What is a friend? In particular, what distinguishes a friend from an acquaintance? A recent conversation led to the following working definition:
friend. n. Someone who makes time for you.
Alternatives were discarded. For instance, can you be someone’s friend if you only spend time with them in a group? Potentially, because disallowing it could affect the definition for friends with whom it might be difficult to make individual time, such as couples or those who live farther away and close to other mutual friends.
What does it mean to make time for someone? For friends nearby, it could be as simple as spending time together. For friends farther away, it might be a periodic phone call, e-mail, or IM to see how they are.
To accept the definition is to accept the fact that friendship is directed. Who are the people for whom you make time? You are their friend. Which people make time for you? They are your friends.
I’d be curious whether someone could offer up an undirected definition of friendship. A simple one would be to apply an AND condition to the directed definition above. One might then debate whether the directed or undirected version deserves the true title of friendship, but I’d be happy to let them share the title at the expense of precision. The tragedy of language is that there are more concepts than there are words to express them, with the ones that are assigned to words perhaps depending on some entropic notion of importance. Of course, one can always supplement a language with additional words. Consider Inuit, which offers multiple ways to express the differences in types of snow.