The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed many friendships for what they always actually were: narcissistic, self-seeking, and pleasure-driven.
It is shocking, though no less true for all that, that friends cannot speak openly with one another about how to develop best practices during the pandemic and about how to stay accountable to one another. Why?
Because the chief virtues of any genuine friendship are truthfulness, trustworthiness, and reliability. These virtues are nicely demonstrated thus: you have food poisoning and you’re throwing up in the toilet. Who is there but your close friend holding back your hair?
For what I just described–truthfulness, trustworthiness, and reliability–has gone missing. Whereas, over 2000 years ago, Aristotle argued that a friend was necessary so that I could have someone with whom I could be generous, we seem to believe–and this is evident in our everyday conduct–that we ‘need’ friends so that they can give us pleasure and support our frail, narcissistic images of ourselves. See the turnaround? If they ‘validate’ us, ‘acknowledge’ us, ‘see and hear’ us, then we’re good. If not, not.
How is it possible to have candid conversations with friends of pleasure to assess their whereabouts and practices and to ensure, as best we can, that no harm is likely to befall any of us in close, physical contact when such conversations will most certainly occasion huffiness, offense, and stretching of the truth?
Consequently, we don’t bring these matters up. We don’t because we can’t. And herein we experience the loneliness that comes from realizing that we are not true friends after all. Before Covid, we were able, for years, to avoid recognizing this unvarnished fact but now we cannot.
But how can we hope to live well without true friends of virtue?