Socrates gave us 3 levels of friendship, reciprocal, complementary, and inspirational.
Reciprocal relationships are the work relationships, tennis chums, the poor student and the great note taker. A reciprocal relationship exists because partner A is getting something from partner B and vice versa, they need each other, but the relationship would not likely occur otherwise. Our work associates which we would call friends, but are quickly forgotten when we move on, would be considered reciprocal friends. The student who befriends the smartest in the class and buys them lunch every other week are also reciprocal friends. Socrates saw reciprocal relationships as the lowest level of relationships.
It’s important to note that reciprocal relationships are not bad, they are positive-sum games, and they are necessary. It is simply that Socrates thought there are higher forms of friendship which we can utilize and enjoy.
The next type of friendship is a complementary relationship. A complementary relationship encompasses most high-school or best friend relationships. They are people who compliment your personality. They might literally compliment you, make you feel good about who you are, and they may complement your personality by being a good match. Maybe you are argumentative, and they are as well, so you both get to enjoy arguing against each other. These relationships exist because the individuals like being around the other, they enjoy each other’s company, they aren’t too critical, and they make each other feel good about themselves.
The third type, and the most meaningful in Socrates opinion, is the inspirational relationship. Nietzsche had a great piece of advice for marriages, that was, that marriage should be treated like a long conversation. A good conversation can change your ways, make you more informed, make you question your path, and make you a better individual. There is a sort of reciprocal inspiration to a good conversation, and this is a good metaphor for the relationship between two people at the highest level. They inspire one another to be better, they encourage them towards their goals, and help them when they are in a rut.
You can easily examine your relationships to discover which level they belong on with this simple trick. If you know you can go to a friend for help, for advice, and for support in a tough time, and they will mourn with you, or encourage you and help you get back on your feet, then they certainly satisfy one half of the inspirational relationship. The other half, which is often overlooked, is when you can tell your friend good news and they will help you celebrate. They will share in your joy and your accomplishment, they won’t try to one-up you or tell you why it’s not that great, they will simply bolster your joy.
This third level, for obvious reasons, in my opinion, is the most meaningful of friendships. Not that the others can’t be enjoyable, but there is something about being able to count on your friends no matter what that makes life better.
Hustle it up!