on friendship


Our earliest friendships are coed, then imprecisely homoerotic, as we reach the age at which tribal peoples form cadres of hunter-warriors to protect and feed the clan, then homophobic for the sake of family life, and at last relaxed and coed again. Nevertheless, infatuation changes the equation, the high stakes of intimacy, and the Lord thought it necessary to devote two of his commandments—Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery and, separately, Thou Shall Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wife—to the nexus of the sexes. (My strait-laced mother once said only men and women attracted to each other could really be friends.) Perhaps the carnal add-on caused me not to include Nell, Liz, Amy, Brigit, Leonore, Marion, Linda, or Trudy on my initial list of best friends, although they were actually better intrinsically than the males: wholehearted, primal, reproductive— knowing, seeing, giving everything. The buddy system still underpins modern infantry warfare, and young women employ it every day on city playgrounds to keep their children safe. It’s second nature there, as on the veldt. Second nature means reading other people’s thoughts when they are silent, or acting frequently and anonymously on charitable impulses with no quid pro quo.

more from Edward Hoagland at The American Scholar here.