‘The Four Loves’ is one of those books that totally changes your life.
It’s the kind of book you can’t hardly put down once you’ve picked it up, and when you finally do, you feel like you’re looking at the world with an entirely new set of eyes.
It discusses the philosophies and greater meanings behind the different types of love we experience throughout our lives, in a way that’s both thoughtful and practical—which I’ve found is remarkably useful material to delve into when you’re in your mid-twenties (and Catholic, obviously).
I look back on my time in college and see that some of the relationships I invested in were notably shallow. One of the greatest wisdoms I’ve taken from ‘The Four Loves’ is the realization that there’s a stark difference between “companions” and “friends”—and most of the people I spent time with in college were, I now see, better-described as drinking companions than true friends. It’s a phenomenon that I think is relatively common amongst college students, especially within sorority and fraternity life. While I always had people to binge drink with on the weekends, there were very few people I could call for coffee and good conversation.
C.S. Lewis says that while affection and eros—romantic love—are “too obviously connected with our nerves… tugging at your guts and fluttering in your diaphragm,” friendship love—“that luminous, tranquil, rational world of relationships freely chosen”—is “a relation between men at their highest level of individuality.”
Was this confusing? Maybe a little. Consider this:
“Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”
It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumbling or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision – it is then that Friendship is born. And instantly they stand together in an immense solitude.”
The key here, in “friendship” versus “companionship”, is a shared truth. Whereas lovers face inward, looking to one another, friends stand side-by-side, facing some external truth.
“The very condition of having friends is that we should want something else besides friends. Where the truthful answer to the question, “do you see the same truth?” would be “I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend”—no Friendship can arise (though Affection of course may). There would be nothing for the friendship to be about, and friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travelers.”
But why does this matter? What’s wrong with companionship in the absence of friendship?
Nothing, necessarily. But the absence of good character can become a source of temptation and occasion of sin. So we see in Corinthians:
“Do not be deceived; bad company corrupts good morals.”
Or Proverbs 13:20:
“He who walks with wise men becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”
And Proverbs: 27:17:
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
As human beings, we’re made for relationship. We’re made to love and be loved, be it within the perimeters of a charitable relationship, a marital relationship, a friendship, what have you. The Lord said in the creation story, “it’s not good for man to be alone,” and this is true. As the Lord is a communal being, and we are made in His image, so we are the Body of Christ.
The temptation within relationships can be to forget Christ and indulge in one another, but ultimately this can’t be allowed to manifest. All love and relationships should be for the greater glory of God—and this goes for friendships as well.