What is it that thrills and fascinates, what is it that captivates us? Always and inexorably, when you meet the Other. Who we would like meaningful, in the sense that “they can give us new meanings (theirs), that matter to us”. A new significance, sometimes even despite ourselves. Who is friend, love, lover. And who, today, is more often friend. Highly topical, thanks to the surge of the social networks and online communities, friendship is the affective bond on the rise in present-day Italy.
The reasons for its popularity are quite simple: we are striding out of a society based on the family nucleus, founded on the love of a couple as the cement of society, to enter a civilization that is becoming increasingly “fluid”.
A survey conducted by ISTAT last April indicates that marriage in Italy is having a popularity crisis. Its decline opposed by the rise of friendship, just as it did with the Ancient Greeks, for whom a man’s true intellectual and emotive friend was his male buddy and not his woman. History has given different meanings to friendship. The brotherhood of arms has its genesis in the ancient world, according to the warrior values of the ancient poems – for instance, Patroclus and Achilles. From Aristotle on, friendship is a meeting of elect minds, “a virtue that accompanies virtue; in addition, it is a most necessary thing for life”, said that same philosopher. Further, history is constellated by ideological friendships that revolved around culture or grew from political brotherhood.
Among the former, we recall the friendship forged by Dante Alighieri, Guido Cavalcanti and Lapo Gianni. In more modern times, the friendship between Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels influenced the whole of contemporary politics, while that between Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno revolutionised sociological thought, recalls Francesco Alberoni. Other legendary friendships marked the development of psychoanalysis, as in the case of Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Fliess, not to mention the even more famous relationship between Freud and Carl Gustav Jung (which later crumbled).
Today, we often find ourselves living life as a “single”, a period in which our friendship network becomes essential: we go to the movies together, play tennis or share cultural interests, but what happens between our friends and us is far more than that.
Our friends enable us to rediscover inner dimensions that in our previous experience as a couple remained dormant and promote these aspects – just like in our youth – helping us to formulate a new “dream of ourselves”. It’s our friends who always tolerate us when we take time out to think, during those moments of stasis before we resume our “mad dash” to self-realisation. Just like in the magnificent relationship narrated in the recent film Questioni di cuore by Francesca Archibugi, in which the exchanging of parts of oneself that often occurs in painful moments becomes a chance to really think again. On the other hand, long-time friends can sometimes create a bizarre cradle that arrests our growth, as in the Pupi Avati film Gli amici del bar Margherita.
However you live it, friendship is a precious exchange marked by the flavour of freedom, a solidarity founded more on spontaneity than a sense of duty. And at a time of fluid relationships, such an “existential luxury” just might become the matrix for the development of new thoughts, a “private pleasure” that is just as essential to the building of society as it was in the past.