A metaphor about friendship

The types of friendships we have can be compared to the parts of a book.

Some of our friends are chapter-by-chapter friends. These are people we talk to regularly but infrequently, maybe every few months or on holidays.

Other friends follow along with our life story at a more granular level, knowing where we are and what we’re doing on, say, a weekly or daily basis. We could call these sentence-by-sentence friends.

We might even have word-by-word friends, those–like romantic partners, close family members, best friends–who are involved in our lives at a minute level, who know what we’re doing and where we are at any given hour or minute.

One kind of friend isn’t better than another: a chapter-by-chapter friend isn’t necessarily shallower or more superficial than a word-by-word friend, just different. It is usual, maybe healthy, to have friends who know us in different ways and are involved in our lives at different levels of detail.

I like this metaphor because it gives a way to talk about change in the context of a friendship. For me, I find it is extremely upsetting when a friendship shifts from a deeper into a broader level of detail–when a word-by-word friend becomes a sentence-by-sentence friend, or a sentence-by-sentence friend turns into a chapter-by-chapter one. A break-up, a move, college graduation, lives going in different directions: these changes result in a sometimes jarring loss of closeness, intimacy, and involvement between friends.

At those times, it is important to remember that there are life stories all around us, waiting to be opened up and delved into.


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