What Aristotle Teaches Us About Friendships

This spring, I took a long, hard look at the friendships in my life. As a philosophy graduate, I had studied Aristotle’s theory on friendship, which helped me see my friendships in a different light. According to Aristotle, there are three types of friendship: friendships of utility, pleasure, or virtue. I started asking myself, which category would my friendships fall into?  

Evaluating your friendships is a good thing to do once in a while. You may gain new insight into your relationships and learn how to maintain healthier bonds. 

Friendships of utility 

In friendships of utility, people hope to get mutual benefits from each other. This type of friendship can make us think of business partnerships, or the less formal “friends with benefits” situation. The term “utility” may sound icky, but when you think about it, there’s nothing wrong with being friendly to someone who makes your life easier. Think about the neighbour who waters your plants while you’re gone or your favourite barista at the coffee shop near your house.  

There’s nothing inherently wrong with friendships of utility – as long as both people expect the same things. Unfortunately, you may come to notice an imbalance in the friendship. You may try to get closer to someone because you’re genuinely interested in them, only to realize they don’t feel the same way. Obviously, that kind of situation can lead to you getting your feelings hurt. In these types of situations, being aware of both of your intentions and expectations is crucial. 

Friendships of Pleasure 

Friendships based on pleasure involve people who bond over a mutual interest – like meditation or fine dining. You usually only meet them in a specific context, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s always fun to share your hobby with somebody else, and this type of friendship comes in handy when your other friends just don’t have your passion for pottery or bar-hopping.  

However, keep in mind that any type of friendship needs to be based on mutual respect. If your friend only calls you whenever they have no one else to hang out with, you’re perfectly entitled to distance yourself. No one likes to feel like a last resort. 

Make time in your life for your best and closest friends.

Take some time to focus on your own well-being. You may find that some friends aren’t as close to you as you thought. While the realization might sting at first, you’ll be left with more time to spend on closer friends who value your friendship more.

Friendships of  Virtue  

According to Aristotle, this is the best kind of friendship. It involves two people who hang out simply because they enjoy each other’s presence, and it’s usually long-lasting. 

My best friends don’t hesitate to contact me when they need a favour and we share plenty of mutual interests, but they also reach out to check in on me, because they deeply care about my well-being. We do our best to hang out together on a regular basis, even though we both lead busy lives. They make it a priority to provide me with love and support, and I do the same for them. 

Questions to ask yourself about your friendships  

We all crave healthy and supportive friendships: it’s part of being human. Unfortunately, it’s also very common to wonder if a specific friendship has become toxic over time.These are five questions I ask myself whenever I have doubts. I encourage you to use them if you’re feeling uncertain about your friendships.  

1. How do I feel after we hang out?

2. Have I established healthy boundaries with this person and do they respect them?

3. Do we support each other in a balanced way?

4. Does this person only hit me up when they’re bored? Or do they make an effort even if they’re busy? 

5. Does the amount of energy I spend on this person match what I receive? 

Prioritizing Friendships

Aristotle – and common sense – tells us we should prioritize our best, closest friends. Still, there’s something to be said for casual friendships based on utility and pleasure; they  add colour to our daily life. I love having friends at work, friends at school, and friends who share my interests in pottery or yoga.  

However, every friendship requires time and energy. That’s why it’s important to occasionally look at who we surround ourselves with, and what they bring to our world. You wouldn’t want to spend all your energy on someone who drains you or doesn’t reciprocate your efforts. By being mindful about your friendships, you can make sure you’re focusing on the people who are really worth your time.

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