Book store shelves groan from the weight of the numerous books on relationships. How to find the right guy? Is this guy the right one? Can I know if he will be in my life five or ten years from now? After 27 years, Bill and Melinda Gates have called it quits citing an inability to continue growing together. Money was not a factor.
I think that the first place to start is the place that is at the heart of a relationship: the mind. While hearts may beat faster with a particular someone, what do people ultimately want? We want to be understood. Being understood seems to be one of the deepest needs we have. That is why a roomful of cats and dogs will never satisfy us down deep.
By mind, I don’t mean just logic and rationality but both the intellect and psychology. I have a psychological need for a companion. I have a psychological need for security. I have a psychological need for purpose and meaning.
I want to be understood by a man and he wants to be understood by me. And then we want to be able to like what we understand of each other. Bill and Melinda grew apart over time, apparently as early as 2013, caused by Bill starting up a friendship with notorious sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Clearly, she did not like what she understood about Bill. And so, the misunderstanding culminated in her considering her divorce options in 2019.
So where does this leave us? I think we are left with this simple fact: I want to find someone with whom I can have deep conversations about the important things in life, agreements in those areas and encouragement to grow in those areas.
How does one get started? It starts out by going back to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who defined three kinds of friendship. They were:
- Friends of utility – people we associate with at a function
- Friends of pleasure – people we like to associate with
- Friends of virtue – people who help us improve our lives in the important areas
A friend of utility is someone who has the same interest as we do. We both like poetry, so we both go to a local poetry club, meet each other and strike up a friendship. It could be people at work that we do activities together after work. We have more friends of utility than friends of pleasure or friends of virtue. The basis of this friendship is that we see each other frequently, like at the poetry club or at work, and we have the same interest.
Friendships of utility end with one person moves away from the poetry club or workplace. Once we do not see the other person, we stop associating with that person.
A friend of pleasure is someone who we enjoy spending time with; a childhood friend or a college friend. We got along well together and enjoyed each other’s company. Friends of pleasure survive on emotions and memories. Thus, they can survive long stretches of absence. They don’t require regular get-togethers. If I see a friend of pleasure from years ago, I always love to catch up and find out what’s going on in her or his life.
Friendships of pleasure end when one of us no longer receives any enjoyment out of the relationship. Distance and time can erode that friendship. We make new friends of pleasure and they supplant the old friends of pleasure.
Friendships of virtue incorporate elements of both utility and pleasure but take it a step higher. A virtuous friend is good for my wellbeing, either physically, mentally, spiritually or all of them. Such a person helps me improve myself by becoming more fit, becoming wiser or practicing my religion more religiously.
I have to see this person regularly like a friend of utility and I have to enjoy this person’s company like a friend of pleasure. But it is not just getting together for a drink at the local bar or talking about the latest culture news. Rather, it is focusing on cultivating the habits that make me a better person, however I define that improvement to be.
Given this high criteria for a friend of virtue, they are the rarest friends I could have.
Of course, this is easy to say, hard to do. But without a strategy, it will be impossible to do. This is what I ultimately desire. And from these friends of virtue, quite possibly I will find my ideal life partner.