Friendship of Utility
This is a class of friendship that Aristotle describes as such.
“Fond of a friend because of what is good or pleasant for themselves.”
- Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle, translated by Terence Irwin
What this means is that you are friends with them strictly because you love what the person can do for you, not the person themselves. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it is these types of friendships that usually help people to advance in the world, along the lines of “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” This type of friendship naturally falls away once the beloved can no longer provide the desired services for the lover. Aristotle postulates that as such, these friendships are most often made amongst the adult crowd — those of a maturity high enough to care about what others can do for them, as opposed to those formed by children, which are broken for any number of reasons.
Friendship of Pleasure
This type of relationship is very similar to that of Utility, with the exception of it’s what one person can do for the other that provides pleasure. This could simply be anything that brings joy to the recipient, from compliments to companionship. It doesn’t matter. So long as the beloved provides the lover with the type of pleasure they crave, the friendship stays strong. This always struck me as the darker of the two similar types, since it focuses more on what a person can get out of a relationship, with little to no regard for their “friend” once they have had all they crave or their tastes have changed. This friendship is said to be much more common amongst younger people, those whose only thoughts are of pleasure, enjoyment, and otherwise having fun. These can change in a matter of days or hours, making them, supposedly, short and sweet for at least one side.
Both of these friendships are extremely volatile, capable of changing with the whims of the friends. If the needs or desires of those in the relationship change, the connection is broken without a second thought. The former friends part ways in search of others that can give them what they require.
Friendship of Virtue
This friendship is something akin to what we call a “best friend” today. These are the relationships where you value not only the person, but what the person is. The virtue that is referred to by Aristotle is the aligning of ideals, what you think is good, true, and beautiful, the friend of virtue will also think that. These are the friends that last a lifetime.
“Those who wish goods to their friend for the friend’s own sake.” (Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle, translated by Terence Irwin)
The reason behind this strength is that the friends love each other because of their similarities –– it is something like loving the parts of you that you see in the other person. What happens between them they can both agree is wonderful, since whatever they do will be wonderful to them by the nature of their very being. Aristotle describes these friendships as extremely rare, but nearly supernatural in the level of wonder achieved when you find yourself in one.
What I propose now is that a new type of friendship has been fostered by the progression of society, one that doesn’t fall too much into either of these categories. I would say this friendship is something like those formed by people going through school or working together, perhaps always seeing each other. This is a relationship that can potentially grow into the above mentioned categories, but in our modern world often becomes its own class, never advancing into another stage.
Friendship of Proximity
This type of friendship is strong only as long as those in the relationship see each other frequently, without choice. These are the types of friendships that form on the playground, the workplace, or any other environment where you have no choice as to the people around you –– they are simply there. Friendships formed like this can easily turn into any of the other categories of friendship. Perhaps it would be best to call this the starting stage for the other progressions. The moment that you have the option to do something else, that would remove you from that relationship, yet you turn it down for the sake of that friendship, it has become one of the other forms. You made the conscious choice to pursue that relationship, for whatever reason, elevating it to one of the categories as proposed by Aristotle.
Perhaps the easiest way to think of this would be the friends that you made when you were in high school. You may have been inseparable when you attended the same classes, walked the same halls, and dealt with the same meaningless assignments, but the moment graduation ended, how many of those relationships did you put real effort into maintaining? Once high school is finished, it is time to deal with the real world, choosing colleges, jobs, careers, and the like. Not many relationships survive that transition, since so many people are looking for different things for themselves, no matter the relationships they have. Once you arrive at your new school or workplace, you are quickly surrounded by another group of people that are necessary and unavoidable, allowing the cycle to continue.
Thanks to the many social media options at our disposal today, it is possible to stay in touch, but I would argue that if your only source of a contact with a person is over social media, that you aren’t really friends. You are simply people that talk to each other, sharing whatever you feel like. Without the experience of actually living together, without actively seeking out people and living your lives together, you can’t know enough about a person for the relationship to fall into any of the accepted categories. This type of relationship was rarely possible, that is, a relationship that only went so far as proximity. Most people lived and died in the town of their birth, staying around the same people so long that it inevitably evolved into one of the three categories. But, with the mobility and options of out modern world, that is seldom the case anymore. People are constantly in motion, pursuing education, careers, or anything else they wish, constantly meeting and leaving new people. With the high pace of modern life, it is not at all uncommon for people to simply drift apart, to go their separate ways and never look back, as they go off into a new part of their lives.