It was a long weekend, and after three busy months, I was going home to spend time with my parents, siblings, nieces—and friends from childhood, high school, and my first job. The logistics would figure themselves out. I was home, and all those people were at home, so of course I would see them all. Right?
As you might have expected, things did not turn out as planned. Frustrated (and exhausted) at the end of the weekend, I realized it was totally unrealistic to see everyone each time I was home.
Now that Christmas is coming, and I will have nearly a week at home, I’m determined to tackle the whom-will-I-see conundrum with more grace (and sanity). Whom will I try to see this time? Should I go to the party with many friends I haven’t seen in a long time? Do I need to have coffee with my old soccer coach? Or should I just meet up with a few good friends for an evening of real quality time?
To help resolve this relationship dilemma, I took a few cues from my trusty pal, Aristotle. His approach might be a little old-school, but it rings true even today. In The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle explains what friendship is and addresses very practical concerns of time, distance, and types of relationships. His ideas can guide our choices of those with whom we should maintain friendships, but more immediately, whom to see when time is of the essence over the holidays.
Who Is Really Important to See?
While we apply the word “friendship” to many types of relationships, Aristotle differentiates between old friends, acquaintances, and close friendships.
The ultimate form of friendship for Aristotle is “friendship of the good” or what we might think of as close friendships. Aspects of this type of friendship entail “wishing well” for the other, “time and familiarity,” “eating salt together,” and “living together.” Some of these phrases are foreign to us in the twenty-first century, but we understand the sentiment behind them. These are the friends who, no matter how life changes, remain our confidants and truest companions. Despite time or space apart, we still feel a need to connect with them. These, as you might guess, are the people you should prioritize during the holidays.
There are other kinds of friendships that can be considered of less immediate concern to us. Take Aristotle’s “inactive friendships” or what we might refer to as acquaintances. These relationships begin when one is attracted to another person’s character, personality, or looks. Think of that first conversation you have with someone at a party, when you realize that you both love to read or have the same taste in music. Then there are “comrades,” as Aristotle calls them, or what we might think of as old friends, people who have spent time together for a period of time for some particular purpose: “fellow-citizens, fellow-tribesmen, fellow-voyagers.” Maybe these are people you played sports with in high school but were never great friends with. Or maybe it’s your Sunday School friends you haven’t seen in years. Sure, it’d be good to say hey and catch up, but these reunions don’t need to be considered top priority.
Look at your friends on social media, and take a few minutes to apply Aristotle’s terms to your relationships with them. Who are your good friends, those with whom you have shared your life and continue to connect? And who are the old friends with whom you enjoyed a certain period of your life that is now over? Give yourself permission to make those divisions. As Aristotle explains, two people can appreciate the time spent together in the past and “keep a remembrance of their former intimacy” without having an obligation to continue that relationship. Just because you have some pending party invitations on Facebook doesn’t mean that you have to go to everything. The holidays are about spending quality time with our nearest and dearest. Don’t forgo that because you feel pressured to mingle with the masses.
What to Do with Friends?
When you are home for just a few days, it can feel like you are torn in several directions. Is my time best spent at that big party my friends are throwing or enjoying a quiet evening with one or two good friends? Aristotle has helpful advice here as well.
He holds that in living in the same community, we can do activities, which allow friendships to grow with “time and familiarity.” In fact, Aristotle has a warning for people such as myself, who enjoy making many friends. “Those who have many friends and mix intimately with them all are thought to be no one’s friend. . . . Few are enough, as little seasoning in food is enough.”
I am a people person. I love meeting new people and hate missing anything fun. I sometimes party hop and see multiple groups of people in one evening. But I have realized, not only is this type of socializing exhausting, but it is also not an effective way to build good friendships. Just because I went to two events and saw fifty people on a Friday night does not mean I have fifty friends. I have fifty acquaintances, but that is not the same thing.
When planning your holiday visits, you might consider limiting the big holiday parties in favor of an intimate affair. Arrange a brunch for your closest pals. Or choose one big party to attend, but invite one or two friends over beforehand for some quality catch-up time. That way you have one night to see those old high school friends and meet a few new people, but the focus of most of your time is on companionship with close friends.
Decide and Let Go
Allowing some time to reflect on your friendships, what they really are and what you want them to be, will help you to be intentional about whom you spend your time with and in what way you spend it, too.
Think of it this way: We have hundreds of Facebook “friends,” including people we may have only met two or three times. Do you feel the pressure to see all of your Facebook friends just because you might be in close proximity to them? Accept your old friends, acquaintances, and close friends for what they are. Acknowledging that friendships ebb and flow and dissipate will help you let go of any pressure you feel to see everyone.
I feel guilty admitting that I don’t need to stay in touch with everyone. But reading Aristotle made me realize that in the English language the word “friend” is thrown around too casually. He says, “A man does not seem to have the same duties to a friend, a stranger, a comrade, and a schoolfellow.”
Reflect on whom you have kept in touch with and who has kept in touch with you. Whom do you really want to see? Whom do you think you should see but don’t have as much of a desire to see? Why do you feel this obligation? Is it because you used to be such great friends?
As for me, I am trying to spend more of my time with those people in the communities that I am in now and not trying to recreate communities of friends that have passed and will not return. My family is one community that will always exist. I’m more inclined to spend my breaks with my family and catching up one-on-one with a few close friends and have found it much more fulfilling.
Let go of your guilt, and spend your time loving your family and dearest friends. When you’re filled up with quality time, you won’t even notice the small talk you missed at all those holiday hangouts.
Photo Credit: Manchik Photography