It’s based on choosing what is good for your friend over what is good for you—and trusting your friend to do the same for you. A virtue friend challenges you to be the best you can be. Virtue friendships are the ones that last.
The Best Friendships Must Be Cultivated
While utility and pleasure friends make life easier and more enjoyable, it’s the virtue friends that really make life worth living. So how can you develop a virtue friendship?
It’s an old cliché that you have to be the kind of friend you want to have. Virtue friendships are unusual because many people find it hard to make themselves emotionally vulnerable and choose someone else’s needs over their own. The best thing you can to do help cultivate a virtue friendship is to practice making selfless choices.
Don’t expect every friendship to be a virtue friendship. Look for a friend you can look up to, whose example makes you want to be better. These virtuous people make the best virtue friends.
Virtue friendships last across distances of time and space, but you can only build a true virtue friendship with someone you see regularly. Seek out your virtue friend from people within your own community. Prioritize spending time with her to get to know each other better.
Virtue friendship doesn’t grow overnight. Don’t forget that good conversations—the kind that make and break a friendship—take time, a good setting, and silence. Going for a walk is a great activity for friendship building because they are peaceful and allow for natural pauses in the conversation.
A virtue friendship is well worth the time and effort it takes to build. Women with strong virtue friendships are happier, healthier members wives, mothers, community members—and people.
To learn more about Aristotle and his ideas on friendship, check out
Are you lucky enough to have a virtue friend? Tell us more about her in the comments.