Recently, a lovely young woman wrote to me, “You’ve been nothing but a friend to me. Thank you for believing in me.” Her words were especially poignant because I happen to know she’s discovered, within just the last month or so, that several people she thought were her good friends considered her no more than an ally of theirs.
Everyone knows some people are your “friends” only so long as you agree with them, you do their bidding, or they otherwise have a use for you. What’s curious is you sometimes can’t tell at first the difference between those “friends” and the people whose friendships run deeper than mere alliance. In part, that’s what happened to my young friend. She mistook several alliances for friendships and got hurt. The other part of it was, her “friends” turned out to be the sort of people who hold their allies in contempt.
Some people do that, you know. They do not respect their allies, but are instead contemptuous of them. I suspect the reason for that is they lie to their allies and try to manipulate them. When you lie to someone and try to manipulate them, you usually wind up feeling contempt for that person, even if they believe your lies and do what you want. Especially if they believe your lies and do what you want. So, as in everything else, there are honest people and dishonest people — and the honest ones make for better allies.
Our species is a social ape, and I suspect forming friendships and alliances comes as natural to us as growing hair. But of those two things — friends and allies — it seems a bit easier to find an ally than to find a friend. I’ve already mentioned that an ally is someone who supports you so long as you do their bidding, agree with them, or they otherwise have an use for you. But a friend goes way beyond that. The most profound friend loves you for yourself.
It is easy to say something like that. “Loves you for yourself.” It is much more difficult to understand what that means in practice. Most days, I think the only way to really understand it is to experience it.
It’s my opinion that someone who loves you for yourself supports your being true to yourself. They remain a friend regardless of whether they have any use for you. If you disagree with them, but are true to yourself, they are happy with you. If you fail to do their bidding, but are true to yourself, they remain constant. My lovely young friend seems to call that sort of thing, “believing in her.”
Allies are to friends what a hotel is to a home. No matter how good the hotel, there are some things you cannot expect of it. And no matter how good the ally, you will not find in a mere ally the unconditional support for who you are that you will find in the most profound friends.